The British Columbia Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (BCSSGA) is concerned that small family gravel pits are being replaced by larger out-of-town mega-aggregate operations, resulting in longer travel times for trucks and causes more damage to the environment. due to higher carbon emissions.
“Ninety percent of the pollution from gravel pits doesn’t really come from the quarry – it comes from transportation and that’s also 90% of the cost. It’s also 90% of what annoys the traveling public,” says Dani Miller, president of the association representing BC aggregate producers. “No one wants to share the road with more dump trucks than necessary.
The industry consolidates into larger rural holdings because small sand and gravel quarries are treated the same as large coal or gold mines, although there is a major difference, and are often subject to the same requirements for costly engineering, geotechnical, archaeological, hydrogeological, terrestrial and aquatic habit assessments, as well as traffic, noise and dust modeling studies.
“We’re seeing a consolidation of the market year over year as the smaller pits are depleted and replaced by much larger operations, much farther out of town,” says Miller. “We are seeing an increase in transport distance. Big companies are taking over smaller ones, largely because family businesses lack the capacity to meet the technical and costly permit requirements.
Although there are over 2,000 aggregate mines and only about 200 gold or coal mines in British Columbia, gravel producers are often smaller and have not been as organized, so the voices of the largest mines have been loudest when the regulations are drafted by the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation.
The BCSSGA, for example, is a not-for-profit organization with one paid employee.
“Our efforts are mostly voluntary, and all of those volunteers have day jobs, digging and providing the gravel that we all need,” says Miller.
Every small town in the province once had a gravel quarry within an hour or two’s drive, but that’s rapidly changing as businesses consolidate and quarries are moved further afield, she says.
“It’s going away because the Ministry of Mines didn’t have, for many years, a lot of good feedback from aggregate producers and then started to license small mines in the same way as a mine. giant coal or gold and it’s not feasible. It’s not feasible for family operations.
“Their permits cost a quarter of a million dollars and you only produce 10,000 tons a year. You will never even pay for obtaining the permit during the life of the mine.
Miller argues that there should be separate rules for small sand and gravel producers because they are inherently different from large mines. Aggregate sites are typically less than 100 acres and are on previously disturbed land near a town or city. The only chemicals used are fuel, grease and equipment cleaners.
Coal and gold mines, on the other hand, are usually hundreds of miles from cities, require thousands of acres, as well as roads, dams and ponds, and must use large amounts of chemicals for some of their extraction processes that can have “significant” effects. impacts” on the environment, says Miller. Yet both types of operations are required to do studies that can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 each.
And, if an aggregate operation produces 250,000 tonnes of “loam”, a full environmental assessment must be carried out. These typically start at $1 million, which means a mid-sized gravel pit isn’t often viable, Miller says.
Gravel underpins all construction, she says, and during a natural disaster, like the recent floods that hit British Columbia’s Fraser Valley region, it’s the first material needed to repair homes. and highways, repair dykes and prevent erosion of the foundations of power lines and railways. .
“Without it, disasters go from bad to worse, quickly.”
The importance of a local gravel pit was highlighted when a levee along the Sumas River near Abbotsford was breached, Miller says. The sea wall had to be repaired within 48 hours before a second storm hit the area. The gravel could not be trucked along Highway 1 as it was under water but luckily there was a gravel pit just 15 minutes away which provided the aggregate for the repair by loading 24 trucks 24 hours.
“But that only works in Abbotsford,” says Miller. “There are no quarries west of that, south of the Fraser. What happens when the Fraser overflows its levees in Richmond or Delta?
The BCSSGA is working with various government departments to try to achieve a more favorable system for gravel mines. The association is also awaiting a crucial decision regarding the district of Highlands near Victoria which opposes a quarry in the area, as the decision will determine what municipalities can regulate.
“It’s hard to get the political will to fix something when most voters will say, ‘Not in my backyard, please,'” Miller said. “We’re working to change that, but as a small nonprofit it’s certainly difficult.”