Ponoka County residents concerned with proposed gravel pit

The residents have appealed a decision to approve the development

A proposed gravel development in Ponoka County is in limbo until an appeal request is approved.

The gravel pit development application, by VCD Aggregates, is on the south side of McKelvie Road (Township Road 441 – east side of Highway 2A) north of the Town of Ponoka. Opponents of the proposal are concerned that if approved, the gravel pit will affect their quality of life and create safety concerns.

Scott McKelvie and Kathy Ellison-McKelvie own the 10-acre property just north of the proposed development. Her home has been in that spot for decades now and would end up looking right at the gravel pit.

The property in question, however, is known to have quite a bit of gravel and the life of the project is expected to be at about 50 years. For Ellison-McKelvie, the concern is over the noise and what the development would do to their property. She and a group opposed to the development have voiced their concern both to the county and to their county representative Coun. Bryce Liddle, however, he has recused himself from the discussion.

One of the key players in the company is Bryce’s father, Bob Liddle. Ellison-McKelvie and neighbouring residents feel their concerns aren’t being heard considering Bryce has recused himself. However, they can also speak directly to Reeve Paul McLauchlin about the issue.

Originally a development permit was issued to VCD Aggregates, but that was challenged by the McKelvie’s lawyer who pointed out that the whole proposal first needed to go through a Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) meeting. While the county did not need to notify others about the commission meeting, the McKelvie’s lawyer requested to be notified, however, they were not.

“They held an MPC meeting and they decided and then they issued a development permit,” said Ellison-McKelvie.

Further concerns were noted after the MPC approval, which then saw an appeal from Ellison-McKelvie and her group. That set in motion a Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) hearing. The parties for and against the proposal attended the meeting, which was held Nov. 5, 2018. Ellison-McKelvie and family affected by the proposal hired a lawyer and a few experts to come speak.

Minutes of the meeting show that the development permit was upheld despite written concerns from neighbours and presentations from a noise specialist, hydrogeologist, a representative of the Battle River Watershed Alliance, the lawyer and a real estate broker.

Within the ‘findings of fact’ in the SDAB minutes, it states that the county’s policy allows it to waive the protection of farmland to allow industrial uses such as gravel, coal, oil or gas. “Extracting mineral resources in a careful, planned manner will generate jobs and taxes,” states the findings.

Since the appeal was denied, the group has taken it to the next step, seeking permission from a judge in the Court of Appeal, with a decision pending.

Speaking to CAO Charlie Cutforth, he said the county did initially make an error with the first approval, however, gravel pit operations do have preference as outlined in the county’s Municipal Development Plan and land-use bylaw. And where there is gravel, development of residential properties will be restricted, except in this case, the McKelvie’s house has been there since the 1940s.

The SDAB also has a responsibility to comply with the county’s MDP.

Cutforth said that the county takes the concerns seriously but pointed out that in the last 20 years or so, four or five developers have been investigating the land where the gravel sits, which is owned by Richard McKelvie.

He added that there may be other concerns as some of Richard’s immediate family rents his property for a cattle feedlot. Those operations are directly affected if the proposal is approved. That being said, Cutforth explained that the SDAB board inspected the property first-hand.

“We’ve never had this level of opposition in the past. In fact, most operators have satisfied controls in the past,” said Cutforth of the issue.

Speaking for Bobtail Gravel Consortium (made up of the landowners where the gravel is), Bob Liddle, said that he has been looking at this property for the last 11 years. The issue has always been in finding a way to transport the gravel to a piece of property on the west side of Highway 2A. But a proposal for a gravel conveyor tunnel under the road, and under the CP Rail line, has been given partial approval by both Alberta Transport and CP Rail pending a full plan.

“It certainly appears at this stage that CP Rail and Alberta Transport…are satisfied with the proposal,” said Liddle, adding that within VCD’s application to Alberta Environment has to be a plan to restore the land.

Regardless of the outcome, there is still a risk with a gravel operation. “What nobody knows, including the operators, is if the gravel can be substantially competitive,” said Liddle.

Pending the results of the application to the Court of Appeal, VCD Aggregates will still need to present detailed studies and reports to Alberta Environment, plus the proposal to have a conveyor tunnel under Highway 2A and CP Rail tracks needs final approval from Alberta Transport and CP Rail.

One issue Ponoka County hopes to rectify is that its land-use bylaw related to excavations has one word that it hopes to change. The county proposes to change the word “shall” to “may”, which affects what is expected in a development permit. A public hearing is set for Feb. 12 at 11:30 a.m. in Ponoka County chambers.


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