One year ago, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced it wanted feedback on a proposal to pull gravel out of the McNab Creek watershed on the west side of Howe Sound. The request for feedback followed initial work by the project proponents dating as far back as 2010.
Since that initial federal call for feedback, a number of conservation groups have lined up in opposition and Lions Bay Mayor Brenda Broughton has taken a lead role in opposing an industrial mining operation at McNab Creek. Broughton successfully lobbied to have the issue placed on a Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) meeting agenda last month.
She said that she presented the MVRD members with background on the issue and the politicians regional board of directors asked the MVRD to prepare a report.
The Future of Howe Sound Society (FHSS) launched an online petition and so far has collected more than 1,700 signatures opposing the proposal. The FHSS was one of a number of groups granted money by the federal environmental agency to provide feedback on the proposed project. The Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA) was also given money, along with five First Nations' organizations and the Métis Nation British Columbia. A total of $44,250 was granted with $6,850 going to the SCCA and $5,500 to the SHSS.
Jeff Gau, the spokesperson for the FHSS, said that a year after the launch of the federal environmental assessment he is convinced the project is a bad idea.
"We have three primary concerns; environmental, economic and livability impacts," said Gau. "The economic, I think, may very well be the thing that stops this project. It just simply doesn't make any sense."
According to Gau, the value of a pristine McNab Creek is greater than the jobs that will be created if the gravel operation goes ahead. He said the film industry places a high value on Howe Sound's scenery and he added that the provincial government's efforts to bolster tourism in the Sea to Sky corridor also works against it.
The proponent, Burnco Rock Products Ltd., is currently working with consultants to gather information to support the application. The information produced is expected to go before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Once the agency receives it, a public consultation period will follow. Those who have an opinion about the information provided by Burnco and its consultants will have an opportunity to share concerns or expressions of support as part of the review process.
In addition to the federal environmental review, Burnco is in the process of requesting a rezoning of land it owns in the watershed, which is in the Sunshine Coast Regional District. The land under the control of the regional district on the Sunshine Coast is currently zoned rural. The company wants the zoning shifted to an industrial designation. Documentation from the regional district indicates the process was initiated but is on hold at this point.
While there isn't an imposed deadline on Burnco to complete the environmental studies, its manager heading up the application said gravel is scarce and Burnco needs to secure a source as soon as possible.
According to Derek Holmes, there are no government deadlines for his company to meet at this point.
"It's a huge amount of work," the company's regional manager said of the next steps in the process. "I'm hoping to have it done this year."
Holmes said Burnco is buying gravel from third parties and in some cases competitors. He added that Burnco is putting new information up on its website as it becomes available. The company is also sending out regular newsletters to those who are interested in learning more.
North of McNab Creek, the owner of the former Woodfibre pulp mill lands is working towards completing a sale of the 86 hectares (212 acres) to an unnamed buyer.
The current owner of the land, Western Pulp Partnership Ltd., is responsible for any required environmental clean up work that needs to be done at the site.
NOTE: The original article stated that Jeff Gau was a spokesperson for the Save Howe Sound Society, but he is in fact affiliated with the Future of Howe Sound Society and the two groups are unrelated. We regret the error.