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First Nation's quarry plan near Lake Cowichan raises alarms

Emotions are running high over the plan, which could see the quiet rural environment disturbed by noise, dust and sounds of heavy equipment for more than two decades
web1_master-plan-tsuubaa-asatx-reserve
Master plan for Ts’uubaa-asatx Nation.

A local First Nation’s plan for an ­aggregate quarry near Lake Cowichan is raising concerns among nearby ­residents about the prospect of their quiet rural environment being disturbed by noise, dust and sounds of heavy equipment for more than two decades.

The quarry, which could run from 15 to 25 years, would supply local ­commercial and residential ­developments.

“This is our retirement, kind of like our dream retreat. Everything that we have we put into this piece of ­property,” said Neil Merrick, who, with wife Karen, built a home and outbuildings on a nearly three-acre property. They fear their well could be affected and their property value may drop.

The couple said when they bought the property a few years ago, they looked at the Ts’uubaa-asatx Nation’s plans.

At that time, the nation’s website showed the site now pegged for the quarry was designated to remain mainly in its natural state, with the possibility of a viewing platform, hiking trails, boardwalks and a zipline, Neil Merrick said.

The expectation that the “beautiful” site would stay as raw land was a factor in their decision to buy in that area, he said.

Now the once natural area has been cleared for a quarry, he said, and instead of the sounds of nature, he’s been hearing blasting this week.

Merrick estimates the distance from the foundation of his home to the far side of a road running between his lot and the reserve is about 100 feet. A buffer of trees runs along the edge of the reserve and a new berm has been built.

The earthen berm will help muffle noise, but it’s not known by how much, he said.

A recent meeting called by homeowners attracted close to 40 people concerned about the proposal, said Merrick. The area affected includes about 20 private lots.

Merrick said he would like see a meeting of all parties to discuss the matter. Aaron Hamilton, operations manager for the nation, said in a statement that they are open to hearing from community members about the proposed aggregate operation.

Each side says they would like to see any discussions take place in a respectful climate. But emotions are running high.

Hamilton said the nation was not informed about or invited to the recent meeting, or asked to provide materials. Based on accounts provided by an attendee, he said the nation’s position was misrepresented, leading to “unnecessary hysteria.”

Hydrogeologists, hydrologists, geotechnical experts and environmental consultants will oversee and evaluate the quarry project, Hamilton said.

“Although federally regulated, we respect and are committed to working with the B.C. Mines and complying with regulations set out in the guide to prepare mine permit applications.”

Local quarry operator Stone Pacific will oversee the extraction and processing of aggregates, the nation said.

As for changes to the initial plan seen by the Merricks, Hamilton said the nation prepares multi-year plans that change about every five years. The previous plan was on the website in 2017.

Last year, the nation’s comprehensive community development plan was updated with approval by its members, he said. The new plan will be posted once an update of the website is completed.

In a statement that cited Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination, Ts’uubaa-asatx Coun. Melanie Livingstone said “the health and happiness of all community members are our priority.”

“Currently we are building a small long-term care home across the highway from the future site of the proposed business. We have no interest whatsoever in causing irreparable damage to this land.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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