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Court decision means work will continue at O.K. Industries' Highlands quarry

The Appeals Court decision appears to grant Highlands some latitude in imposing bylaws on soil deposit and removal, blasting, tree management and building — but just how far it can go remains to be seen.

Work at O.K. Industries’ new quarry on Millstream Road in Highlands will continue, according to the company, after the B.C. Court of Appeal handed down a mixed ruling giving the District of Highlands some sway over activities at the site.

The municipality had appealed a Supreme Court ruling last year that the district’s bylaws over O.K. Industries’ activities on the site do not apply as the activities — which include tree falling, soil removal, ­blasting and building — fall under ­the jurisdiction of the provincial Mines Act.

The Supreme Court at that time also stayed a cease-work order that had been issued months earlier to stop tree clearing that was being done to prepare the site.

Highlands’ appeal challenged the position that the province has exclusive jurisdiction over all activities authorized by a mines permit.

While the Appeals Court did not overturn the decision on the cease-work order — meaning O.K. Industries can operate — it did appear to grant Highlands some latitude in imposing bylaws on soil deposit and removal, blasting, tree management and building.

Just what that latitude is remains to be seen.

In response to questions from the Times Colonist, Highlands Mayor Ken Williams would say only that the appeal had been “allowed in part; however, the District is currently reviewing the decision in detail.”

O.K. Industries was also still studying the decision, but general manager Mel Sangha said they believe they can continue to develop the site.

“The way we’re sort of reading it is there are lots of terms and conditions on our permit and a lot of those terms and conditions, if not all of them, were designed by the ministry to address concerns that had been raised not only by the public, but by the district as well,” he said.

“These are terms and conditions that we’re obligated to live up to. And we’ve been doing that from the day [the permit] was first issued and we will continue to live up to those terms and conditions going forward.”

Sangha suggested the ball is in the court of Highlands council if it wants to exercise its bylaws.

“But they can’t do anything that we think has an effect on our operation, if it’s already been covered under terms and conditions of the mine’s permit,” he said.

O.K. Industries bought the 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, the company applied to the province for a mines permit for a quarry. Its approval triggered the court action.

At this point, the quarry is still being developed. Preparatory work will continue until a weigh scale and small building are on site. There are already levels areas to store crushed rock for hauling, and a paved access road.

Sangha said crushing will start happening in the spring with the expectation that hauling could start in June or July.

The quarry has already seen off one challenger: Late last year the Highlands District Community Association’s final attempt to stop the quarry was ended by the highest court in the land.

The association had petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to hear a case to determine if provincial officials should have to consider climate change before issuing mining permits.