Merritt’s mayor is having second thoughts about throwing city support behind a group of citizens opposed to a proposed gravel pit west of town.

“I owe Nicola Valley Aggregates — and more importantly, the public — an apology.” – Linda Brown

After deciding to send a delegation and letter of opposition to the chief inspector of mines regarding the application last week, mayor Linda Brown invited the team behind Nicola Valley Aggregates Ltd. (NVA) to share their side of the story at a special committee of the whole meeting on April 29.

“I owe Nicola Valley Aggregates — and more importantly, the public — an apology,” said Brown. “At our last meeting mayor and council heard from a delegation in opposition to a proposed gravel pit.  Following this presentation council decided to send a letter and a delegation to speak to this proposed gravel pit. In doing this I believe that we put the cart before the horse, without hearing all sides of the issue.”

Michael Nesbit’s presentation to council at the April 23 regular meeting outlined his concerns regarding the application, including traffic congestion, noise, air pollution, erosion of property values and health risks.

“All of these concerns were addressed at a public meeting, at which Mr. Nesbit and two councillors were present,” said Peters, “The public concerns and NVA’s solutions have been documented and forwarded to both the ministry of mines and the city. Several of the concerns were directly addressed by a senior mines inspector. I will go through them again.”

Starting with the location, Peters said Nesbit was correct in stating the proposed pit would be 250m from the nearest residence and 100m from the nearest water source, but failed to mention those assets are within their own property, occupied by Paul Breaks — NVA’s mine manager and son of NVA president Gary Breaks.

“He’s standing here today, he drinks the water every day — that is his permanent residence,” Peters said. “The nearest public residence is actually 449 metres from the centre of the proposed pit. That belongs to Mr. And Mrs. Pooley, who have written a letter supporting the actors of NVA.”

“The notion that massive dust clouds will blow across Merritt, poisoning the city’s citizens, is simply not realistic.” – Saxon Peters

Regarding the negative health effects of silica dust, Peters said any operation that creates dust can put people at risk, including many activities that occur in and around Merritt every day.

“Some examples where silica could become airborne are the city’s composting facility, Norgaard Ready Mix, untreated gravel lane ways, the various saw mills around town, and every single new land development project that enters Merritt,” he said. “It’s preposterous to claim that the excavation of gravel outside of town will be any more of a threat of silicosis than just about any industrial activity occurring in Merritt today,” he said.

Peters added the company is aware of the risks from dust, and has plans to address them through measures such as paving the main access road to the pit and treating the smaller roads with an environmentally-friendly dust suppressant.

“The notion that massive dust clouds will blow across Merritt, poisoning the city’s citizens, is simply not realistic,” he said.

As NVA’s mining application lists 200,000 tonnes as the maximum amount the company can mine each year, Coun. Kurt Christopherson asked where they are planning to sell all the gravel.

Peters said the 200, 000 maximum was chosen from a pre-set list of options on the application, and has no correlation with how much product will actually be sold. That all depends on market demand, he said, estimating they could sell between 20,000 to 40,000 tonnes per year.

“There is no benefit to us as property owners to create some catastrophic hole in the ground that is worthless to resell or to further develop.” – Saxon Peters

“We anticipate selling to the local community, new sub-divisions that are going up, new commercial properties, the same consumers that purchase sand and gravel today,” said Peters.

Coun. Tony Luck asked what assurances NVA can give the public that they will abide by the rules set forth by the ministry should their application be approved.

“The biggest thing is they can revoke our permit which puts us out of business,” said Peters. “Furthermore, we own the property. At the end of the day when we’re finished mining whether it be a year, two years or 30 years from now, we’re left with whatever we created. There is no benefit to us as property owners to create some catastrophic hole in the ground that is worthless to resell or to further develop.”

Council is set to reconsider the motion to send a delegation and letter of opposition at the next regular meeting, scheduled for May 7.

If they choose share feedback with the inspector of mines responsible making the decision to issue the permit or not, they have until May 10 to do so.

“We appreciate the applicants being willing to present to us, particularly under circumstances where we have no decision-making authority over their land, and where the land is correctly zoned for gravel operation,” Brown said. “I want to be clear that we as council may still decide to send a delegation regarding this gravel pit, but if we do so I want it to be with all the information after hearing from the applicants.”