Archive for the 'Lehigh' Category

A politician listens to Texadans’ concerns

By Tom Read

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You’ve heard of centralized vs. decentralized government? Well, perhaps it’s time to consider “inverted” government! In this governance model, the grass roots (that’s us) resides on top, using direct local democracy to make most of the decisions that affect our lives, while the provincial legislature and its bureaucrats are shrunk and limited in scope to a few concerns best shared across a wider geographic area. This is one possible context for a future Commonwealth of Texada Island.*

Nicolas Simons, provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the Sunshine Coast, including Texada Island, toured our island today, meeting with various groups of locals to hear what’s on their minds. I attended one such listening session, and here’s my paraphrasing of what some islanders had to say, in no particular order:

  • Why did the Ministry of Forests (MoF) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fixing up the road to Cook Bay, which very few local people use, especially when MoF neglects maintenance on roads that local residents depend on every day?
  • Our island’s local improvement districts are being deliberately prevented from receiving matching grants for upgrading our water systems. The province seems to feel that regional districts will take over our improvement districts, but the RD isn’t interested unless we first spend lots of money upgrading our water systems. That’s a classic “catch-22,” and it’s extremely frustrating!
  • Texada’s local businesses could greatly benefit from a direct ferry run between Blubber Bay and Little River (on Vancouver Island near Courtenay/Comox). Of course, that might also result in losing our locally-based ferry crew, so it’s a trade-off that would need to be considered very carefully.
  • Much opposition exists to “jackboot legislation” by the provincial government, which is trying to take away our civil right to freedom of speech by prohibiting placement of certain signs on private property.
  • Why weren’t we consulted about the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) before it became law? Our cost of living is high enough already!
  • The provincial meat regulations that make it illegal for me to sell a chicken to my neighbor need to be changed so that “farm gate” meat sales are specifically condoned so long as basic common-sense standards are met. In trying to apply large-scale meat processing laws to all areas, the provincial government is forcing people in small rural communities to stop selling and buying locally produced meat or to do so illegally.
  • Why is it that if I get my water from a well, and then add a second structure on my property that also gets water from that same well, I’m now considered by the provincial government to be a formal “community water system” that must comply with the same regulations as would apply to water systems that serve hundreds of people?
  • We’ve seen a steady loss of local jobs in forestry and mining over the last few years, so we’d like to know what’s the hold-up on provincial approval of Lehigh’s proposed new quarry for Davie Bay?
  • We supposedly live in a democracy, but our system of government looks a lot more like a “partyocracy,” where decisions are made solely by a few members of the cabinet of whatever party happens to be in power. Might it not work better to see this reversed, so that the power to make decisions is strongest at the local level, and weakest at the provincial and federal levels. That would be real democracy.

Nicolas and his assistant, Maggie Hathaway, listened and both took notes. He says that he’ll get back to us with some answers. He also mentioned that he’s in the process of setting up a constituency newsletter/website/blog.  Nicolas’ party is not in power, but he keeps trying to keep the pressure on those who do make the decisions. No wonder so many of us feel distant from our “senior levels of government” (i.e. provincial and federal). As always, however, I’m sure that Texadans will find a way to carry on, regardless of what the politicos in Victoria decide for us.

* Commonwealth of Texada Island.

What are you fighting for?

By David Parkinson

Waves

There are people wearing frowns
Who’ll screw you up
But they would rather screw you down.

(Arthur Lee, “You Set the Scene”, 1967)

A couple of recent events have got me thinking about how we’re supposed to start working together as a community in order to produce positive changes in the way we consume, travel, eat, and generally live our lives here in (possibly) the final hurrah of the growth phase of industrial civilization.

The first was the City of Powell River‘s public consultation meeting last Monday evening (October 19, 2009) at Dwight Hall in Powell River. This was an Open Space event where those present got to determine the agenda in the context of a shaping question, which in this case was something to the effect of “Given Powell River’s future economic uncertainty, we need to pay attention to…”. Attendees were invited to fill in the ellipsis at the end of that sentence, until we had gathered up three sets of twenty-five potential things we needed to pay attention to as we move into an uncertain future. Some of the subjects for discussion were very much on the economic side of things (e.g., taxes, rates of pay for City employees, the cost of transportation and shipping), while others were much more concerned with the general livability of the region (e.g., accessibility for people with physical disabilities, green space).

