Tag Archives: gravel

McNab Beach - just below a proposed gravel mine in Howe Sound

Gravel Mining Project Threatens Ecological, Recreational Treasure in Howe Sound


“Anywhere else in the world, Howe Sound would be a great National Park”
  Dr. Murray Newman, Former Executive Director – Vancouver Aquarium

A large part of the beauty and international appeal of British Columbia’s West Coast can be found in the natural environment of Howe Sound.  Over the past 20 years, Howe Sound has been the subject of millions of dollars in reclamation projects to restore its health, paid for by industry and you the taxpayer.  Regrettably an Alberta based company has proposed a large scale gravel mining and crushing facility at McNab creek that will set back these rehabilitation efforts, especially for local salmon populations.  This proposal comes at a time when the recovering health of the Sound has led to sightings of Pacific white-sided dolphins and grey and killer whales for the first time in decades. We should not allow this progress to be placed at risk.

The massive project as filed by Burnco Rock Products Ltd, envisions at least 1 million tonnes of gravel extracted per year from the creekbed area with spikes up to 4 million tonnes. During the project’s first phase, a 77 hectare industrial pit would be dug out of the McNab Creek estuary to depths of 55 metres below surface grade and more than 15 metres below the water table.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the proposed project is likely to result in the destruction of fish habitat which cannot be compensated elsewhere in the Sound.  In its comment on the project, the DFO stated that they “continue to have serious concerns about the extent of the impacts to fish and fish habitat that may result from this project” and concluded that “The project presents a high risk to Salmon and Salmon habitat.”

In addition to the risks to fish habitat, the project description indicates the site could be home to up to 20 species at risk, including a population of Roosevelt Elk that were transplanted to McNab Creek by the BC Ministry of Environment in 2001 in an effort to re-introduce the species to the area.  The McNab Creek estuary and surrounding waters are extensively used for recreational and commercial fishers, tourism operators, boaters, recreational property owners, numerous children’s camps and other compatible users – all placed in profound jeopardy by the Burnco proposal. 

Despite concerns voiced by DFO, local governments and local community groups, the Burnco project has recently begun a review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

This unfortunate situation clearly illustrates the absence of a long term planning strategy for Howe Sound.  The need for a specific Howe Sound plan has been formally recognized by twelve local governments and First Nations representing the communities in the Sea to Sky corridor.   In September 2002, they signed a “Principles of Co-operation” Agreement which identified the importance of community involvement in the consideration of issues affecting Howe Sound and the need to “work together for the greater good because territorial lines on a map mean nothing in terms of sustainability”.  Notwithstanding the wishes of local governments and First Nations, the review of the Burnco project is proceeding without any long term planning process involving those interested parties.

If approved, the Burnco Mine proposal will cause permanent, irreversible damage to a unique natural estuary that is home to at risk species and will also endanger ongoing efforts to sustain marine biodiversity in Howe Sound. In addition, important jobs and significant economic activity and opportunity in recreational tourism and commercial fishery will be put at risk.

Currently, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) review of the project is underway and the initial public comment period on the proposed project closed on February 3, 2012.  CEAA is reviewing the project description and is expected to issue the draft Environmental Impact Study guidelines shortly.  The draft guidelines will be subject to public comment and there is expected to be further opportunity for public participation at other stages in the review.  A companion review will also be conducted at the Provincial level and the BC Environmental Assessment Office is expected to initiate the process by the issuance of the draft Application Information Requirements (AIR) later this spring.  There will be public comment solicited on the AIR.  There is expected to be further opportunities for public participation during the Provincial review process although no timeline for public participation has been published at this time.

It is critical that members of the public and community groups make their voices heard during both the Federal and Provincial review processes.  Information on the Federal CEAA review can be obtained at www.ceaa.gc.ca and on the BC EAO review at www.eao.gov.bc.ca

Further developments regarding the next steps in this review process and details of how to make your views known will be posted at futureofhowesound.org.  To be kept informed of the status of the review process, join our mailing list for ongoing updates.

Les Morton is a representative of the Future of Howe Sound Society.

BCIT Rivers Institue Chair Emeritus Mark Angelo

Prominent BCIT Conservationists Team Up to Save “Heart of the Fraser”


World Rivers Day founder and Chair Emeritus of BCIT’s Rivers Institute Mark Angelo and prominent fish biologist and BCIT professor Dr. Marvin Rosenau have launched a dynamic new initiative to conserve the enormous ecological values of a critical stretch of the Fraser River just East of Vancouver. Known as the Gravel Reach or, “Heart of the Fraser” for its prime spawning habitat – home to dozens of species of salmon, trout, sturgeon and other lesser known but ecologically significant fish – the region between Mission and Hope is threatened by a laundry list of industrial impacts. That’s why these two conservationists, along with their students and the support of a number of other environmental organizations have developed an innovative new program to help protect it.

