Paradox in Paradise, Part II

By Tom Read

A sunset view of Davie Bay that I took at a social event we attended last summer.  This spot served as a log dump until the late 1980s, and still has old logging equipment stranded in the bush nearby.

A sunset view of Davie Bay that I took at a social event we attended last summer. This spot served as a log dump until the late 1980s, and still has old logging equipment stranded in the bush nearby.

Back in September of 2007, when the WestPac LNG proposal had Texada Island in an uproar, I wrote a Journal entry titled “Paradox in Paradise” that began with the following sentence:

Texada Island confronts a fateful paradox facing many rural areas of beautiful British Columbia:  corporate globalism and its allies in provincial and federal government seek to impose large-scale heavy industry upon a natural paradise and a strong local community.

In the paragraphs that followed, I noted that Texada has accommodated heavy industry for more than a century, particularly mining and forestry. Anyone visiting Texada today by ferry sees evidence of this history upon arriving at Blubber Bay, where Blubber Bay Quarry dominates the landscape next to the ferry terminal. As you proceed south, the presence of three working quarries and numerous old quarries and mines attest to Texada’s unmistakable identity as an established mining district.

But that doesn’t mean that Texada is exclusively an “industrial island,” as is often cited. The first thing many visitors notice, once they get beyond the ferry landing, are Texada’s spectacular views of ocean, islands, forests, mountains and distant glaciers. Closer examination reveals an abundance of rare flora and fauna, and a settlement pattern that concentrates most human residents in two villages, leaving lots of room to roam along the many miles of hiking trails and old logging roads. There’s very little old-growth forest or pristine wilderness left on Texada Island, but second-growth forests are beautiful, too. And anywhere you go along the shoreline or the mountaintops, the views are sublime.

Mining and forestry operations proceed mostly unseen and barely heard on Texada, at a scale that could last hundreds of years given current rates of consumption.  More than 75% of our 100-square-mile island is accessible for recreation. My conclusion from that 2007 posting: “Texadans proclaim their home an industrial island with the confidence that industry does not impose too much unpleasantness on daily life, while bestowing above-average local incomes and infrastructure.  Result: a fine balance, so far.”

But nothing stays the same for long in this world, or on Texada Island. The question I’d like to address here is: can an expansion in quarrying, such as proposed by Lehigh for the Davie Bay area, be accommodated on Texada without destroying the natural beauty and high quality of life enjoyed by its residents?  Let me give you a little background before answering that question.

When Linda and I first came to Texada in 1997, we noted the quarry at Blubber Bay with approval, because to us that industrial scene meant the local people likely enjoyed a decent standard of living. We were looking for a new home, so the quality of life in the island’s human community mattered to us. We had seen rural communities where the only outside income came from tourists and government handouts; such places typically lacked public infrastructure and suffered the negative social effects of too much poverty. Conversely, we had also seen rural places overrun by the absentee wealthy, where most homes stood empty much of the year.  What we liked about Texada was its social stability as a largely working-class community, where even most of the retirees were former resource industry workers, not urban professionals. We knew it might be a challenge for urban immigrants with soft hands like us to fit in, but we were pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome we received from almost everyone we met.

Before buying our property here, we studied the Texada Island Official Community Plan (OCP), which had previously been updated in 1987. We noted that the OCP favoured a lifestyle with minimal regulations. There were “land use designations” covering the island but very few restrictive zoning bylaws. The property we eventually bought, designated “Rural Residential,” is only about ¼ mile (1/2 kilometre) from Imperial Quarry, designated “Resource.” So we live a lot closer to a working quarry than most people on Texada, and it’s true that sometimes, if we’re outdoors, we can hear the sound of distant diesel engines, and the occasional warning siren and blast. If the wind is from the west, we might also hear Texada Quarrying trucks and blasts, but always rather faintly. This in no way bothers us, because we knew we were moving to a mining district when we came here, so a bit of background noise now and then was expected. It doesn’t reduce our enjoyment of our land or of Texada one bit to have working quarries in our backyard, so long as they’re not literally on our doorstep.