Once we had created the ‘agenda’ of topics for discussion, we had three sessions of about 20 minutes during which we were free to find the group discussing the topic we found most interesting and contribute to that conversation. At each of these groups someone was documenting the main threads of the conversation as a record of the event.

The subjects which struck me as most interesting were those which were oriented towards the creation of a resilient region: food security, local currency schemes, micro-credit and the spawning of many small businesses, better transportation options, and so on. Of course, as always happens at an Open Space event, there were more things to talk about than time in which to talk about them, so the attendees had to focus on the three conversations of greatest interest or urgency to them.

The first of the three conversations I took part in was on the topic of “focusing on where we are now rather than where we have been as a region”, and this drew a group of about ten people. It was clear that the person who had originally proposed that topic intended it to spark some creative thinking about how this region can move forward and prosper economically, even if we lose the large employer which has traditionally defined this community (i.e., the paper mill).

I was the designated note-taker for this group, and I quickly became overwhelmed as the conversation spiraled off into a heated debate over the best way to create wealth in the community: by bringing in a small number of large employers from outside the region, or by encouraging a large number of smaller employers to spring up from within the region. Then we went off into a tangent focusing on the merits (or not) of Plutonic Power‘s run-of-river project in Toba Inlet, and things got a little tense for a few minutes.

The thought that came to me, as I sat trying to distill the conversation into notes, was that in this culture we have very few good methods for identifying the challenges we face, for talking about these challenges honestly but respectfully, and for working together on good solutions even in the face of disagreement. Obviously, a group of ten random strangers are not going to solve the problems of the world — or even those of their own region — in a few short minutes; but what is always slightly sad to observe is how quickly we harden our positions and defend them against all contrary opinion or facts. We thrive on controversy and conflict, to the extent that many of us would rather rail against the wrongs we see than imagine a better future and work backwards to figure out the positive steps we can take now that might get us there. Opportunities for genuine dialogue tend to hit dead ends quickly and dissolve in mutual distrust.

There is nothing wrong with conflict arising from differences of opinion. What is unfortunate, and what is really damaging our prospects of designing a decent future, is that our main means for settling conflicts is by applying the principle “money talks”. Increasingly, the mechanisms we use to determine our direction as a society is by selling the decision to the highest bidder. Anyone with an alternative vision is free to stand on the sidelines and kvetch, but that’s about as far as dissent goes.

I believe that less kvetching and more positive action is what we need now. We could all spend the rest of our short precious lives identifying all of the things in this world which we abhor and working to overturn them — and any successes we had would be wiped out by any number of new atrocities to seize our attention. But what kind of life is it to be always pitted against, never fighting for? We are going to have to become better at imagining creative alternatives to all of the lousy idiot ideas destroying our world, ignoring as best we can the junk and the rottenness, and pushing forwards into our own dreams. We need to learn to work with those who hold different visions, when this is possible without sacrificing our vision and our dignity — this might not come around too often, but we need to continue looking for those opportunities.

Which brings me to the second event, which resonated with these reflections about conflict and conversation. From this week’s mailbag, someone writes in to say this about my colleague Tom Read, who helps manage this blog and contributes a weekly column:

He [i.e., Tom] is using your site as a soapbox to promote his vision which is highly inappropriate for Texada–his dominance on the site has discouraged other contributions, surely, you must know that on the logging stats, so SlowCoast has become non-relevant.   He supported the Westpac LNG plant and now the Texada South Quarry. So not the best eco stats.

Tom has publicly expressed his belief that the proposed quarry development at Davie Bay is a potentially critical piece of Texada’s economic future. For the record, he did not support the proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal. If anyone wants to know more about Tom’s position, they can contact him easily enough. His opinion is nuanced and expresses his genuine concern for the fate of the place he calls home. And of course you can feel free to disagree with him. Sadly, though, it’s always seems to be more fun to make these intra-regional and inter-personal conflicts as black-and-white as possible; to start drawing up the list of enemies; and to backbite and shun the ideologically suspect. Perhaps our correspondent hopes that I will ditch Tom from Slow Coast so that my ‘logging stats’ (whatever the hell that might mean) will improve and Slow Coast once again becomes relevant. That won’t be happening. This project is an equal partnership and does not require a loyalty oath. I can’t ditch Tom anymore than he can ditch me — thankfully.

