Some Red Deer County residents deeply oppose a gravel pit operation they say is proposed for a flood plain west of Innisfail.
The Medicine Flats Aquifer Committee, as well as some members of the Red Deer Fish and Game Association, fear flooding in the region will be exacerbated and groundwater contaminated from the proposed 121-acre operation.
The gravel pit, at Highway 54 and Range Road 20, about 14 kilometres west of Innisfail, has already been approved by Red Deer County and is now being considered by Alberta Environment.
But Dale Christian, a member of the aquifer committee, believes it would be ill-advised to allow more ground removal from an area that’s already prone to flooding.
She said the gravel substrate provides a natural reservoir for the storage of snow melt.
Provincial studies show river courses are already unstable in this area, she added, noting significant spring flooding happened in the area in 2005 and 2013, washing out roads and covering part of Highway 54.
Local conservationist Doug Wood fears potential damage to a popular fishing creek, formed by water seeping up from the ground.
“There is gravel all over Alberta — so why here?” he wondered.
“It would be wrong to permit this to proceed,” added Wood. “It’s against everything that the Alberta Fish and Game and other environmental groups advocate. ”
The gravel pit proposed by Howell’s Excavating Ltd. would entail up to 80 truckloads a day of gravel being removed in peak season. It would be used for road and construction projects.
Dusty Howell, a company co-owner, said the proposal meets or exceeds municipal and provincial standards.
Howell maintains only a small portion of the proposed site lies within the “fringe” of a flood plain — and none of it is on an actual flood way. If the gravel operation was going to be environmentally damaging, he said, the company would not have put it forward.
The 15- to 20-year gravel operation would include crushing, washing, sorting and mixing at the site.
While opponents fear asphalt operations could be applied for as a future variance, Howell said this will not happen: “We’re not in the asphalt business.”
The project was approved by the county by a narrow vote. But Dave Dittrick, assistant Red Deer County manager, noted Howell’s Excavating must live up to 29 municipal conditions if the project goes ahead.
The proposal must also pass provincial environmental testing. Dittrick said water studies are up to Alberta Environment, “it’s not our jurisdiction.”
Opponents of the project question how much scrutiny this proposal will get from the province, which only considers the perspective of “directly affected” residents — usually those living immediately adjacent to the pit.
Christian said several area residents are already dealing with heavy industrial noise, traffic, dust and “chaos” from other gravel pits.
She fears her family farm could now lose its water wells due to siltation from the pit “as we are down-gradient, and our cattle operation will suffer disproportionately.”
Others who depend on downstream drinking water should also be concerned, she added.