Rock to Road

News
Gravel pit proposal may be parked


September 13, 2009
By Andy Bateman

September 13, 2009 – The Edmonton Journal reported on
Friday that a northeastern Alberta Metis settlement hopes to earn millions of
dollars for the community by reviving plans to put a gravel pit in Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River
valley.


The Elizabeth
settlement spent nearly $8 million in June buying about 40 hectares of land
through its economic development company for the proposal near the city's
southwest border, says Shelley Wegner, who's helping co-ordinate the project.

 

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They could take out up to $75 million worth of gravel over
five to seven years in one of the province's biggest Metis-led economic
developments, providing up to 250 people with jobs and training in positions
such as safety officer, road maintenance and catering, she says.

 

Profits would be put into education, seniors housing and
other vital projects for communities that often face poverty, she says,
explaining Alberta's other seven Metis settlements have the option to
participate as well.

 

"What we're hoping is it really sets a beautiful
example, even for other aboriginal communities in Canada," Wegner says.

 

"It didn't come from government …it's their money
they invested to risk on this venture."

 

The group plans to mine and crush gravel from less than
half the site to protect sensitive landscape.

 

When the extraction is finished, Wegner says they'll build
a cultural and natural area that features an interpretive retreat, a walk
showing traditional plants, trails, a lake and wetlands.

"It would be a beautiful, beautiful asset to Edmonton's river valley.
It's a place kids could actually go and be taught by elders in the history of
Metis in Alberta."

 

An earlier assessment indicates the project would have
"minimal" environmental impact on land already damaged by trespassers
walking their dogs or riding all-terrain vehicles, Wegner says.

 

But the settlement of 1,000 people, 200 kilometres
northeast of Edmonton,
faces a tough battle to have the scheme approved. Last spring, Qualico dropped
its proposal to dig a gravel pit on the same site near 199th Street and 9th Avenue SW, and then donate the land
to the city for a park, following vociferous opposition led by surrounding
residents.

 

Members of the North Saskatchewan River Valley
Conservation Society remain convinced the property should be protected from
development to preserve wildlife habitat, wetlands, fish spawning grounds and
forest, communications director Kevin Wilson said Thursday.

 

"Our society…will continue to oppose mining in the
river valley regardless of who the proponents are," he said. "We're
pretty firm in our view that it's a natural area and it's part of Edmonton's ribbon of
green."

They also feel plans to send gravel trucks north on 199th Street near a
small housing subdivision would create noise, dust and safety problems, Wilson said.

 

Last Friday, city council unanimously approved an
amendment to the draft municipal plan that would prohibit resource extraction
in the river valley.

 

While this won't become law until the plan is passed next
year, and could still be overridden in individual cases, anyone trying to
promote such a development faces an uphill battle, Coun. Don Iveson said.

 

He met people involved in the proposed gravel pit about
two weeks ago and said he has concerns about the impact of the excavation and
the truck hauling, although a formal application hasn't yet been made.

 

"I have reservations about any mining activity in the
river valley. That's my starting point on it."

 

But Coun. Ron Hayter, who works on council's special
aboriginal initiative, said the park would be an attractive facility that
follows the goals of the River Valley Alliance.

"If the plan is carried (out) as proposed, the
development would be an asset to the river valley."