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Gravel pit proposal getting rocky reception

Concerns include increased noise and dust

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Opposition to a proposed gravel pit on the west side of Howe Sound is growing with the mayor of Lions Bay, Brenda Broughton, and many others rallying against increased industrialization of the picturesque fiord.

Burnco Rock Products Ltd. headquartered in Alberta wants to mine the sand and gravel from McNab Creek to supply construction materials to its ready-mix concrete plants in Burnaby and Port Kells.

Derek Holmes, Burnco's B.C. manager, said the sand and gravel needed for its operations in and around Vancouver travels 280km from Port McNeil. He said that supply is at risk so his company needs a new supply to meet current demand.

Broughton is concerned about the impact the pit will have on the scenery tourists enjoy as they drive on Highway 99.

"I refer to McNab Creek as the mother's lap of Howe Sound," said Broughton. "When you travel from south to north your eye often drops into McNab Creek because of that being where sunlight often is and... on the crest of those mountains above it."

Mayor Broughton has written MLA Joan McIntyre and MP John Weston to express her personal opposition to the gravel pit and she has asked Lions Bay council to back up her opposition.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is leading a consultation effort that will end on Feb. 3 so Broughton wants a letter of opposition from the Village of Lions Bay submitted before that deadline.

One of the Islands Trust representatives for the Howe Sound area, Jan Hagedorn, said she is concerned about noise and dust. That concern is also shared by Eric Arnold, a McNab Creek cabin owner. Broughton added light pollution as a potential concern. All three said they were concerned the extraction could potentially take place 24-hours-a-day if the gravel pit proposal is allowed to go ahead.

"We do a really good job of mitigating environmental impacts like noise and dust," said Holmes. "Modern processing technology has come a long way so it is not the operations of the past where there's big dust clouds coming from the equipment."

Holmes added that the proposed operation doesn't require numerous loaders because it will be a process driven mainly by a conveyor. He said he believes the impacts on the cabins at McNab Creek won't be as significant as the logging operations conducted previously in the area.

Hagedorn, a fifth generation property owner on Keats Island, questioned whether the gravel pit is consistent with the future of Howe Sound.

"What do we want Howe Sound to look like?" she asked. "The demands are greater and greater on this natural wonder of the world."

A group of people opposed to the gravel pit came together and created futureofhowesound.org. The group's website points out that since the Woodfibre Pulp Mill stopped operating and water treatment was stepped up at the former Britannia Mine, dolphins and whales have returned to Howe Sound "for the first time in a generation."

"To now allow new industrial projects without a comprehensive land use plan would be short sighted and tragic," the Future of Howe Sound Society members wrote on its website.

The project is early in the consultation process so Holmes said there is no solid timeline proposed for the project at this time.

Project details and information on the federal environmental review process can be found on the Internet at www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca. As part of the process to determine whether the project will be allowed to go ahead the details will be reviewed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and a provincial environmental impact assessment also has to be done.

McNab Creek is located eight kilometres from Port Mellon and 22 kilometres southwest of Squamish.

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