Controversy surrounds Cowichan gravel bid

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure will phone provincial Mines Minister Bill Bennett as well as write asking that the owners of a property at 7303 Richards Trail be required to provide an environmental impact study and a groundwater protection plan before issuing a mining permit for a gravel pit.

In addition, he’ll also ask the minister to be sure, if the application is approved, that a comprehensive monitoring program is established to protect ground water, private wells and Richards Creek.

Copies of the correspondence will also go to the ministers of agriculture and the environment.

The direction to the mayor followed a long discussion at the Jan. 21 council meeting.

The application dates back to last year when Gordon and Catherine Pastula, the property’s owners, were told they could no longer operate under a North Cowichan blasting permit as they were taking out too much material.

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana said that even though a letter sent from the municipality to the mines ministry hasn’t borne fruit, it carried a message calling for important assessments that needs repeating.

Catherine Pastula spoke at last week’s council meeting.

"Three years ago it was recommended that we build ourselves either cisterns or a holding pond because there was going to be a big shortage of water," she said. "And with the size of our property, we have two problems. We have too much water and no water at the top of our property. So we went with building a cistern."

Eventually, last year, they ended up at North Cowichan, asking for a permit, she said.

"We’ve only been blasting one or two times a year. It’s not like we’ve been asking for a lot of blasting tickets. But they were denied because they said we needed a mining permit. That’s how it all started."

She described what will be happening on their farm land as they haul away the

gravel. "It’s a one-man operation; it’s not going to create very much dust."

Nearby residents have said the road is far too narrow and the area too rural in nature to support constant traffic by gravel trucks.

Pastula agreed in part, saying, "It’s an old rural road and it shouldn’t be walked upon because it’s not big enough to be walked upon. There’s no edges or anything else."

Coun. Al Siebring wanted to find out why, if it seems the Pastulas have been operating under blasting permits from North Cowichan in the past, they must suddenly be applying to the mines ministry.

Devana explained that under a North Cowichan bylaw, they can remove up to 300 cubic metres of material in one year.

However, once the Pastulas were granted a blasting permit to do that relatively small amount, they used up their quota and came back for a second permit.

"Then it was found that they wanted to significantly increase the amount of material they were blasting.

It started at 100,000 cubic metres and then it was dropped back to 40,000. But, under our bylaw, we couldn’t issue them the second permit," he said.

Coun. Joyce Behnsen then asked whether the rock that was blasted was in fact removed or was used on the property for roads there.

"The material left the site," said North Cowichan engineering director John McKay. "I found out where it went and

talked to the people that purchased the rock to find out how many truckloads they received."

Coun. Rob Douglas then stirred the pot.

"Coun. Behnsen was just referring to the 300-cubic-metre maximum. But I notice here in the traffic survey [done at the request of the Pastulas] it says for the year 2013 the total moved was 1,400 cubic metres, which is far in excess of the bylaw amount.

"My question for staff is, were we aware of this? Is this something we want perhaps to mention in the letter to the minister?" Devana was surprised by the amount. The actual figures quoted in the survey prepared for the Pastulas and released at their public meeting Jan. 7 say that during 2013 operations, 200 loads were taken out in a seven-cubic-metre truck. The total removed was 1,400 cubic metres, removed over 260 days of operation, an average of one load delivered per day.

Recently another concern has come to light.

Tracy Fleming, referral coordinator at Cowichan Tribes, wrote to North Cowichan, saying Cowichan Tribes wanted archaeological investigation prior to quarrying activities of the project because there may be middens and burial sites there.

"I would also like to ask North Cowichan to consider the potential harmful effects of diverting water from Richards Mountain for the cistern portion of this project. The water on Richards Mountain ensures much needed wetted habitat for salmon (particularly juvenile Coho) in the upper Richards Creek watershed," she said.

Devana said the municipality would not be representing Cowichan Tribes’ concerns.

"Cowichan Tribes is their own order of government. This is not our application and we feel that Cowichan Tribes should speak directly to the ministry with their concerns. That’s not our job, to speak of. It’s up to their government to act," he said.