What I find especially irritating about this is that Tom has written directly about the Lehigh quarry proposal precisely one time, back on July 10, 2009. The rest of the time he writes about all kinds of things having to do with living on Texada: small-scale farming and animal husbandry, canning and food preservation, living in a remote location, and all sorts of other posts which I would file under the general heading of ‘sustainability’ or ‘regional resilience’. When he’s not writing for Slow Coast, he’s out there working on a number of worthwhile community projects. We need more of this; not mere ideological purity and monocultural thinking.

If anyone out there has something to say, please send your comments or your contributions. Better that than try to tear down the things you disagree with. This site is no one’s soapbox, but is intended to reflect the variety of opinions in the region. If we can no longer express our truths without someone trying to shut us down or shout us down, the conversation is over.

Local, local government

By Tom Read

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Not a typo, the title of this piece means that Texada Island’s main local government body, the Powell River Regional District Board of Directors, actually convened in all its glory on Texada yesterday for its monthly Directors’ meeting. This made it a physically local, local government for the first time in anyone’s memory, according to a few longtime Texadans I spoke to. Usually, the directors gather in Powell River, not especially accessible for Texadans who want to keep an eye on the local politicians.

The Texada local government tour came about mainly through efforts of our own Electoral Area Director, Dave Murphy. Dave got to show off our island’s impressive range of public and community facilities to his political colleagues, driving everyone around in the Texada Island Inn’s 13-passenger van. The assembled dignitaries then dined at the Tree Frog Bistro.  And then everyone got down to business at the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay.

The meeting started a few minutes after 7:00 pm, with probably around 80 to 90 people in the audience. That’s an extraordinary level of attendance for a local government meeting on an island summer evening, in my experience. Why so much interest? Answer: most likely, Lehigh’s proposed South Texada Quarry at Davie Bay, virtually the only controversial item on the night’s agenda. That item drew speakers pro and con for about 20 minutes, while the directors silently listened.

No fireworks erupted, no discussion ensued, no decision occurred. That’s set for next month in Powell River, of course (fireworks optional). No, in Gillies Bay last night the meeting rather lacked entertainment value after each side had had its say, because Chairman Colin Palmer (representing Electoral Area C, “south of town”) closed the meeting to further public comment so the Board could get on with its business. Indeed, from that point on, the directors moved swiftly through their agenda like limestone dropping from a conveyor onto a barge.

Thus, much of the audience departed shortly after public comments ended. It was, after all, a pleasant summer evening.

But those of us who stayed got to applaud as several distinguished islanders received much-deserved public recognition for their decades of volunteer efforts. We witnessed the founding of the Texada Island Heritage Commission, a new public service on our island that emerged through the efforts of the Texada Heritage Society. Plus, we got a subtle lesson in local government: all the real work happens in committees; the monthly directors’ meeting merely ratifies decisions made earlier in the process. The whole thing lasted only about an hour and twenty minutes.

Finally, the directors, their two staffers and a lone newspaper reporter all adjourned to the Texada Island Inn’s pub in Van Anda for a bit of libation and conversation before heading back to Powell River, the true seat of Texada’s not-so-local, local government.

An open letter concerning the Lehigh proposal for Davie Bay

By David Moore

Davie Bay, on Texada Island

Davie Bay, on Texada Island

[Editor’s note: the following is a letter sent by David Moore to the Powell River Regional Board on August 14, 2009, regarding Lehigh Minerals’ mining proposal and Crown land applications at Davie Bay.]

Dear Directors,

“There is a weakness – a Great Big Frailty – to the simplistic ‘economic’ argument for conservation of forests and wildlife. It’s like telling kids they need a mother because who else will make them toast and jam. True, but it misses the point. Every kid needs a mother for the irreplaceable goodness they give with or without the toast.”
(Rowan Jacobsen in Fruitless Fall)

It is important for the present and the future well-being of Texada Island (and the wider community) that our Regional Board firmly recommend against a proposal from Lehigh Minerals to develop a mine and barge port at Davie Bay. The reasons are many and I’ll list them in the order of priority which, in my view, makes a strong case for conservation.

But first I must state that it is wrong for people in general, and the media in particular, to characterize the issues and frame the debate as a polarized battle between those who are pro-mining and those who are anti-mining. That is divisive and over-simplified. Let’s look at the bigger picture and be sensible about planning decisions that will resonate into the future for generations.

