The verdict is in – RM of Edenwold council has approved in principle an Inland Aggregates gravel extraction project planned for northwest of Pilot Butte, but not without a catch.
Council unanimously approved the proposal at its regular meeting Oct. 13 after a lengthy debate and a series of briefings from the planning department.
RM planning manager Jana Jedlic told council Inland was likely to face the most complex set of guidelines and conditions the RM had likely ever placed upon a gravel extractor, in response to concerns from a local landowner adjacent to the proposed site.
“There’s a lot of competing interests here,” planner Jessica Mitchell added. “We know gravel is important. We know quality of life for residents is important. Are there things we can do to mitigate effects? Yes ? Things like road safety, nuisances for neighbours, existing maintenance problems. reclamation, protecting gravel resources. We can do things there. Can we completely eliminate the risk to the water aquifer? We can certainly try, and with some engineering and staff resources, we can prioritize that and create as little risk as possible.”
Mitchell said if conditions are added to the approval, a focus then shifts to enforcement, which will require additional staff time for planning staff and community safety officers to address those processes and concerns.
Planners advised council they are “between a rock and a hard place” but that the Official Community Plan and Statements of Provincial Interest indicate that it is in the public interest as gravel is a need for construction both within and outside the municipality.
“There are adjacent pits. There are adjacent pits even on the neighbour’s land,” Jedlic said. “If not here, are we going to have a better location? That’s a tough one, and I’m not sure you will.”
Jedlic referred to the wind energy sector, where there are models that ensure individuals who are negatively impacted by the erection of windmills are financially compensated.
“It might be the case where gravel may have to look at it,” Jedlic said. “That’s outside our approval process, but not outside what (Inland) could do to try to make for a positive relationship with neighbours. ”
Coun. Tim Brodt noted Inland has taken steps to improve the aesthetics of the area, which had become problematic for area residents.
“I saw they had a backhoe in there to try and clean things up and they are working at it, but I told them it looks like a bloody eyesore,” said Brodt. “So why would we allow that on the other side (of the same landowner)? I guess if we can push that more, that will help.”
Reeve Mitch Huber said council had reached a consensus to approve Inland’s gravel extraction application after much debate, “because of the need for gravel.”
“It would be wrong in holding back the development, but that being said, you have to minimize the negative impacts to a reasonable, respectable degree,” Huber said.
Coun. Wayne Joyce expressed concern over road safety, and floated the possibility that the RM could restrict gravel truck road crossings to avoid commuter rush hours.
“The number of gravel trucks I’ve monitored going on to Highway 48 with no reductions on speed, this strikes me as excessive,” Joyce said. “You’re really saying this site is only available from 9:30 to 4:30, which seems to me like a short workday for that kind of facility,” Joyce said. “(Cutting gravel truck crossings of Highway 46 from 4:30-6:30 p.m.) seems too long for me. If I was putting that in place, I’d want to know what the traffic counts actually are to ensure we are being reasonable.”
Joyce added the commuter traffic will have cleared area by 8:30 a.m. in the morning and by 5:30 p.m., for those leaving work at 5 p.m.
A plan to protect the Condie Aquifer, which includes how chemicals are used on site and monitoring ground water quality, will be another requirement placed on Inland. A comprehensive land reclamation program will also be required later on in the process.
Jedlic added gravel extraction should be kept to more the centre of the land parcel, avoiding the edges where residents currently live, or where future residential development is likely.
Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter