On July 23, adelegation from the SCCA and Friends of Davie Bay met on Texada Texada Island. LeHigh Hanson Materials Ltd. wants to open a new, big quarry on Texada. The Friends have filed a court challenge. They want a provincial environmental assessment first.
The case is important for two reasons. Firstly, if the judge rules in favour of the Friends of Davie Bay, it could change the way the provincial government issues mining permits. It could become more difficult for projects to be approved without an environmental assessment.
Secondly, the most important system of karst caves along the BC coast between Washington and Alaska could have a better chance of protection.
In May 2009, LeHigh applied to open a limestone quarry on 75 acres of private and Crown land above Davie Bay, on the South side of the island. A 433 metre long conveyor, seven metres above the ground, would transport the crushed aggregate over the causeway and island in Davie Bay to a barge-loading facility. The ramp would extend 50 feet past the shore to enable 10,000 tonne barges, 350 feet in length, to load.
We had lunch on the island, an undisturbed spot of great beauty.
In its application, LeHigh stated that it would not produce more than 240,000 tonnes a year. An environmental assessment would automatically be required for production over 250,000 tonnes.
However, with an indicated mining reserves of 100 million tonnes, a quarry size of 75 hectares and a loading ramp capable of processing 2,500 tonnes per hour, the proposed mine would clearly be capable of producing more than 1 million tonnes a year. A major quarry, in international terms.
The mine would only need to operate 8 hours a month to produce 240,000 tonnes a year. The Friends of Davie Bay, wondering why LeHigh would propose infrastructure for a million tonnes a year, have asked the judge to require the Minister of the Environment to order an environmental assessment.
If the judge rules in the groups favour, the provincial government will have to change its procedures. Not only will it have to consider stated output of mining operations, but also proposed production capacity, thus necessitating more environmental assessments. According to Andrew Gage, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law, this could affect a large number of projects in BC. Production output of projects is now often tailor made to avoid environmental assessment. We hope that will change, he says. The firm finds the issue important enough to fund 80 per cent of the legal costs, for which the Friends of Davie Bay are very grateful.
On our trip to Texada, we saw an eelgrass meadow in the area right underneath where the proposed conveyor would be. Eelgrass beds are protected under the Federal Fisheries Act as a critical fish habitat.
Davie Bay is also the centre of a Rockfish Conservation Area.
We are concerned about Davie Bay being impacted by a loading dock, said John Dove, retired geologist and one of the Friends of Davie Bay. An operating quarry produces an awful lot of dust. We anticipate that it will result in quite a lot of limestone dust and particulate matter ending up in the ocean.
The proposed quarry is in the middle of a sensitive karst area. Directly North of the site are known underground water courses and caves. And directly South are Stromberg Creek, Stromberg Falls and the most important cave entrance. During our visit, we saw water trickling from the cave entrance. We are very much concerned about the effect of a quarry on water systems and caves, John Dove said.
Caves and waterways in karst systems are usually connected. The area around the quarry site has not been assessed. Only part of the caves have been explored. However, based on what little is known, experts already call the caves the most important ones between Seattle and Prince Rupert, with stalactites of record length for BC, and many other unique features.
The Friends of Davie Bay fear that blasting will damage the fragile calcite formations and affect biodiversity. The perennial cave streams feed fish-bearing waterways below.
In response to the court challenge by the Friends of Davie Bay, the office of the Attorney General and LeHigh Hanson Materials Ltd. have filed lengthy affidavits in the third week of September, 2010. Legal counsel for the Friends of Davie Bay are still analyzing the material.
More information will become available at http://daviebay.com.
Article by Margot Grant. Photos by Tella Sametz.