Watch this short video on the launch of the program:

The “Shared Vision” document for the program – whose sponsors also include the Nature Trust of BC, the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, and the North Growth Foundation – describes the nature of the threat to this critical ecosystem and what is required to protect it:

Political, corporate, and public efforts must be coordinated and applied in order to counter the rapid disappearance of one of the most diverse and valuable aquatic and lowland ecosystems in British Columbia. Our goal is to identify, conserve, protect and restore key portions of the Gravel Reach in order to sustain and secure the biological and ecological integrity of the area…The lower Fraser River riparian lowlands continue to rapidly disappear due to continued encroachment through land development, agriculture, and industrial activities that include extensive resource extraction (i.e., logging and mining).

See videos below on gravel mining in this stretch of the Fraser River – including a talk by Dr. Marvin Rosenau.

This important stretch of habitat, which “functions in a biologically rich and diverse manner because of the extensive lateral and vertical inundation of islands, gravel bars, and the riparian/terrestrial ecosystems over the period of the hydrological year,” is home to an unmatched collection of fish and wildlife values. A list of these values contained in the program’s “Shared Vision” document gives one a sense of just what’s at stake here:

“These attributes include:

  • the largest-single spawning run of salmon in British Columbia, and perhaps North America (these are pink salmon which reproduce in the main channel of the Gravel Reach and may well exceed 10 million fish on the spawning grounds in some years);
  • the largest population of white sturgeon in North America not influenced by dams or aquaculture (white sturgeon are the largest and longest-living freshwater fish in North America — they can attain lengths in excess of 6 meters, weights of over 600 kilograms, and they can live for over 150 years);
  • a spawning stock of Pacific eulachon, which up until only a few decades ago was one of the largest runs of eulachon in British Columbia; this small, anadromous smelt leaves the marine environment to spawn in the lower Fraser River in April and May and all individuals die after spawning; the oil- and protein-rich carcasses provide a significant source of food and nutrients for the aquatic, avian, and terrestrial ecosystems of the Gravel Reach, and are an important, traditional food of Fraser River First Nations communities;
  • a migration corridor for some of the largest spawning runs of sockeye salmon in North America (most of these originate from upstream populations);
  • juvenile-feeding habitat for local-chum and migratory-chinook salmon stocks that rear along gravel bars and within side channels;
  • spawning habitat for local chum salmon stocks in the large side channels, which in some years may exceed 1 million returning adult fish;
  • habitat that supports approximately 30 different species of fish, including at least eight fishes that are considered to be at-risk: cutthroat trout, bull char (both resident and anadromous), Dolly Varden char, eulachon, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, mountain sucker, and brassy minnow.

There are also many other non-fish species of animals living in the Fraser River Gravel Reach that are found in complex combinations occurring nowhere else in Canada, including:

  • aquatic mammals (seals, sea-lions, river beaver, martin);
  • large terrestrial/aquatic omnivores including black (and the occasional grizzly) bear;
  • other large vertebrates include blacktail and whitetail deer, cougar, coyote;
  • extensive populations of various species of rarer birds including red-tail hawk, green and great blue heron, bald eagle, assorted dabbling ducks, wood duck, purple martin, sandhill crane, turkey vultures;
  • the Pacific water shrew (a species at risk);
  • amphibians such as the Oregon spotted frog, western red-backed salamander, and the Pacific giant salamander.”

Besides the work of BCIT students continuing to research and map the fish and habitat values of the Gravel Reach, the program is seeking to develop a “Lower Fraser River Ecosystem” working group, comprised of program participants, First Nations, representatives of all levels of government, NGOs and other key stakeholders. The goal of this team would be to advance these conservation objectives through the following tools:

  • outright purchase of private properties – Nature Trust or other such entity to manage in perpetuity;
  • donations of private land into a protected area envelope;
  • evaluation of existing Crown forests within this area to ascertain if a more advantageous land allocation arrangement might be offered to forest companies which would allow the reversion of some sensitive habitats into non-harvestable lands, and subsequent protection;
  • conversion of existing, non-used Crown lands into Section 108 reserves, protected areas, and/or Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s);
  • restrictive-covenant agreements on non-purchasable lands; and
  • alternative options for protecting First Nation lands need to be explored such as the purchasing of outside-of-dike properties, to be added to existing titles, in exchange for not undertaking development on the lowland riparian lands, or the restoration of currently impacted FN properties.

