With public opposition mounting against a proposed gravel mine at McNab Creek, a citizens’ group is pushing for a comprehensive management plan for Howe Sound.
Future of Howe Sound Society spokesman Jeff Gau said the proposed Burnco mine “is a perfect real-life example” of the kind of heavy industry that would be ruled out under a management plan adopted by local governments and First Nations.
“I can’t think of a worse place for that particular mine. Their neighbour is Camp Potlatch, where 1,000 kids come every summer,” Gau said. “We ought not to be wasting industry’s time and resources and taxpayers’ resources objecting to projects that wouldn’t be proposed in the first place if Howe Sound had a comprehensive management plan.”
Gau’s group has collected about 1,100 signatures from an online petition opposing the $60-million project. On Sept. 20, Gau appeared before the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s planning and development committee asking the SCRD to refuse Burnco’s rezoning application.
The committee passed two motions, one endorsing the concept of a comprehensive management plan and the other agreeing to participate in a forum next year involving all Howe Sound major stakeholders.
The rezoning application, however, is expected to come before the committee next month, and directors said they did not want to show bias before considering the proposal.
After the meeting, Gau said it’s unclear whether a refusal by the SCRD would stop the project. Without the rezoning, he said, the company could not crush the aggregate on the site, but there is speculation the company is also looking at a second site at Rainy River, near Port Mellon.
“They could possibly extract the aggregate from McNab Creek and get it to Rainy River to crush it,” Gau said.
A harmonized federal and provincial environmental assessment is in the works and the project will have to receive approval from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which in 2011 expressed “serious concerns” about the impact of the project on salmon habitat.
Gau noted that McNab Creek is one of only three estuaries in Howe Sound and said an open-pit mine would devastate the local ecology.
“There’s no way you can mitigate harm to an estuary which you’ve removed,” he said.
The foreshore alone, he added, has been designated by the Vancouver Aquarium as an area of prime interest because of its rich marine life.
Gau said heavy industrialization on Howe Sound does not make sense after an estimated $46 million has been spent on cleanup from the former copper mine at Britannia Beach, and after pulp mills spent millions of dollars upgrading.
Burnco says the mine would create 12 full-time jobs and operate more than 300 days a year, removing about a million tonnes of aggregate annually.
Gau also disputes that number, contending the volumes removed would be four times higher.
In the group’s presentation to the SCRD, Lions Bay resident Ruth Simons said the project’s impact on the part of Howe Sound that lies outside SCRD boundaries would be huge.
“There are thousands of people who enjoy the peace and quiet and environment of McNab Creek,” Simons told the Coast Reporter. “I’m in Lions Bay, 16 kilometres away, but in direct sightline view of McNab Creek, as are hundreds of thousands of people who drive the Sea to Sky Highway every year.”
Burnco is looking at the Howe Sound site to move its operations from Port McNeil and relocate closer to the Vancouver market. In response to an inquiry from the SCRD, the town of Port McNeil’s administrator, Sue Harvey, confirmed that “there are no issues with the town, the company is an excellent employer and operates in a professional manner.”
In late May, about 150 people attended an open house on the project at Horseshoe Bay, with many expressing concerns about air quality and the impact on the environment.