Alberta isn’t doing a good job of making sure gravel companies reclaim their old pits, reports the auditor general – pits the public might have to pay to clean up as a result.
Alberta’s auditor general released a series of audits this week on government departments and programs. One of them was on Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s management of the province’s sand and gravel resources.
The report finds that the province does not have an effective system in place to enforce the reclamation of old gravel pits, and has not been ensuring that operators are paying the royalties they owe for the gravel they mine.
The auditor first pointed out these problems six years ago.
Alberta Environment doesn’t have a clear idea as to the number of pits that still have to be reclaimed, and hasn’t been penalizing people for not reclaiming their pits, the auditor found.
“Albertans should know whether the department has systems to verify aggregate that operators remove so that the department can ensure that it is collecting all royalties due to the government,” the auditor found.
“Albertans should also know whether operators comply with legislation and whether there is a risk that taxpayers may have to assume costs of land reclamation because of operators’ possible non-compliance with legislation.”
It’s important to make sure pits are properly reclaimed because many of them are dug on excellent farmland, said Ken McGillis, longtime member of Sturgeon County’s sand and gravel committee.
“We want to reclaim as much of the original area as possible.”
The auditor found that Alberta Environment identified some 63,000 acres of land that had not been satisfactorily reclaimed between 2009 and 2013. It did not know the cost to clean up these pits or how long the pits had been awaiting cleanup, and did not penalize any operators for not doing the cleanup.
The province needs an effective inspection process to make sure operators undo land disturbance and environmental harm to public lands from sand and gravel extraction, the auditor notes.
“There is a risk that taxpayers may have to bear the cost of the remediation.”
Eric Leonty, the assistant auditor general who oversaw this section of the audit report, said the audit also found that Alberta Environment was not checking to see if sand and gravel companies were paying the royalties they should for what they mined. While it did audit companies that said they mined (and thereby owed) nothing in a given year, it did not audit those that actually dug up material.
“There are royalties assessed on sand and gravel,” Leonty noted. Without verifying that these companies have accurately reported the amount of aggregate they mine, the province can’t be sure that Albertans are getting the money they’re owed.
Sand and gravel operators paid some $8.5 million in royalties in 2011, the auditor found.
McGillis said most of the sand and gravel companies in Sturgeon County have been there for years and do a good job of reporting royalties and reclaiming pits.
“It certainly hasn’t been a problem in the last 15 years or so.”
McGillis said county officials do their own inspections of pits to ensure they are properly reclaimed, and have steps they can take if an operator tries to take shortcuts.
“I think for the most part operators realize it’s a cost of doing business.”
The auditor general recommended that the province improve its process for inspecting pits and enforcing pit reclamation as well as its methods for tracking the amount of cash it is owed from aggregate removal.