A Squamish developer has the blessing of the provincial government to be able to convert the site of a proposed housing development into a quarry.
A typical dump truck can carry about 15 tonnes, thus this equates to about 133 truckloads per year.
The permit applies to the District Lots 509 and 510, otherwise known as the Cheema lands, and expires in April 2025. The lots, located north of the Garibaldi Highlands, are zoned for resource extraction.
With the approval of his quarry application, Cheema now has an alternative use for his land, which he has unsuccessfully been trying to turn into a residential development for some time.
"[The residential development was] our plan to do that. If that doesn't happen, then we have to do something with the site because it's been sitting there a long time," Cheema told The Chief.
While he plans on moving ahead with the quarry, he said a start date for work hasn't been set out yet.
He noted that he'd be willing to reconsider the mine if he's allowed to go ahead with a residential project.
His last effort to move forward with a residential development in that area was deferred in 2018. Cheema asked council to remove a population threshold that was delaying the project's creation, but was denied this request.
Squamish's Official Community Plan states that the municipality will only entertain development applications for properties beyond its specified development boundary when the population reaches 34,000.
However, the bar may be lowered to 22,500 if the development addresses the impacts associated with growth.
Cheema's lands lie outside the boundary, and are thus subject to those restraints.
The latest census tallied in 2016 said Squamish's population count was about 19,800 at the time. However, provincial estimates suggest the town's population grew to 21,018 in 2018, but shrank to 20,404 in 2019.
Cheema said he will be proceeding with the quarry even though COVID-19 has presented complications.
Mining is deemed an essential service, and Cheema said he doesn't anticipate any trouble finding a workforce to get the job done. He noted that in many cases, construction is operating as "business as usual," and said he anticipated the same for a mining operation.
The District has been keeping an eye on the permit. It was a subject of discussion during council's meeting on April 21.
"I think it is important when something like a mine is approved on our doorstep that we look at all the tools we have that make sure we're not only looking out for the residents in the area — and I would include all those folks all the way down to the highway — but also our infrastructure, and what it means to have heavy truck traffic on residential roads," said Mayor Karen Elliott during the meeting.
"I think it's important for us to take a look at this before it gets too far down the road."
Council voted unanimously in favour of assigning staff to create a report that would highlight how the municipality can use tools within its jurisdiction to limit the impact of the mine on residents.
"The District's concerns with the proposed mining operation on the Cheema lands include proximity to residences, environmental protection, and mine traffic through local roads," District communications staff told The Chief in an email. "The permit that was issued by the province appears to have addressed some but not all of the concerns the District raised to the province."
Jonas Velaniskis, the District's director of planning noted during the council meeting that there were several changes between the permit and what Cheema had originally applied for.
The biggest difference is that the permit doesn't allow for activities on the west side of the site, next to Dowad Drive. The permit originally asked that activity be allowed in three areas on the Cheema lands, and this cuts one of those areas out.
Velaniskis also noted there will be no mechanical work allowed on weekends, and that the setback from residential areas has been extended. It was previously closer than 45 metres to houses. The District asked the province to extend it to 150 metres — in line with municipal bylaws — but the province chose to make the setbacks 45 metres, he said.
No blasting will be allowed. Truck traffic will be limited during school hours and trucks are prohibited on Highlands Way North.
Noise must be kept below 60 decibels and no work can occur within 30 metres of a watercourse, Velaniskis added.
Cheema noted that the District has been resistant to his quarry application in the past, as the municipality had asked the province to deny Cheema his permit in December.
"What's different next door?" he said.
Cheema asked why the municipality hasn't been directly opposing other mines or quarries in the surrounding area.
The District says it is not aware of any mining works adjacent to the Cheema lands, however, it did note there was "historical site alteration activity" on what used to be known as the Dowad Property, which is right beside the Cheema lands.
A past report to council says that a gravel pit existed in the Dowad Drive area. It was subject to rezoning hearings as 2015 and 2016, as Diamond Head Development sought to turn the area into a residential housing project. It has since become the home of the Skyridge Development.
"The District did not permit the historical site alteration activity on the property formerly known as the Dowad Property," said District staff.
"It is not known whether they had provincial approval and did not require approval from the District as we did not have a permitting process for site alteration at that time. The District continues to regulate the development of a Skyridge Neighbourhood, which is not a mine."
The Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, or SORCA, weighed in briefly about what it would mean for the many people who use trails in Cheema lands.
Uzi Valiante, the organization's director of government relations, said Cheema's application stated — among other things — that the sites were designed "to ensure there will be little impact on the trail users on the applicant's property."
"SORCA is confident that the Cheema family will fulfill the commitments they've made to trail users in receiving their mine permit," reads the statement issued by Valiante.
"We will continue to work with the Cheema family and are grateful for the continued access that they provide to trail users."