Merrittonians may know if the Nicola Valley will be home to a new gravel pit within the next two months.

Nicola Valley Aggregates Ltd., the three-person team behind a proposed sand and gravel excavation operation just west of Merritt, hosted a public meeting to discuss the project with the community on April 10.

Over 60 people eagerly crammed into a room in the civic centre to hear from the entrepreneurs as well as government officials involved in the decision-making process.

“We have nothing to hide — we have never had anything to hide,” said Saxon Peters, one third of Nicola Valley Aggregates.

Local residents gathered to learn more about the proposal and have their questions answered. (Dara Hill/Herald)

The group of residents didn’t waste any time asking a slew of questions regarding the proposal. While the comments were rapid-fire and mainly critical of the development, attendees were respectful as they questioned the proposal and some seemed comforted by the open dialogue.

Water was one of the first concerns  raised at the meeting. Peters explained the company paid to have a hydrological study done, which was available to view at the gathering.

The pit “will not affect any aquifers anywhere around the Nicola Valley,” he said. “There are no aquifers underneath the property and there are no watercourses going through the property near where our pit is.”

A resident living on the valley bottom adjacent to the property said he is concerned about noise and asked if rock crushing is part of the plan.

In response, Peters said their primary pieces of equipment will be a loader and an excavator, as well as a screening plant at times.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that we are never going to crush rock, but what I can tell you is we don’t have any immediate plans for crushing because we do not think it is necessary,” Peters said. “We think we can get any product we need simply by screening what is in the ground right now.”

Saxon Peters (left) responded to a slew of questions from the public. (Dara Hill/Herald).

Because it would be an engineered pit, Peters added it has been designed with a lot of the common concerns in mind.

“It addresses a lot of things like runoff and noise,” he said. “Believe it or not it does try to direct the noise back up towards the mountain.”

The question of dust came up as well, which Peters said would be easily mitigated with an environmentally-friendly suppressant and by paving the main access road to Highway 8.

Beyond environmental concerns, a couple residents questioned the value of having another excavation business in the Nicola Valley.

“B.C. is full of holes in the ground — it has been like that since the 1800s, since the gold rush. ‘Come to B.C., dig a hole in the ground,’” said Bob Holmes in earnest.

Holmes, who lives near the proposed pit, suggested considering another venture on the site such as housing development.

“My impression is that the Nicola Valley, if it is going to be an attractive place for people to move to, they are going to need nice subdivisions,” he said.

“I completely respect what you are saying, and a lot of what you said I do not disagree with. It would make  great subdivision, but that is not the business we are in right now,” responded Peters. “You are right — it is a nice piece of property. People are moving to the Nicola Valley, and when they move to the Nicola Valley to build subdivisions, they need gravel.”

However, after the 5-year permit expires the company could choose to move in a different direction if they chose.

“To be perfectly honest if things were going well, we would probably ask for an extension — we would probably want to keep mining it,” Peters said, adding that beyond that the team has not had much discussion regarding the aftermath and reclamation on the property.

Engineered drawings of the 5-year excavation plan. (Dara Hill/Herald).

Senior permitting inspector with the ministry of energy, mines and petroleum resources Rick Adams is tasked with making the call whether to issue the permit or not.

He attended the public meeting, and answered one of the big question of the night: what’s next?

Adams said he will review comments and concerns expressed at the meeting in Merritt, and initiate dialogue with the Lower Nicola Indian Band as part of their First Nations consultation.

He said he may have a decision whether to issue the company their 5-year mine permit within the next two months.

His job to hear from all sides, he said, and see if concerns can be mitigated before making the call.

“We are at the  process now where we are hearing the public’s concerns and comments, giving the applicant the opportunity to describe their application,” he said. “We haven’t completed the First Nations consultation yet — it is still in the early days.”

Members of the public are invited to share comments and concerns with via email within a 30-day window following the public meeting (held on April 10) and then he may take up to 30 days to review all the information and make his decision.