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News

New Group Joins Rebellion Against BC's Mine Permit Process

'Residents at mercy of ministry': ORCAP

By Tom Barrett 24 Sep 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor to The Tyee.

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Minister Krueger: Has proposal.

The protracted battle between residents and gravel pits in the Okanagan has spawned a new citizens' group.

The group, Okanagan Residential Communities Against the Proliferation of Urban Mining Practices (ORCAP), aims to change the way that mines and gravel pits are approved in B.C.

"It shouldn't be left in the hands of the minister of mines," ORCAP spokesman Grant Lawrence said in an interview. "Local communities should have a say."

The formation of ORCAP, which Lawrence said has 250 members, is the latest step in a conflict that stems from changes to B.C.'s mining legislation passed in 2002.

Bill 54, which amended the Mineral Tenure Act, made it much easier to open a mine in B.C. and stripped away the rights of ordinary property owners, opponents say.

Under Bill 54, "mining can happen much easier," Lawrence said.

Boom spawns pits

Retirement and vacation communities around the Okanagan have been dealing with a rash of new gravel pits in recent years, spurred by the B.C. construction boom. The boom has brought an increased demand for aggregate, a combination of sand, crushed rock and gravel used to make concrete.

In a press release announcing the formation of the group, ORCAP argues that current legislation "places an extreme amount of power and responsibility in the hands of the ministry of energy, mines and petroleum resources.... The Mining Act essentially overrides all municipal and regional rules and regulations, as well as many property owners' rights.

"Residents feel they are at the mercy of the ministry of mines, with little recourse."

Permit denied

Lawrence said members of the group have spoken to Minister of State for Mining Kevin Krueger on several occasions. The minister toured gravel pits in the Okanagan twice during the summer.

Last month, Krueger's ministry denied a permit to a controversial gravel pit that had been planned for a site north of Kelowna.

Lawrence isn't sure if the decision is a victory for his group, however. There was so much wrong with the application, he said, that it might have been turned down even without the residents' protests.

Lawrence, a software salesman from Carr's Landing, on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake, said ORCAP has members in eight Okanagan communities.

Zoned approach proposed

The group wants the provincial government to adopt what it calls a three-zone model for approving gravel pits. Mining would be prohibited in areas designated as red zones, restricted in yellow zones and permitted 00 if deemed to be "responsible" -- in green zones.

Red zones would include areas that are within 500 metres of the nearest residence or in environmentally sensitive areas. Projects that threaten groundwater or pose a health hazard from "dust, compromised water supply, contaminants, trucking hazards, or noise disturbance" would also be prohibited.

Pits that infringe on the Agricultural Land Reserve or threaten to "permanently damage" views would also fall within the red zone.

Yellow zones would allow mining with "significant restrictions" if the project meets a range of criteria, including:

Mining would be acceptable in green zones. Green-zone projects would be, among other things, more than 1,000 metres from the nearest residence.

Green zone projects would also fall within areas zoned for industrial use. Health risks would have to be "unlikely." Projects would have to put forward reclamation plans that would be inspected annually.

Any mining in the yellow or green zones would have to be jointly approved by the provincial government and the local municipal authority.

'Gravel reserves' suggested

The plan also calls for the establishment of "gravel reserves" in otherwise undeveloped areas "to conserve this valuable resource." A portion of the profits from any approved project would be set aside for the reclamation or remediation of the land, and operators would have to post a bond large enough to discourage them from walking away from a failed pit.

The group also suggests that gravel pit operators who have proven themselves to be sensitive to the needs of the environment and the community should have their applications expedited.

A spokesman for Krueger said the minister hasn't had a chance to study the proposal, which he received from ORCAP in late August.

"He's looking forward to looking at it, but we haven't really seen it," the spokesman said. "So give us a couple of days on this one."

Related Tyee stories:

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