For the last one hundred years the industrialized nations of the world have been gobbling up the planet’s finite natural resources at a rate that everyone and his dog knows cannot be sustained. The party’s over and the binge must be reduced drastically. Most politicians and bankers and business leaders will not be informing us and warning us of the accelerated rate of species extinctions, eco-system collapse, dying oceans, and the consequences of global climate change caused by industrial overshoot. As a society we need to tune in to what scientists are saying and slow the pace of resource extraction way down. Texada Island has several active limestone mines already and another is simply redundant and unneeded at this time.

It helps to consider the map of Texada and understand the location of Davie Bay and what lies close around it. Davie Bay is near the mid-point of Texada Island’s west coast. Like Powell River, it faces the glorious setting sun and its visual aspect is a stunning view of Vancouver Island. Davie Bay is a natural environment of exceptional beauty. Rocky and rugged, it is enhanced by the sculptural presence of small moundy islands which resemble huge whales at rest in the tidal pools. The fact that these tiny, fragile islands have received the land use designation ‘Resource’ by the Texada Island Official Community Plan cries out for an amended OCP, not for capitulation to Lehigh Minerals’ attempt to profit from a flawed plan. Sections of the OCP support environmental conservation and therefore the ambiguity problems deserve a closer look. Checking the map you’ll see that Davie Bay is about mid-way between Shelter Point Park and the recreation site of Shingle Beach. These are two other gems of Texada’s natural endowments which islanders and visitors revere for not only their beauty but the fact they have year round public road access. Stretching southeast from Mouat Bay near Shelter Point, leading in the direction of Davie Bay, is a wonderful hiking trail through the forest along the shoreline which is one of the best places in the Powell River Regional District to see old growth Douglas Firs which are hundreds of years old. About ten kilometres further southeast, Shingle Beach is a terrific spot for day visits or wilderness camping. The beach itself is perfect for kayaks and for people — it consists of a uniform coarse sand that cushions the bow of a boat landing and doesn’t stick to skin or bare feet! Looking out from Shingle Beach one can clearly glimpse in the near distance Lasqueti Island and between it and Texada the once private Jedediah Island. The latter is now a Provincial Park thanks to the efforts of dedicated conservationists; it now joins Sabine Channel Provincial Park, the nearby South Texada Island Provincial Park, and others which make these immediate waters into a boaters’ paradise. These small islands and sheltered waters make up an archipelago which from a bird’s-eye view have an obvious affinity to the whole southwest shore of Texada. Davie Bay is thus situated, one could say, on an axis which has in close proximity the natural attractions of Shelter Point, Mouat Bay, Shingle Beach and the Jedediah group. On this point alone I could rest my case that Davie Bay has a higher and better use than a barge port for a rock quarry.

It deserves wider public understanding that the Regional Board has been asked to consider the use of public land for a mining and export operation. Lehigh Minerals owns hundreds of hectares upland of Davie Bay, but they are asking the BC Government to lease them hundreds more for mineral extraction and the barge port. This Crown land is owned by all British Columbians and therefore the interests of all of us are at stake. We know that mining has been and still is an integral part of life on Texada, and its presence is evident and even dominant on the north end of the island. One does not have to be anti-mining to see that the Davie Bay location is highly inappropriate for the proposed use by Lehigh. Perhaps there could be, or will be other quarries on Texada, but let’s be honest – a quarry is forever. It’s blasting and digging and selling the mother earth herself. No one’s going to put it back. The existing abandoned quarries on Texada should be a reminder of what this industry leaves behind. They have their charms as great swimming holes, it’s true, but look around and notice that bio-diversity has been permanently eliminated. One needn’t ponder for long to grasp the short-sighted foolishness of inflicting this fate upon the region close to Davie Bay. Even if Lehigh agrees to a different barge port site, the Regional Board should acknowledge that wider area conservation values should prevail and have the resolve to recommend that Crown lands in this area are unavailable.