And that is really the answer, I believe, for the future of industry on Texada. If the proposed Lehigh quarry isn’t in anyone’s face, and if the mining plan has done everything possible to mitigate the inevitable environmental impacts of quarrying (also giving our community something to use to hold the company accountable), and if the proposal is on clear-cut and second-growth forest land designated in our OCP as Rural Low Density having a potential for quarrying, and if our community might receive a donation of land for a park at Davie Bay, then there’s really no compelling reason to oppose it. In a contracting global economy, we ought to be thankful for the additional decent-paying jobs, because we’ve already lost many such jobs on Texada. Bear in mind, also, that Lehigh could decide to back out if the global economy goes through another decline such as we experienced late last year or even if anticipated markets don’t meet expectations before they begin construction of their Texada project.

As for the Lehigh proposal, I attended both Lehigh’s presentation and the Texada Action Now public meeting. I’ve spent some time studying the mining plan and listening to the objections of those of my friends and neighbours who oppose this potential new quarry. After considering the data and different viewpoints, I believe that if the new quarry comes to pass, then life here will carry on pretty much the same, where mostly peaceful co-existence between industry and natural beauty has been the norm for decades.

Related post:  Making big rocks into little rocks


7 Responses to “Paradox in Paradise, Part II”

  1. 1 after oil July 13, 2009 at 20:28

    lehigh is a major customer of TQL, buying 1 million tonnes of aggregate last year. TQL has enough aggregate to supply for years to come. lehigh’s claims to bringing jobs to the island is dubious at best, considering jobs will be be displaced. lehigh has not made any commitments regarding jobs either. sure, they say up to 10 jobs, but depending on market conditions. sounds like 10 jobs, sometimes, maybe.

    second growth forest is the next old growth forest. logging it again, and leaving a hole in its place does nothing to sequester carbon. forests today are more valuable left standing (unless youre a shareholder…)

    Mining and forestry operations proceed mostly unseen and barely heard, if youre blind and deaf. all three quarries are visible from powell river. TQL in gillies bay is visible from comox and vancouver island. on texada one can see tql from far south and up the high road. one can hear tqls blasting and constant machinery, trucks reversing, and dumping rubble and rock from the trucks.

    very little of texada is accessible for recreation. the whole north and east side of the island, the shoreline of the malaspina straight, and its upland forests are almost totally inaccessible, and there are virtually no sheltered anchorages.

    almost all of the park at the south end is inaccessible.

    lehigh is not promising a park, and they wont make any commitments. besides, who wants a park next to a quarry?

    i dont know where you were looking at rural communities, but the islands i have visited and lived on, that have no industries, are vibrant with artists and food producers, builders and trades people, as well as services that are supported by tourists.

    slow coast has a few postings regarding transition. if we on texada and in powell river are to be prepared for transition, and we are looking at the bigger picture of transition for the region and the world, we need to start now. now is the time to begin to look at alternatives to the way we’ve been doing things. texada needs another hole in it like i need another hole in my head.

  2. 2 after oil July 20, 2009 at 09:25

    Why couldn’t Texada Island show the rest of the world what can be accomplished in converting our local community, including its industries, to sustainable energy sources?

  3. 3 Tom Read July 20, 2009 at 16:43

    Hello After Oil,

    How do we transition from a society utterly dependent on oil, gas and coal, to a society that can thrive on renewable and sustainable energy sources? There is no simple answer. I am suspicious of all movements, but I confess that the Transition movement begun by Rob Hopkins favourably caught my attention a few years ago. It’s a positive response to the above question at a community level, which is rare. So last summer my wife and I bought several copies of the Transition Handbook, passed them around to friends, and began some “mulling” here on Texada. It’s still going on, albeit slowly.

    I hope our community can evolve into a resilient, sustainable way of life in a relatively painless way, but at best that’s not going to be simple or quick or without a lot of frustration. Because our society is dependent on oil, we’re going to use a lot of it even while we write posts on blogs proclaiming our desire to end our oil dependency. We can’t just stop extracting oil, lest we starve, freeze and otherwise end our relatively affluent way of life.

    The situation with limestone is similar to oil, even though limestone is one of Earth’s most abundant minerals, while oil is not. We’re going to use a lot of limestone in the future, whether it’s an “eco-technic” society (a la John Michael Greer) or something like it. We’ll probably quarry our limestone by hand when the fossil fuels get too expensive, but we’ll still have quarries. Try imagining a civilized society that can exist without using minerals. Even the aboriginals on this continent had their quarries, thousands of years ago.

