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County buries gravel pit

A proposed gravel pit within the Red Deer River and Medicine River flats area northwest of Innisfail was rejected after dozens of staunch opponents appealed to Red Deer County’s municipal planning commission on Tuesday.

More than 45 people, many of them against the application made by the Howell family, packed county council chambers to tell municipal leaders why the pit 18 km northwest of Innisfail shouldn’t go ahead.

Councillors David Hoar and Philip Massier voted in favour of approving the pit but the remaining four — Mayor Jim Wood and Councillors George Gehrke, Penny Archibald and Richard Lorenz — voted against.

Hoar said he knew he wasn’t going to get accolades from the crowd and that while he had sympathy for the people in the area, he felt this was an application he could support based on it being an appropriate land use and being right next to a provincial highway.

“There’s no place right for a gravel pit,” he said.

Wood said this pit was similar to another pit that the commission turned down recently, but this one will have even a greater impact on the community. This one would use some of the best farmland in the region. Plus he said he believed there are other sources for gravel.

Reed Howell, a member of the Howell family that bought the land next to Hwy 54 and off of Range Road 20, declined comment after the decision was made.

The Red Deer River is about one km south of the land that’s under cultivation. The total area of disturbance would have been about 122 acres. Plans were to operate over the next 10 to 20 years. The amount of gravel and sand to be taken would have amounted to about 2,165,000 cubic metres.

Dozens of people stood up to say why the pit was detrimental in a number of ways — from dust problems affecting children with asthma to affecting property values within the rich agricultural area.

Gwendolyn Stewart-Palmer, an Edmonton lawyer representing a number of landowners, argued this discretionary use would negatively affect the landowners and particularly when it comes to their own agricultural practices.

The proposed pit application is contrary to the county’s Municipal Development Plan, she said.

“This land has been earmarked as environmentally sensitive,” said Stewart-Palmer. “There are requirements within your Municipal Development Plan speaking about preserving agricultural land.”

Stewart-Palmer added that county staff conditions lacked specificity, such as “regular monitoring,” which gives no comfort to neighbours.

Adele McKechnie, who lives 90 metres from the site, said they are serviced by shallow wells and that past decisions made by the commission and Alberta Environment have already affected water flow. This potentially will put the last nail in the coffin, she added.

“We will be left with a piece of property surrounded by unstable land, ripped and torn by gravel mining so that when we get hit by a flood worse than the one we had in 2005, which went through our yard, we will then be stranded in more ripped and torn land,” said McKechnie.

Phil French, president of Red Deer River Naturalists, said they normally don’t go around opposing gravel pits, but this one had them concerned because of its proximity to two important rivers.

“The Medicine River is important because it’s a walleye spawning river,” said French. “The threat from this pit is to the groundwater which enters the Medicine River. It provides regulation to the temperature of the river, regulates the oxygen to the river and helps regulate the amount of nutrients that are in that section of the river.”

Reed Howell explained that meeting the requirements of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development was no easy task, but they were met. Todd Aasen, district approval manager for Red Deer, said in a letter to Red Deer County staff that the Howells’ submissions adequately described the potential impacts to the environment, water management and other water users, and therefore he was prepared to make a decision in favour of the applicant, subject to monitoring and reporting clauses.

Dwayne Howell told the commission that they intended to leave the area, when finished with the gravel operations, much better off than before. It would become an enhanced wildlife and agricultural area, he said.

Brent Lennox, a hydrogeologist hired by the Howells, said he has a duty to the public as well to do an impartial analysis to produce good data.

“Based on our regional modelling, we found there was no change in water quantity that would be provided to the Medicine River.”

Leo Perras of Perras Consulting Services reported in a letter that a floodplain analysis showed that this one in 100 year occurrence would likely have water spillover onto Hwy 54 regardless of any pit development. The capacity within the pit development area would help contain the floodwater and reduce upstream flooding, he said.



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