The power of money and the behaviour of corporations are a part of modern life. For better or worse, no one escapes these forces. As long as we have a democracy, though, it is still within the rights and responsibilities of the general public and their elected officials to exercise self-determination and uphold values of equity and justice. It is apathy and ignorance which allows corporate interests to exploit the common good for their narrow focus of profit and gain. In the case of Lehigh Minerals it is worth looking at the source of their power and influence. The parent company is Heidelberg Cement of Germany. Heidelberg is a very big multinational corporate entity. With the takeover of Hanson in 2007, the company is the largest aggregate and the fourth largest cement producer in the world. In 2008 it turned a profit of 1.9 billion euros, and currently employs approximately 65,000 people worldwide in 2,800 locations in 50 countries. It should not go unreported to the BC Integrated Land Management Bureau however, that Heidelberg has an appalling record of regulatory violations spanning decades of time. Earlier this year, the largest corporate fines ever handed out in Europe targeted Heidelberg with the largest individual fine of a whopping 252 million euros! This was for industry wide price fixing which had been going on for decades according to the German cartel office which issued the sanctions. Other companies included in the total fines of 660 million euros are Lafarge, Dyckerhoff, Holcim and Schwenk. Heidelberg Cement has built a profitable and powerful commercial empire on a foundation of rule breaking. If they came knocking at my door wanting to set up in my backyard they would be met with an instant ‘no thanks’ and a slammed door. The Regional Board must respect the values of its citizens and do exactly the same thing with the Lehigh applications. [Further information on Heidelberg Cement can be found at this English translation of the German Wikipedia page.]

Texada is a unique island on the BC coast that is renowned in the world of geology. It is a laboratory of ancient history which can teach us for years to come of the million-year-old movements of tectonic plates and the formation of the North American continent. It is not a broken off remnant of the mainland. Geological evidence shows that its origins are from afar and that it (along with Vancouver Island) came crushing into the mainland forming the Coast mountains and leaving a rich mineral wealth. The karst formations in proximity to the proposed quarry site are worthy of protection from industrial impact. Texada can also boast of its unique heritage in both animals and plants. A rare stickleback species inhabits Texada lakes and rare plants, such as the blue listed Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) and the Seaside Juniper (Juniperus maritima) have healthy populations on Texada. All these are extremely rare or non-existent on the mainland. The Texada climate is ideal for the Coastal Douglas Fir forest type which is now in need of protection. This is all to say that Texada Island has an important role to play in preserving the bio-diversity of BC and at the same time has much to offer for ‘green’ tourism and recreation. Agriculture on Texada also has unrealized potential for commercial development. There are alternatives to a dependency on mining resources for economic activity.

In conclusion, the social and cultural history of Davie Bay should not be disregarded. Some might speculate on the metaphysical how and why, but let’s not discount the history of Davie Bay and its power of attraction which has appealed to wanderers, artists, poets, hippies and squatters of many descriptions. Who among us has not sought out the intangible yet undeniable power of natural beauty in our search for fundamental truths, self-healing and longing for simplicity? Over the years the immigrants came and went, each taking something of spiritual value with them. For those whose sensitivities are so inclined, there is an unmistakable magic at Davie Bay. No, that’s not in the OCP, but please add this to the equation when considering if it is wise to blast the uplands into millions of tons of exploded and crushed rock and move it to offshore destinations over the now peaceful domain of Davie Bay.

Sincerely yours,
David Moore, Powell River

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

Economic progress or economic vandalism?

By Richard Fletcher

Davie Bay, Texada Island. (Photo by Tom Scott.)

Davie Bay, Texada Island. (Photo by Tom Scott.)

Lehigh Northwest Cement (Lehigh), whose parent company is HeidelbergCement AG, (Germany) has applied to the BC Provincial Government for use of the foreshore at Davie Bay, Texada Island, for a barge loading facility. Lehigh plans to quarry limestone over 36 hectares (with the works extending over 75 hectares) in order to extract 20,000 tons per month of 3 inch aggregate limestone for shipment to the Lower Mainland and adjacent areas for use in road base and associated uses.

The Power River Regional District has required Lehigh to present and discuss its proposed plans with the community of Texada Island and a meeting is scheduled for June 27th at the Texada Community Hall. There is also an invitation to visit the site between 11am and 4pm on the same day. Residents and ratepayers of Texada are encouraged to take up the invitation to walk the site and attend the public meeting in the evening.

There are some fundamental issues involved with the Lehigh proposal that Texada islanders need to consider and resolve.

