Residents burst into applause as a proposed Red Deer County Markerville-area gravel pit application was rejected narrowly on Tuesday.
Council chambers was full with more than 50 turning out to speak both for and against an application to develop a 28-acre gravel pit near the Medicine River several kilometres south of Markerville.
It was the third defeat for Wendell Miller, who proposed a much larger pit in the same area that was turned by the county’s municipal planning commission in September 2010. An appeal was also denied a few months later.
Miller’s latest proposal shrank the size of the pit from 128 acres, reduced operating hours, the pit’s lifespan and amount of truck traffic.
The application also included measures to control noise and dust and will meet all provincial environment regulations.
After listening to nearly three hours of submissions, including a number of emotional appeals from residents to not allow the gravel operation, the commission voted 4-3 against a motion to approve the application.
Residents cited concerns about noise, dust and the dangers of developing along a flood plain or flood fringe.
Mayor Jim Wood said dust concerns and other potential impacts on neighbours were a big issue.
“I can relate to that. I’ve had asthma my whole life. I can understand those kinds of impacts to our community.”
He also pointed out that the gravel pit would be located on a flood plain.
“I’m concerned about what can happen.”
Wood said he was torn but “I’m not sure this application can be approved without unduly interfering with the community.”
Coun. Richard Lorenz, whose division includes the proposed gravel pit site, strongly supported the project. Mining gravel in the Medicine Flats would not increase flooding risks or disrupt aquifers. Dust would be controlled and provincial regulations prevent past practices such as de-watering of gravel pits.
“These are wrong statements that we are going to wreck the community,” he said.
Instead, the pit would provide huge benefits and employment.
“I see more pluses to this development than negatives.”
Other councillors opposed expressed their reservations that there were too many unanswered questions about the impact of the gravel pit.
“I believe our job as council is to look to the future and exercise good stewardship,” said Coun. Christine Moore, who voted against the application along with Councillors Jean Bota and Connie Huelsman.
Miller said after the meeting all of the concerns that had been raised, such as dust control were addressed in his application.
“I feel we covered everything and I think (the commission) made a mistake.”
Another recurring issue was the potential for the gravel pit increasing flooding risk.
“There is no issue. We covered that. We hired very knowledgeable people to cover it all.
“We’ve done everything we can do, but they don’t seem to care to listen to that.”
Miller is still considering whether to appeal.
Dale Christian, a local landowner who is deeply involved in watershed issues, said the process shows that there is confusion about the municipality’s responsibilities when it comes to these types of applications.
“I see we have a lot of work to do at higher levels to clearly define the role of municipalities in these decisions in terms of environment,” said Christian.
The Municipal Government Act clearly gives municipalities responsibility over decisions involving air, water and land in their boundaries.
During the hearing, there was some discussion about what the county’s role was, especially as it concerned flooding risks and environmental impacts, such as the effect of a gravel operation on walleye breeding areas.