A vote of 6-3 among Rocky View County (RVC) council saw the approval of a gravel pit near Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, despite the proposal being met with much public opposition.
The decision came via a special council meeting and public hearing held on March 2. The application, made by Mountain Ash LP, will see a more than 320-acre gravel pit from a quarry located approximately 300 metres away from the Big Hill Spring’s creek underground headwaters, and 1,200 metres from the park’s boundary.
Deputy Reeve Kim McKylor, who was in favour of the gravel pit, said she agreed with some of the councillors in opposition. That said, she added there was an opportunity for groups involved to find a middle ground for the application, but nothing happened.
“A group didn’t take it and now we are where we are today,” she said. “It’s not about choosing one side or the other. Depending on how you weigh data, you will get to the result you want.”
Couns. Crystal Kissel, Samanntha Wright and Kevin Hanson were the three council members opposed to the gravel pit application.
Reeve Daniel Henn said he was disappointed the item wasn’t tabled so council could have more information.
“That said, I agree with McKylor,” he said. “I think people need to realize that working together will ultimately make a better decision overall.”
A letter from Alberta Environment and Parks requesting council to delay the decision was submitted, asking for a more thorough environmental review.
“As the Big Hill Springs are so closely linked to the groundwater at the Mountain Ash site, we question the proposal’s potential impact on groundwater quality and spring chemistry, effects on tufa formation, and its effects on fish and fish habitat,” the letter stated.
While it is currently closed for maintenance purposes, Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a popular destination for Rocky View County residents looking to get out and enjoy nature. Located between Airdrie and Cochrane off of Highway 567, the park receives around 250,000 visitors annually.
Kissel called the item a one-time deal and argued council should consider tabling the item. She made two motions during the meeting – one to refuse the Master Site Development Plan, and another to table the items entirely until more information was available. Both motions failed.
“There are two things that happened here,” she said, “We had the people who were affected, which are the residents and the park users that opposed. Then we had long-form letters from those in favour. I would guess that 90 per cent of those people who wrote in a letter of support will be in no way affected by this operation.
“We only have one Big Hill Springs Park, and if we destroy the spring by making a poor choice today, it will last for generations.”
Kissel referenced the fact that in the 1950s, the government chose to make the land a provincial park and protect it.
“They did it for a reason,” she said. “That hasn’t changed. They actually shut it down because it was so over-loved and over-used, that they gave it time to regenerate itself. They have pumped millions of dollars into this.”
At the public hearing on March 2, RVC received 31 audio and video messages pertaining to the gravel pit application, all of which were in opposition. Additionally, a number of letters were received in opposition.
One letter submitted by Gerald Bietz, who is the president of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society, asked for council to consider the value of the park.
“Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, a significant regional asset, is located in the Bighill Creek drainage,” he said. “In 2019, it is estimated to have received 175,000 visitors. Due to overuse, the Park is currently under renovation.”
He went on to claim there is possibly no more environmentally sensitive development proposal in the entire county.
“To put this artifact in jeopardy for common gravel would be a travesty,” he said. “In our region, gravel is virtually everywhere. It can be sourced from a less sensitive place.”
According to Mountain Ash LP, RVC will receive roughly $8 million in levies from 20 million tonnes of gravel product extracted from the mine during its lifespan.
Council’s decision comes just a month after RVC voted against a separate proposed gravel pit application in Bearspaw.