Red Deer County officials faced with a groundswell of opposition will go back to the drawing board before moving forward with a gravel pit proposal in the Shady Nook area, directly across the river from the Red Deer Airport.
Between 80 and 100 people — mainly residents of the area — crammed into council chambers on Tuesday to address a public hearing for an amendment to bylaw amendment that would allow gravel mining on two quarter sections of farmland at Range Road 284 and Township Road 374. The land belongs to the Pine Hill Hutterite Colony located west of Penhold on Hwy 592, about 20 km from the site.
Of the 30 people who rose to address council during the hearing, the majority expressed their fears about the plan, including safety and health concerns relating to truck traffic on Range Road 284. Utterances of “shame on you” and stronger words could be heard from the crowd as council gave second reading to the bylaw.
Mayor Jim Wood did not ask for a third and final reading, stating that more work needs to be done to ensure that residents’ concerns can be put to rest.
People from outside the Shady Nook district expressed support for the plan, talking about the economic benefits of having a gravel pit closer to the city and stating that they had learned to live with gravel pits next to their homes and farms.
Teenager Parker Depalme, whose family lives directly across the road from the site, begged council to turn down the proposal. Depalme said he would no longer feel safe riding his bike or his horse on the road.
“Would you like a gravel pit less than 800 metres from your house?” he asked.
A young mother who lives alongside the proposed haul route broke down as she laid out her fears.
Jennifer Creasey said she saw the damage after a rock came off the top of a gravel truck and took out a neighbour’s windshield.
“I am terrified for my son standing there and waiting for the bus in the morning.”
Creasey said she wasn’t worried about a few extra dollars added to her tax bill to pay for gravel from further away, if that was the issue.
“You can’t replace my son for any amount of money,” she said.
Parker Depalme’s grandfather, Ray Depalme, said his grandfather had farmed in the area and a fourth generation of his family is now living there.
The haul road runs through the centre of a registered environmentally sensitive area ecompassing the Depalme family farm, which lies on both sides of the haul road. He raised concerns about their cattle choking on dust and safety issues on the steep-sided and narrow road.
“It hasn’t been proven to me that there’s a desperate need for gravel,” he said.
Gravel operator Danny Scott, a resident of Sylvan Lake, attempted to allay residents’ fears, stating that dust control could be run the entire length of the haul route and that the road could be widened and upgraded at the gravel pit’s expense to resolve safety issues.
Wood handed the proposal back to county staff, asking that they look into a variety of details before bringing the bylaw amendment back for third reading. That includes finding ways to make the road safer for the school buses, such as keeping the trucks off the road when they are running and building places for them to pull off the road while picking up and dropping off passengers. The gravel operator should be held to its offer to provide dust control whenever needed along the full length of the haul route, said Wood.
County manager Curtis Herzberg said 30 to 60 days would be ample time to complete the review as requested.
A date for third reading was not announced.