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Pit extension plan raises noise among neighbours

No way, say residents oppposed to 15-year gravel pit extension

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011 06:00 am

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Robert Lema has lived on the banks of the Sturgeon River for 50 years. The Friesen gravel pit has been his neighbour for 40 of them, and it was supposed to be closed and reclaimed last December.

It wasn’t. Now, the pit’s owners have asked Sturgeon County to keep it open until 2026.

Lema, 74, was one of about five residents who addressed county council during a public hearing Tuesday. Citing a long list of noise, traffic, safety and weed complaints, they called on council to deny the application and order the pit closed.

“Forty years of open pit is already too long,” said Lema, “and to ask for another 15 is unreasonable.”

When does it end? ask locals

The pit itself is about five kilometres west of St. Albert next to Highway 633 and Range Road 264. Originally opened by TBG Contracting in the 1970s, it was bought by Yellowhead Aggregates in about 2001.

The pit is designated as a quick-extraction area under the Calahoo-Villeneuve sand and gravel extraction area structure plan, and was originally supposed to be mined and reclaimed around 2006. Council extended the deadline to Dec. 31, 2010, back in 2007.

Yellowhead Aggregates has asked the county to extend its reclamation deadline to Dec. 31, 2026. It also asked to have until May 31, 2027, to seed the land instead of its current deadline of May 31, 2011. The county’s sand and gravel committee supports the change, according to council reports.

Louis Belanger said another extension would seriously affect his young family. He’d lived in the area his whole life, and bought his home on the expectation the pit would be reclaimed and seeded this year. “A 15-year extension is completely uncalled for.”

The pit has run noisy operations all night in previous years, Belanger said, and continues to be a source of weeds, noise and light. These issues, plus dangerous truck traffic, have degraded his quality of life and property values.

“This is a quick-extraction area. What is quick about 15 years?”

This pit has been open for 40 years, said resident Monique Aultman, and its owners have had plenty of time to mine and reclaim it. “When does it end?” If council did not order the pit closed immediately, she said, they should at least shorten the extension to five years.

The pit is behind schedule because Yellowhead decided to mine the adjacent Ballachay Pit before this one, says Marlea Sleeman, the company’s general manager. (That pit has been reclaimed.)

“Right now we have a tiny bit of a glut” in terms of sand, Sleeman says, which has made for slow sales and sizeable stockpiles on the site. They’ll need about 15 years to sell all the sand they’ve dug up. They would have asked for an extension earlier, but county staffers were too busy with the Alberta Industrial Heartland to address their issues.

McGillis miffed

Coun. Ken McGillis, who sits on the county’s sand and gravel committee, rejected these arguments. “You people haven’t exactly been pretty good stewards with the operation of that property and the friggin’ weeds and the mess that’s going on there,” he said, with obvious irritation, and he questioned whether the pit would be cleaned up even in another 15 years at this rate.

“Don’t play the fiddle too long,” he said. “Clean up your property, and we’ll come up with some kind of compromise.”

McGillis said in an interview he could justify giving Yellowhead some time to sell its sand, but not 15 years. “From a community point of view, the extension they’re looking for is not one that seems very reasonable.”

This proposal will return to council on July 12.


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