It’s an ambitious program – but given what’s at stake in this rich ecosystem, what it represents to the people of British Columbia, and the dire challenges it faces for survival, it would also appear a necessary one.

The Common Sense Canadian will endeavour to keep its readers updated as to the progress of the “Heart of the Fraser Initiative” as it evolves.

Videos on Gravel Mining the Heart of the Fraser:


Would you put a gravel mine here? McNab Creek in west Howe Sound, north of Vancouver

Local Governments, Citizens Want More Scrutiny of Proposed Howe Sound Gravel Mine


Regional politicians in jurisdictions along Howe Sound are calling for a bigger role in the review of a major proposed gravel mine at McNab Creek. Several Sunshine Coast regional directors and councilors have recently stepped forward with concerns about the lack of local government involvement in the project’s environmental review – currently being carried out under the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Burnco Rock Products, Ltd. of Calgary wants to build a 77 hectare, 55 metre deep gravel and sand pit in acknowledge fish and wildlife habitat. The company estimates it can extract 1 – 1.6 million tonnes of gravel per year for 20-30 years from the property, rising to as much as 4 million tonnes in some years. The size and potential environmental impact of the proposal have local politicians and citizens raising red flags. A local citizens’ group, The Future of Howe Sound Society, is also concerned the project has slid under the radar thus far and is urging the public to comment on the proposal by the end of the week, when the first public comment phase closes.

Directors of the Sunshine Coast Regional District expressed surprise at a January 19 meeting that the public comment period for the project was already underway. “We’ve got a huge thing going on, and we find out about it in the newspaper, when we have already registered quite a strong degree of concern,” West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull told the meeting, according to the Coast Reporter. “The extent of this — this is going to be bigger than Sechelt. I’m not kidding. This is bigger than the [Lehigh] construction aggregate and it’s going to be running out of Howe Sound.”

The Future of Howe Sound Society has been warning the public about the project since last year. In November they issued a media release calling for more public involvement in the federal government’s process:

Howe Sound is only now recovering from the environmental damage and pollution caused by past mining and other industrial activities. Dolphins and whales are returning to Howe Sound for the first time in a generation and fish numbers are increasing. To now allow new industrial projects without a comprehensive land use plan would be short sighted and tragic.

Public participation is necessary to ensure that any review conducted through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency goes beyond that and examines the overall impact on marine life, residents and users of Howe Sound.

The project was first proposed by Burnco in 2009 but faced a series of setbacks when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sent it back to the drawing board with some key unanswered questions. The company says it’s addressed DFO’s concerns about potential impact on nearby fish habitat – which supports coho, chum, Chinook, pink and steelhead salmon and resident and sea-run cutthroat trout – but not everyone is convinced.

Councilor Dan Bouman told the Gibsons council meeting on January 17, “I’ve been aware of this project for about three years. I’m wondering: [DFO] is the key agency that has statutory authority to grant or not grant authority to do habitat damage. They’re saying it’s too much. Why are we going into environmental assessment?”

A report submitted on behalf of the company to the federal review process acknowledges a number of important wildlife values as well – listing 24 different blue and red listed species that may occur in the area of the proposed project. The report suggests about half of these species likely don’t use the specific area of the proposed pit, but acknowledges potential impacts to others:

[Species at Risk] confirmed to occur in the Property include coastal tailed frog (in Harlequin Creek), herons (forage in the spawning channel and McNab Creek mainstem), and barn swallow (nests in abandoned buildings). Other SAR that could potentially occur on the Property include red-legged frog, northern goshawk, band-tailed pigeon, coastal western screech-owl, sooty grouse, olive-sided flycatcher, and pine grosbeak.

The Future of Howe Sound Society is also concerned about the massive mine’s potential impacts on the broader region of the Sound – including whales and dolphins and other community values register its concerns about the project this week, saying on its website, “The aim of the Society is to protect the future of Howe Sound through the development of a comprehensive and holistic land and water use plan,” which the region currently lacks.

The group is urging citizens from the region and beyond to weigh in on the public comment process this week, saying, “If you do not make your views known, please understand this project and it’s predictable destruction in the Sound will take place unchallenged just at a time when the dolphins and whales have returned to the Sound.”