1. Social License

Firstly, it is important to appreciate that Lehigh will need a “social license” from the residents and ratepayers of Texada before it can proceed with this project. A social license means that Lehigh will need the tacit and explicit approvals of governments, communities and other stakeholders. So what you as a Texada resident and ratepayer think of this project will have a strong influence on whether it goes ahead or not.

2. Davie Bay

Davie Bay is an area of outstanding natural beauty; the shoreline and islands of Davie Bay are spectacular. Tom Scott has posted a selection of pictures of Davie Bay. To view these go to http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/tomnsharon/DavieBay.

Davie Bay has little islands just off-shore and spectacular views of the Georgia Strait, including Lasqueti and Vancouver Islands. Texada’s Official Community Plan (OCP) considers Davie Bay a potential park site.

IMG_5942

Picture 6

Lehigh plans to construct a conveyor or ramp, 433 meters in length, 7 meters in height, spanning the causeway and tidal island at its crest (at the skyline of the first picture immediately above, and on the picture at the top of this post), and build a barge-loading facility on the Lasqueti side of the tidal island in Davie Bay. Clearance for the conveyor would be approximately 6 meters, and it would entail the building of several pylons to support the structure. The conveyor or belt would be 4 feet wide, over the tidal island and extend about 50 feet out into the ocean to enable 10,000 ton barges, 350 feet in length, to load.

Judging from other quarry operations on Texada and on the Sunshine Coast it would appear little can be done to lessen the environmental impact.

3. Location of the new quarry

The quarry operators on Texada have to date quarried the northern limestone deposits on a large scale over decades. While returning economic benefits, these operations have done substantial damage to the ecological system in the northern part of the island. What efforts have been made to restore the natural environment have largely been unsuccessful.

Picture 5

A quarry operation in Davie Bay half-way down Texada would take quarry operations on Texada to a new level; quarry operations would then extend from the north to the sensitive mid-part of the island, impact the natural beauty, recreation, be intrusive, and threaten the economic and environmental “balance” of Texada.

4. Economic justification

Texada is host to 3 long-established limestone quarries:

(1) Lafarge Corporation Texada Quarrying Ltd (TQL). In 2005, the Gillies Bay quarry increased cement limestone and aggregate rock production. Approximately 6 million tonnes were quarried with up to 1 million tonnes stockpiled depending upon final contracts. It is expected that this production will consist of 3 million tonnes of cement limestone; 0.6 million tonnes of chemical-grade limestone; 0.5 to 1.5 million tonnes of crushed aggregate (limestone, volcanic and granitic rock) and rip-rap; and, 40 to 50000 tonnes of high brightness white limestone.

(2) Ash Grove Cement West Inc. at Blubber Bay, in operation since 1907. Records indicate that Ashgrove has shipped about 5 million tonnes annually. About 1 million tonnes of waste rock is sold as construction aggregate. The Company sells aggregates, agricultural limestone and also cement rock to their cement plant in Seattle, Washington, chemical grade limestone to their Rivergate lime plant in Portland, Oregon as well as aggregates and chemical grade limestone in BC.

(3) Imperial Limestone Ltd. near Van Anda, is another US Company based in Seattle. There is also a non-operational quarry owned by Lafarge; it is the terrace-like landscape as seen from Powell River.

Currently production rates at the 3 quarries are at low levels.

Lehigh Northwest Minerals Ltd (Lehigh), is a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement AG, a German company which is a global competitor to Lafarge Corporation, which is the owner and operator of the TQL quarry. Historically Lehigh has been a major customer of TQL buying substantial quantities of aggregate from TQL under long term contracts. It is believed the current contract is due to expire in 2013.

Global construction and raw material companies such as LaFarge and Heidelberg Cement prefer to be vertically integrated and thus have physical control over sources of raw material. Compared to the TQL quarry, potential production at Davie Bay is stated to be at a modest output rate, at 20,000 tons per month, or 240,000 tons per year, subject to market conditions. In contrast the TQL quarry north of Gillies Bay is a low cost producer and can ship about 5 million tons per year.

One presumes that Lehigh’s quarry operation in Davie Bay will be a higher cost operation because of its projected small scale, the high employees to production ratio, and cost of infrastructure will be in current dollars (versus historical costs for TQL). The Lehigh management would likely use potential production at Davie Bay as a “hedge” against price gouging by TQL, should aggregates regain price buoyancy in the future. This is particularly valuable, as it is a physical hedge, of unlimited duration, unlike financial hedges which are short term and expensive.

