Road work gets green light at controversial Highlands quarry

The B.C. Supreme Court has cleared the way for OK Industries Ltd. to start clearing trees and rock for a road into a contentious quarry in the Highlands.

The Highlands District Community Association applied for a temporary injunction last month to stop work on the access road to the 65-acre site before the rural community could present its case to the Supreme Court in October. The company hopes to start mining rock from a new quarry near the southern Millstream Road entrance to the Highlands municipality by May.

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In its ruling on the stay application issued Friday, the court said: “OKI’s site preparation activities are authorized by a presumptively valid quarry permit. OKI will suffer irreparable harm if the site preparation activities cannot be undertaken prior to the planned May 2021 start of Phase 1 quarrying.”

Scott Richardson, spokesman for the community association, said he is disappointed with the court’s decision on the stay request, but remains optimistic that the upcoming judicial review will provide a fair hearing of the community’s concerns.

“We filed our stay application because we wanted the land kept in its current condition until the October Supreme Court hearing of our original challenge of the province’s mining permit issued to OK Industries,” Richardson said. “All we can hope for now is that OK Industries respects and abides by our municipal bylaws and permits for tree cutting, riparian encroachment, blasting and rock and soil deposit and removal.”

The community association filed an application to the B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial review of the province’s decision in June, about three months after the mining permit was issued.

The court petition names the attorney general of B.C., the minister of mines, energy and petroleum resources and the chief inspector of mines, along with OK Industries. The Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for Oct. 19 to 22 in Vancouver after the attorney general asked for time to prepare a defence.

OK Industries was not immediately available for a comment.

The company has said it will leave the surface two metres above grade and it has addressed environmental concerns, protected old-growth trees, increased tree buffers around the site and reduced the amount of rock they would remove, giving the quarry an active of life of about 16 years instead of 25.

The community association has opposed the quarry since it was first proposed in 2016. A community petition against the proposal was signed by more than 1,000 residents, about half the municipality’s population of 2,200.

The community has raised concerns that the quarry will have adverse effects on the aquifer Highlands residents rely on for drinking water, increase noise and dust and damage the quality of life for those living nearby.

It is also concerned quarry operations will disturb a nearby toxic waste site, affecting the quality of water.

The site off Millstream Road is bordered by a former and current landfill, an industrial park with a quarry nearing the end of its lifespan, Thetis Park and a residential area.

The former landfill, called Millstream Meadows, is owned by the Capital Regional District, which has spent more than $14 million on a membrane and other measures to prevent leeching.

Richardson said residents are worried a new quarry and blasting will disrupt the toxic site and contaminate the ground water.

“This is our water, it’s our watershed, but because it’s out of sight, few people outside our community care,” said Richardson. “Imagine if they wanted to do this in the Sooke watershed,” Greater Victoria’s water supply area. “I don’t think they would allow it.”

— With files from Andrew A. Duffy

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