UPDATED: Gravel processing plan crushed at the starting blocks?

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The Cowichan Valley Regional District has already decided any type of gravel processing operation on a Cobble Hill dairy farm is a bad idea.

Why waste anyone’s time dragging people through a public process?

That seemed to be the rationale behind a recommendation Tuesday to deny Balme Ayr Farm’s proposal to process gravel on the site of its already-approved gravel extraction operation on the Cowichan Bay border, just northeast of Valleyview Centre.

“My area does not support it,” Cowichan Bay Director Lori Iannidinardo said. “This is not about farmer versus farmer, it’s about land use.

“A gravel pit is just a gravel pit.”

Balme Ayr is seeking a temporary use permit to screen, wash and classify the gravel taken from its property onsite, pledging the operation would be hidden, have low impact on the neighbourhood and be governed by strict criteria. The applicants also suggested an onsite processing operation would mean fewer gravel trucks on area roads.

But members of the CVRD’s electoral area services committee voted 6-2 in favour of immediate rejection, citing the known impact gravel processing operations can have, and the potential for noise and dust damaging the quiet character of the neighbourhood.

“I don’t see a good ending to this with the residential community,” Cowichan Station Director Loren Duncan said.

Mill Bay Director Mike Walker and Cobble Hill Director Gerry Giles were the dissenting votes.

“To deny an application before you’ve even undertaken a process is to deny natural justice from occurring,” Giles said. “To vote for this resolution is premature and does not give the applicant an opportunity to be heard fairly.”

CVRD staff had concerns Giles may be right. At Wednesday's full board meeting directors decided to defer a vote on the recommendation pending legal advice.

"I believe it prudent and in the best interest of the organization," CVRD chairman Rob Hutchins said.

Despite earlier CVRD opposition, Balme Ayr already has permission from the Agricultural Land Commission to extract the gravel and is in the process of obtaining permission from the Ministry of Mines.

Owners Oliver and Shelley Balme have a nine-phase plan to pull 3.2-million cubic metres of gravel out of an unfarmable section of their property over a 15-year period, and replace it with soil suitable for growing cattle feed.

They are upset by the blanket rejection and the fact few of those voting against the proposal had taken them up on an invitation to come out to the site.

“The people of the Cowichan valley need to know the facts  even if they are not in favour of our proposal. Gravel has to come from somewhere,” Shelley Balme said in a letter to the News Leader Pictorial.

View the application here.

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