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The Line Is Drawn in the Gravel: When It Comes to Industry, Choose Carefully

We all know that industry is part of living in northern BC: logging trucks roll past on the highways, trains carrying cargo rumble through our communities, and thousands of tourists visit every year in airplanes and RVs. Even the fishing industry contributes to the clatter with motorized river access and fly-in camps. All that said, these are our jobs and livelihoods and what makes life in the north possible.

But we believe, when it comes to industry, that we must choose carefully. If we want to preserve our rivers, landscapes, and wildlife by promoting low-impact industries like tourism, we need to be forward-thinking about the projects we allow in our valley. That’s why Frontier Farwest has been closely monitoring a proposed gravel pit downriver from  the lodge at Raymond Road.

“Our biggest concern is that we will have extra noise on the river, dust clouds visible from the river, and more traffic along the river,” according to Derek Botchford, owner of Frontier Farwest. “The area between Telkwa and Smithers should be pristine and beautiful as it slowly fills with residents, and if we are adding anything, it should be more parks and hiking or riding trails.”

Frontier Farwest invested in a property outside Smithers, believing in the area’s esthetic value and potential for tourism growth. Our neighbours settled here because it is idyllic—a little piece of heaven on the river. They now feel like they are being let down by this proposed project. Frontier Farwest is determined to rally with them.

For those who haven’t visited Smithers yet, it’s 15 kilometers northwest of Telkwa, a tiny bedroom community with a small and quaint downtown. River traffic between Smithers and Telkwa is perhaps the highest on the Bulkley River: paddlers, fishermen, recreational boaters, and sightseers frequent this spectacular stretch of water in the summer.

Botchford says, “I think it is imperative that we should be focusing on preserving the land between these communities and growing the potential usage in a non-intrusive way We would like to see the sightlines and views along the river kept pristine and beautiful. We also want the water quality to be far above minimal requirements, and we want the community to utilize and enjoy this area for many, many decades to come.”

The operation, which has been under review for the past four years, would mine for aggregates about a kilometer downriver from our lodge and six kilometers from Smithers, or 90 meters[Ma1]  from the river.

It’s certainly not the first operation as several other pits are in the area and residents know all too well the noise that emanates from mining, crushing, and hauling. Our main lodge is near a gravel pit. Although the owner tries to minimize the noise, the droning noise is a constant reality. Ray Chipeniuk, our neighbor to the south, lives with the sound of three pits crushing gravel up to several kilometres away.

Ray owns 10 kilometers on Tatlow Road, about five kilometers beyond the proposed pit. The fact that he is unlikely to hear the work at the new pit hasn’t stopped him from rallying the community to speak out against the addition of yet another gravel mine in our neighborhood. He maintains an email list that informs 30 to 40 households concerned about the project.

“The very heart of the valley is being eaten out,” Ray says about the number of gravel mines in the area. “In the past, the roads were smaller and the railroad made less noise. Everything has gotten bigger and more mechanized.”

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, “The public consultation is complete and extensive” for this project because our community had a lot to say. As a result, we were told the site would have an unusually high number of operating requirements, such as restricting hauling, excavating, and crushing to weekday workhours, from spring through the fall. The frequency of traffic would “depend on the ebb and flow of the day-to-day operations,” according to a recent email from the ministry.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines handles gravel mining. Because the mine is proposed for land zoned as agricultural, temporary-use permits are needed for crushing. These permits are issued by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako. Years ago, notices were put in the newspapers when an application was sought, now there’s concern that the regional district won’t consult the community when crushing—perhaps the most intrusive part of the process—is being planned.

We recognize the need for industry in our region and that aggregates are required to create infrastructure such as roads. However, we believe there are alternate, viable options with little to no extra cost. We don’t support the disruption of this beautiful and well-used stretch of river that attracts tourists, local residents, and recreationists seeking peace and quiet.

“With some time and motivation, I believe we can find all the resources we need without impacting such a wide group of people as these riverside gravel pits have done,” Botchford said.

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