This splendid article by Walter Neufeld from CHILLIWACK TODAY spells out with no punches pulled just what “environmental assessments are all about and it applies to the farces that deal with private power companies destroying our rivers. What does it take to stop the Minister of State for Mining from lying to BC constituents? The answer, it seems, is that he will not be stopped. Our friends in the Chilliwack River Valley are Randy Hawes’ latest victims. They are in the process of finding out what many BC communities already know about Hawes. The Ministry of Mines (MoM) is in the process of approving another contentious gravel mine, and this one’s in their Valley

During a recent CBC radio interview (May 14/10), spokesperson Glen Thompson began by outlining a variety of legitimate community concerns regarding the gravel mine’s foreseeable negative impact on a valley that is environmentally sensitive and an important tourist destination. He went on to express his concerns about the lack of public input and the traffic snarl that would be caused by gravel trucks choking the single lane road.

Hawes rebutted by first dismissing the community’s concerns about the mine’s size. He assured listeners that the mine would remove less than 750,000 tonnes per year and the total disturbance would only be 25 hectares, not the 40 permitted hectares.
What Hawes was really saying was that the mine would not trigger an Environmental Assessment Review. The way gravel miners accomplish that feat is by taking out an initial “small” permit which is followed by consecutive-creeping-expansion-permits that, individually, all stay under the “trigger” threshold even though the overall mine size might be many times the size required to trigger an Environmental Assessment. Got that?

When you check the provincial Environmental Assessment Office‘s website, it reports that of all the gravel mines permitted in BC between 1995-2008, only six gravel mines in all BC were required to go for review and of those six, only four had been Certified by 2008. That seems to indicate that no comprehensive “reviews” were required for the majority of gravel mines approved during that same time period.

What exactly does it take to trigger Environmental Assessment Review? To put in perspective the magnitude of this “loop hole”, we need find out whether one of the largest gravel mines in BC triggered an Environmental Assessment. Mainland Sand and Gravel’s mine at Cox Station, Sumas Mountain north, is the third largest gravel mine in BC  by volume and possibly the first or second largest for landscape disturbance but, according to the Ministry of Environment, it has not triggered an Environmental Review in-spite-of the fact that the Sumas Mountain is home to a variety of documented red lettered species.  

Environmental Assessment Process

“The intent of the environmental assessment process is to identify any foreseeable adverse impacts through the project’s life-cycle including construction, start up, operation and shut-down, and to determine ways to eliminate, minimize, mitigate or compensate impacts. The process identifies the potential effects of the project on community values and provides information on the nature of public support for a project.”
Any wonder BC constituents are becoming more and more cynical about the politicians who govern them? Not surprising that so many constituents are enraged by the politicians’ deflowering of the Ministry of the Environment and the Agricultural Land Reserve. These administrative institutions were tasked with protecting BC’s environmental heritage; they were not tasked to act as shills for corporate interests.

Secondly, Hawes claimed that all aspects of the permit would by scrutinized by a multi-disciplinary review. Really? Where’s the science? Where are the scientific, contrary, reviews? Not surprisingly, there are no critical, contrary, scientific opinions because the Liberal government has pursued a course that systematically sidelines and/or sacks administrative professionals like Marvin Rosenau, Carla Lenihan, and Bev Anderson (et al, formerly with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection) whose research findings contradicted the governments misguided strategies (see 2004 Georgia Straight article “Betting The Farm” by Ben Parfitt ; What Hawes does not address is the fact that his Ministry’s reviews are based on pimp science. BC’s public is deeply concerned when contrary opinions are feared and scientific debates cease to exist; they’re left to conclude that the resulting default decisions are political.

Misinterpretation of the Act

This leads directly to Hawes’ next public misdirection. He claimed that that he could not/would not interfere in the Chief Mines Inspector’s decision as to whether or not to permit a gravel mine and thereby avoid the slippery slope of abuse. Really? “Section 11 of the Mines Act under “Permits – powers of minister,” say otherwise, namely “If the minister considers it to be necessary in the public interest, the minister, in respect of the issuing of permits, has and may exercise all the powers that the chief inspector may exercise under this Act.” A plain reading of this section clearly applies whenever public/community interests are at issue. And yet Hawes has persistently misinterpreted the intent of this section of the Act. It has nothing to do with his morality and/or possible abuse of power. Hawes’ posturing regarding this issue is seen for what it is, spindly scaffolding meant to keep him out of the reach of “the public interest” being played out on the ground. It’s the Hawes way of avoiding responsibility. It’s as plain as that.

At this point in the CBC interview, Hawes has verbally coiled around many of the contentious issues plaguing gravel mine permits and he has progressively choked white the truth in them. But he’s not quite done. He assures listeners that the public will have an opportunity to express their concerns at a “public review” and that the office of the Chief Mines Inspector will consider all public input.

This writer has personally attended numerous “public reviews” to which Hawes’ so fondly refers. I’ve also spoken to many concerned community groups across BC who had attended similar “public reviews” in their own areas. There is an informal consensus about what happens to the public’s input at those “public reviews”. Simply put, the “public review” process is a sham; it does not in any meaningful way change the permitting process.

We can find proof that public input is ignored by looking at one simple fact, while the provincial government has made note of some of the unresolved adverse impacts gravel mining has foisted on BC’s environment and communities, it has not undertaken a single comprehensive study which is mandated to identify all adverse impacts and which provides remedies for the same. What are some of the adverse negative impacts? The provincial government has highlighted some of them as “…public concerns about noise, dust, truck traffic and impacts on water, fish and wildlife habitat, property values, viewscapes and lifestyles.” And “…property values, viewscapes and lifestyles…” and the need for recovering, “…costs of mitigating negative impacts on the Community…” Why has that missing scientific study not been commissioned?

To find the answer to that question, I spoke with an Ombudsperson and was informed that the provincial government is not legally compelled to do anything with the “publics input”, but, it is compelled to hold “public reviews”. We get it. They’re a political exercise only.

Political exercise only

Finally, Hawes has noted that if the Aggregate Pilot Project (APP) were in place, it would not permit a mine application in a “red” zone within the Chilliwack River Valley. What Hawes does not mention is the fact that the APP was strategically designed and written by and for the gravel industry. It is there to protect their interests only. The public was not invited to participate in any way. And yet that is the document Hawes invites the Chilliwack constituents to trust? Hawes has been repeatedly challenged to show where the public’s interests/concerns are addressed in that document. To date he’s been unable to find the references in the document that protect public interests: Chilliwack River Valley resident interests.

Hawes critics had previously provided him with alternative procedures which could pave the way to finding solutions to the ongoing unresolved community conflicts. To date he has not responded.

Spindly scaffolding strains under Hawes while he shushes the public, water-boards environmental and community concerns and fingers the limp truth hanging from his hand.

Walter Neufeld was born and raised in Abbotsford. He manages a development company operating in BC and in Alberta. Walter has been a critic of the provincial government’s dysfunctional Mines Act for about 12 years. Most recently, he’s critiqued both Honourable Randy Hawes and the gravel industries Aggregate Pilot Project. The Aggregate Pilot Project is a harmful private production document which Hawes is currently trying to offload onto BC’s public domain.

For more information on the Area ‘E’ OCP and the opposition to the gravel mine: