Highlands quarry clears appeals hurdle, but opponents claim small victory

The Highlands District Community Association may have lost the battle over a new quarry, but it may still win the war, according to its chairman.

Scott Richardson said having the B.C. Court of Appeal dismiss its latest attempt to stop the development of the quarry along Millstream Road has given the organization hope it may win a bigger fight — to rethink the legislation around mine permits.

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“There is real opportunity in the judgement,” he said, noting Madame Justice Fisher, while dismissing the case, said in her written decision that the legislation governing mine applications fails to require a mines inspector to take into account climate change when making decisions.

“It is my view that HDCA’s submission fails to recognize the proper scope of the mines inspector’s authority within the statutory scheme, and inappropriately asks this court to direct the inspector to consider a specific issue that is not required in the applicable legislation,” she wrote.

“We believe the judgement makes it clear the legislation isn’t up to snuff,” said Richardson, who argues climate change should be a required element of such an application.

While it might not stop this quarry, he said, it could mean future mines permits have to face tougher scrutiny.

The quarry is being developed by OK Industries, which bought a 64-acre property in 2015 for $4.2 million. The company initially applied to have it rezoned from its green-belt designation to accommodate commercial and light industrial activity.

When the District of Highlands rejected the proposal in 2016, OK applied to the province for a mines permit for a quarry. That permit was granted last year.

The approval triggered the community association’s application for a judicial review of the mines permit, which the courts denied, a decision the group appealed.

OK Industries general manager Mel Sangha said the company is happy with the decision but still has another hurdle to cross: an appeal from the District of Highlands.

The district is appealing a ruling that district bylaws do not apply to OK Industries’ activities on the quarry site, as the activities, which include tree falling, soil removal, blasting and building, fall under provincial jurisdiction under the Mines Act.

No court date has been set for that appeal.

Sangha said there are broader implications if Highlands wins the appeal, as quarries, gravel pits and mines around the province might then have to get approval for everything from tree clearing to blasting from the local municipality rather than the province.

Sangha said those kinds of approvals translate into significant delays and increased costs.

Work on the Highlands quarry has been limited so far to tree clearing for an access road, establishing a driveway and starting the process to establish a spot for a rock crusher and production facility.

Richardson accuses OK Industries of destroying a vibrant, carbon-sequestering ecosystem for profit, “in the face of the greatest existential threat to the future of our species” and “over the objections of an entire community.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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