    It turns out that Texada’s quarries extract (not “produce”) more limestone than any other mining district in North America. I don’t have the exact numbers, so I’ll just say that I’ve heard this claim mentioned by three rather different mining engineers in the last few years, so for the moment I’ll take their word for it. The apparent reason is that Texada has excellent water transportation for shipping rock, which uses a lot less oil per ton of rock transported. That’s a great cost advantage, and results in a lower carbon footprint, too. Plus, Texada as a community is accustomed to the limestone quarrying industry. That’s why our Official Community Plan explicitly supports existing and expanded limestone quarrying on the island, including in the Davie Bay area (see Map C). Read it for yourself on the Powell River Regional District website.

    I know from first-hand observation that Texada Quarrying expanded its footprint significantly starting in 2003, and Blubber Bay Quarry did the same starting a year later. The combined expansion of these two quarries was much larger than the proposed quarry at Davie Bay, but in 2003-04 Texadans took those expansions in stride. They talked their way through a thorny watershed issue at the time and nary a protest was heard.

    Maybe it’s not a coincidence that several of the folks leading the charge against the proposed Davie Bay quarry have arrived as residents and absentee landowners on Texada since those previous quarry expansions. To my knowledge, none of the opponents of the Lehigh proposal has yet uttered a word about how his or her personal consumption of limestone products (it’s in nearly everything you use in modern life) will be curtailed in the interest of preventing the expansion of limestone quarries here and elsewhere. Is that hypocrisy? Or is it maybe just a terrible blind spot when it comes to connecting the production that supports an industrial lifestyle with the consumption inherent in that lifestyle. I’m not blaming anyone, since we are all complicit in our society’s production vs. consumption conundrum.

    The not-so-well-expressed point of my Paradox in Paradise II post is that Texada already has artists and artisans, food producers, retirees affluent and not-so-affluent, tourists (many of them deer hunters and fisherpersons) AND it is the Limestone Quarrying Capital of North America. The South Texada Quarry at Davie Bay won’t change any of that — it’s not going to uproot anyone’s home or detract from Texada’s future as a retirement destination. Texada will still a fine place to visit after the new quarry goes into operation.

    Speaking of tourism, here’s a little secret: quarry tours are a great favourite of tourists! The panorama from the upper benches is spectacular, since there aren’t any trees to block the view. The big trucks, the blasts (if you’re lucky enough to see one), the crushers — all are quite fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, to people who live by the grace of industry but have no direct experience of it. You might like to take a tour yourself, then imagine how our society will extract limestone after oil, someday.

    As for Davie Bay itself being supposedly defiled by the proposed intrusion of industry, please learn the facts: this beautiful spot has a road immediately along the shoreline that served the log dump that served the loggers who clear-cut the upland area (twice!) where the quarry will eventually be dug. All of the roads on the property are private property — there is no public access to Davie Bay. There’s a decrepit former private campground at the water’s edge. Thirty years ago a gathering of “hippies” lived as trespassers (a more polite word than “squatters”) in the area. Rusted-out logging equipment sits rotting in the bush all over the place. Yes, this is the world’s most pristine former industrial site. Wendy the cartoonist at the Peak, please take note.

    You are certainly right about one thing: it would be silly to put a park next to a quarry.


