Extensive clear cutting of hundreds of trees on a rural 65-acre property in Mission prompted the Steelhead Community Association to write a letter to the city earlier this year.
The organization has frequently protested against expanding industrial operations in their neighborhood, which includes six gravel pits and an asphalt plant along five kilometers of Dewdney Trunk Road.
This property, they fear, will be the rumoured seventh quarry.
“Our roads are being overtaken by industry, and it is currently within the jurisdiction of the (city) to do something about it,” the letter said. “The legal ball is in your court.”
But a recent decision in BC Supreme Court says otherwise.
On Jan. 20, the judge ruled that municipal bylaws, in fact, have no jurisdiction on provincial-approved mining activity – sparking concern for the cities of both Mission and Abbotsford.
The logging on the Steelhead property in question had not infringed on any bylaws (no tree bylaw covers this area), but even if it had, the court’s ruling means Mission council “has their hands tied,” as one councillor put it, as long as a mining permit has been granted by the province.
“Our bylaws wouldn’t matter, our zoning wouldn’t matter, our soil-removal permits wouldn’t matter, and we may not be able to collect fees that go towards maintaining our roads from gravel operations,” said Mike Younie, Mission’s Chief Administrative Officer. “It’s a significant impact.”
The court’s decision regards the District of Highlands, which sits just west of Victoria. It has been trying to fight off a quarry operation from O.K. Industries for the last five years.
A rezoning application was denied by the municipality in 2016, citing impacts on local environment and a subsurface aquifer.
The local community association has come out in strong opposition for the same reasons, adding noise, road-safety hazards, truck traffic, and real-estate prices to their list of concerns.
O.K. Industries bypassed the municipality and applied directly to the province for a quarry permit in 2017.
It was granted in March of 2020, despite the District of Highlands writing letters to the BC Minister of Energy and Mines and Premier John Horgan, who serves as MLA for the riding.
On Oct. 1, 2020, the company began clearing trees on the property. Two days later, a bylaw officer issued a cease work order, indicating if work continued, more enforcement would come into effect.
A petition was submitted to BC Supreme Court, asking to nullify the cease-work order, and determine whether municipal bylaws are applicable to the property.
The judge ruled the province has exclusive jurisdiction over mines and mining activity, which overrules local OCPs, zoning bylaws, soil-deposit and soil-removal regulations and fees, blasting bylaws, tree bylaws and building permit bylaws.
The decision is being appealed, with a date yet to be set.
The City of Mission has been in contact with the City of Abbotsford, as well as the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), looking for ways to support the District of Highlands’ case when it lands in BC Court of Appeal.
“The city is going to look at what opportunities there might be to help the District of Highlands, intervene and let the court know how significant this is for managing sand and gravel quarries in local-government areas,” Younie said.
He added Mission’s soil-deposit and soil-removal fees have brought in an average of $330,000 annually over the last three years.
The City of Abbotsford currently has 28 quarries operating within its borders, with fees bringing in $3 million in revenue annually, according to Aletta Vanderheyden, manager of communications.
UBCM did not respond to requests for comment.
As for the Steelhead property, Younie said the logging was intended to install a road, for a reason not yet known to the city.
He said he’s heard rumours it’s going to be another quarry, but the city hasn’t received anything official to substantiate that claim.
The letter from the Steelhead Community Association claims they have two local gravel-industry contacts, who have confirmed the site will become another quarry.
“If it is a new mine, the Highlands case throws into question how much regulatory authority the (city) would have over the operations there,” Younie said.
“I would hope that if our bylaws were being set aside, that we would still be referred proposals from new mines or changes to existing mines, and we would be able to provide comment.”
The BC Ministry of Energy and Mines did not answer The Record’s inquiry as to whether the property owner had applied for a mining permit.
– with files from