Given the low production rate of the Davie Bay quarry, Lehigh would likely retain its contracts with TQL, and use the Davie Bay facility as both a hedge and a “peaking” facility, only bringing in the quarry when aggregate prices are high, to augment the TQL supplies. As the Davie Bay quarry would be high cost, this is a most probable scenario —it means of course that production (and jobs) would be highly intermittent hence the value to Texada’s economy would be very low, and taking into account environmental and social costs, negative.

Lehigh indicate that the quarry at Davie Bay would employ 10 people. If Davie Bay is used to displace TQL supply, TQL jobs would likely be displaced. If used as a peaking facility, employment would be intermittent and in a period when jobs are not hard to find at the peak of the cycle.

Longer term there is very little chance those relationships would change as TQL has many, many years of low cost reserves.

It is said that the Lehigh proposal relates to federal “stimulus spending” in Canada and the USA. It would be difficult for a corporation to justify a capital investment of $5-8m at the present time. There is abundant idle capacity in the industry, we are in the midst of the impact of the credit crunch, and there is a major competitor, a few kilometers away which happens to be a low-cost producer working at low production rates.

The environment would be better protected if federal subsidies were directed into more meaningful projects. Lehigh (Heidelberg Cement) should reach an arrangement with Lafarge. The regulators should insist on it.

5. Cost to Texada

Benefits are questionable

There would be construction of the ramp, the barge loading facility, and ancillary facilities to have the quarry in a “ready to operate” condition. The 10 jobs promised by Lehigh are highly likely to be intermittent, or displacing jobs at TQL, as explained above. The environmental and amenity costs on Texada outweigh these questionable economic benefits.

Jeopardizing future options

Texada already has a major limestone quarry in TQL that encompasses a large portion of the island with apparently enough limestone for 200 years and a deep sea loading facility. The other two quarries also comprise very large tracts of land and are also currently suffering under the economic conditions.

Texada is still largely a natural wilderness area, with the most stunning rugged natural beauty of all the Gulf Islands. Fortunately the environmental damage of the quarries has been restricted to the northern part of the island, but if this quarry goes through this could be about to end. If Texada’s environment is abused this will affect the decisions of people wanting to move here. Texada sits astride the Malaspina and Georgia Straits, near major population centres, and has huge potential for recreation, nature tourism, wilderness activities, attraction as a holiday destination and as a retirement community. These attributes create their own economic activity offering a sustainable economic base. Quarry activities in one of the most beautiful parts of our island, mid-way down to the provincial park, might jeopardize our economic options for the future.

Also, if Davie Bay is permitted it would create a blight on the area surrounding Davie Bay, including Shingle Beach and threaten recreation activities in the south of Texada. Any operation of the quarry would create intrusion and traffic, and the site is 14 km down the island on gravel roads.

6. Democracy

Some say, enough is enough. We don’t need another quarry. The project offers doubtful economic benefits to Texada, and has the potential of doing major damage to the Texada’s environment in a most sensitive part of the island. It could threaten Texada’s alternative economic prospects for the future.

This is a decision to be taken by ALL Texada residents and ratepayers, and what you think does matter. You are urged to participate in full in the upcoming events of June 27th. It is hoped that TAN itself will hold a public meeting to gauge the public mood and subsequently survey individual opinion on Texada, similar to the “referendum” TAN conducted with the WestPac LNG proposal.

As you can see from the above note, each of us should consider this matter carefully, obtain as much understanding as possible, and make a decision personally whether this project should be supported or opposed.

You may want to write to our Power River Regional Director Dave Murphy (davewm@xplornet.com). Please copy to Frances Ladret who is the Administrator at the PRRD  (administration@powellriverrd.bc.ca).

You may also want to write to the parent company of Lehigh Northwest Minerals Ltd:

HeidelbergCement
Berliner Strasse 6
69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Comments should be directed to the attention of the Supervisory Board, or contact  them electronically at http://www.heidelbergcement.com/global/en/company/contact.htm.

A core part of HeidelbergCement’s corporate mission is building on the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, ecology and social responsibility.

++++++++++++

Richard Fletcher is Vice-Chair of Texada Action Now Community Association. This note is written in a personal capacity.


Post facto

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