  4. 4 after oil July 21, 2009 at 11:43

    its great that we can see eye to eye in many ways. i offer you respect for your forward thinking and inspirational posts on slow coast. the Transition Movement offers fantastic imagination for a future not dependent on fossil fuels. i agree that a life with out limestone could be a life of hardship, but an oil depleted society doesn’t necessarily force us into hardship. i know we’ll need quarrys even if we are hand balling, but the aboriginals did not, and the future-primitives will not be shipping aggregate to Portland, Oregon like lehigh says they’ll do. sure, texada is accustomed to the limestone quarrying industry, but with some imagination inspired by Transition, we can become accustomed to alternative economic prospects. believe me, i have read the OCP. you and i both know very well that the OCP explicitly supports existing and expanded limestone quarrying on the island, including in the Davie Bay area. we both also know that the OCP explicitly recognizes Davie Bay as a UREP (A reserve or notation of interest established for the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public.) as well as having “significant biological, historical, and scenic features”. so there is your paradox (or contradiction)in paradise. the OCP is not a law. who decides which part of an OCP has more importance than an other when they contradict?
    most of the folks that i talk to that are opposed to lehighs foreshore application, especially those acting to encourage the government agencies to object, were on texada for many years when i arrived in 1997. if you think newcomers’ opinions and rights are gauged by their time on the island, then my opinion must be more important than yours. the truth of the matter is that all texada residents and their counterparts in the regional district count for something when it comes to public opinion. would you perhaps object to a nuclear power plant in powell river?
    its true that we all personally consume limestone. its also true that many of us live in homes made of wood, and wipe our asses with toilet paper,but also oppose certain logging practices.hypocrisy? it was decided for us many generations ago that homes are to be built with 2X4’s. and that roads and skyscrapers are to be built with limestone. but with a little imagination, we can figure how to build a home with straw (like yours, and kudos for that!)or clay and sand. i think with a little imagination, we can ensure Davie Bay remains beautiful for the generations to come, and that they’ll have opportunities similar to ours while not damaging the environment.
    its true maybe that the lands aren’t pristine, but the sensitive ecosystems map clearly defines areas of Davie Bay as sensitive ecosystems. the islands are relatively untouched and have been left alone for generations. the marine environment, i would argue, is pristine, excepting the booming grounds.
    i know the facts, and i know that lehigh lies to texadans, yourself included. it is NOT a fact that all of the roads on the property are private property, that there is no public access to Davie Bay. is IS a fact that there is a publicly owned Forest Service Road accessing the sandspit at the corner of lot 400 and lot 235. see lehigh’s own proposal map for proof of this. it is also a fact that THE ENTIRE SHORELINE, OF LOT 235, 66′ INLAND FROM THE HIGH WATER MARK IS PUBLIC LAND! the crown grant of 1907 makes this very clear. the homesteaders (call them hippies if you want) of the 70’s and 80’s were mostly living on that public land. the road all through Davie Bay, in lot 235, is public land. history tells us also that the homesteaders acquired a lease from the then owners to live legally in Davie Bay. lehigh claims to have “allowed” trespassing for 50 years. funny thing, lehigh only aquired holdings in canada in 1978! lehigh is fishing in this rock fish conservation area, and it is you that has swallowed the bait on their hook.

    (dear reader, Davie Bay’s public lands include the forest service road at the “DEAD SLOW” corner of the BCHydro road. they extend from the sandspit at the bottom of this road, along the shoreline and 66’inland, and to the property line of lot 235 and lot 303, about 150′ before the maypoles. i encourage you all to exercise your right to access public land.)

  5. 5 chantal July 21, 2009 at 15:02

    get your facts straight..those hippies/squatters paid a yearly lease…I lived there for 10 years during that time and my parents leased their property. We built a school,babies were born there, we lived off the land, my grandfathers ashes and my fathers ashes lay there.Like I is more than a picnic spot,its a part of the island’s history…get your facts straight before you put things out on the internet that are not true and based on your personal opinion or at least make sure you state it’s your opinion and not the facts!

  6. 6 daniel.fretts July 21, 2009 at 21:59

    Dear Mr. Read,

    Thanks for your thoughts and research on this subject, which is interesting and well written. I have also enjoyed the comments from After Oil and Chantal. I would like to assure you that if I have to cut down on my limestone consumption to save Davie Bay I am most willing to do so. Too much cement is bad for you anyways.

    It seems to me a bizarre scenario that is depicted in your message, hand quarrying limestone after the petroleum reserves of the planet are completely depleted. I somehow am unable to imagine the post petroleum civilization hand quarrying minerals, to do what? Purify iron ore to build automobiles? Hand crush stone into lime and then build overpasses and parking lots, even after the petroleum needed to fuel that version of society is gone? This will never happen.

    When petroleum is gone, and the automobile as we know it is extinct, quarrying limestone and other ores to supply industry will become virtually a thing of the past.

    Tom, I would think you would be in the know about the connections between the large quarries on Texada, such as Imperial and Lafarge, and Lehigh. Has Lehigh really been around Texada for 50 years? Is it true that Lafarge has 2000 acres of mineral leases in the Davie Bay area? Are they waiting to develop their limestone deposits when Lehigh opens up a barging facility? Could a joint venture between the two mega corporations spell a sweet cost-saving deal for both companies, and shore up profits in a time of economic doom and gloom?

    Is it possible that this quarry will become a mega-quarry, producing maybe 10 times the volume that the company forecasts. 20,000 tons a month is a very small output, hardly justifying a project like this that will take multi-millions of investment capital to start up. How would this scenario affect the demand for products and job security for workers in the currently active quarries?

    I thought you might know. I don’t. But a lot of the good old boys around Texada do and they aren’t telling us much. So how about we all get to talking about what is really happening?

  1. 1 What are you fighting for? « Slow Coast Trackback on October 26, 2009 at 21:46
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