Gravel pit rejection frustrating for Miller

The man behind a controversial gravel pit project says an appeal board’s decision to reject the project was based on “speculation and emotion.”

The man behind a controversial gravel pit project says an appeal board’s decision to reject the project was based on “speculation and emotion.”

Wendell Miller, of 6M Holdings Ltd., points out that Red Deer County planning staff have repeatedly recommended approval of his gravel pit plans near Markerville.

However, the municipal planning commission (which is comprised of members of council) and a public citizen-comprised subdivision and development appeal board have both ruled against incarnations of the gravel pit proposal twice each.

The retired farmer believes the planning commission and appeal board focused too much on environmental issues. He argues those concerns would have been dealt with by provincial and federal departments prior to the project going ahead.

“I don’t understand why the commission and the board are dealing with environmental issues when they are not qualified to do so,” says Miller in a letter he provided the Red Deer Advocate this week.

“From what I understood, they are to pay attention to (environmental issues) and pass their concerns on to Environment, but not rule on them,” he elaborated in an interview.

Miller has been trying to get a gravel pit approved on land he owns next to the Medicine River, a few kilometres south of Markerville, since 2010.

A 126-acre gravel pit was turned down by the planning commission in September 2010, a decision upheld by an appeal board four months later.

Miller scaled back the project significantly to 28 acres, while reducing operating hours, the pit’s life span and truck traffic. The commission turned it down in June and the appeal board upheld that in a decision released on Monday.

Nancy Lougheed, county legislative services manager, said the planning commission and appeal board are well within their responsibilities to review environmental issues as they relate to the county’s various plans and bylaws.

“From a planning perspective, yes, they can look at those environmental issues.”

For instance, the Municipal Development Plan, the county’s key planning document, says that Environmentally Significant Areas — the gravel pit application fell within one of those areas — must be protected from “inappropriate development.”

What is inappropriate can be decided by the planning commission and appeal board.

More technical issues, such as specifics about fish habitat impacts, would usually be left to other levels of governments and their experts.

In recommending approval, county planners mostly use the measure of whether the proposed development is allowable under existing plans, policies or bylaws.

For Miller, the process has been frustrating. Opponents of his project claim the gravel pit site floods frequently. Miller said he has owned the property for 10 years and it flooded once, from Dickson Creek, not Medicine River.

A road he has built since would have acted as a berm if flooding from the river did occur, he said.

Noise and dust were cited as concerns by residents, but the nearest live 580 metres away with brush and trees between the property and the proposed gravel pit. All other properties are more than 800 metres away.

Miller believes residents in the area, including a cattle owner and recreational boat users, create more environmental damage and nuisance than a gravel pit. In his view, the project fell victim to the efforts of a vocal group of landowners.

“I cannot believe that a small group could have so much power as to be able to stop me from using my land in a way that was not going to bother any of them and was not going to harm the environment,” he concludes in his letter.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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