Residents alarmed by Howe Sound gravel mine plan

But company says project will create jobs and help service huge local demand for gravel

Pods of dolphins have returned to Howe Sound as industrial pollution in the waterway has been cleaned up

Howe Sound residents are raising the alarm about a proposed gravel mine they say could jeopardize the area's tourism and film sector.

"Being out there recreationally, we see the recovery that's happened over the past four or five years," Scott Henshaw, a North Vancouver resident who is a member of the Future of Howe Sound Society, told Business in Vancouver.

Calgary-based Burnco wants to mine gravel from a site it owns near McNab Creek, on the west side of Howe Sound between Gibsons and Squamish. The company plans to take about one million tonnes of gravel a year, and crush it on site, over a 30-year period.

A lake will form as the company takes gravel out of the 65-hectare site, said Burnco president Mike Powell.

"As we draw material out, it fills in with ground water," said Powell. "We'll be drawing material out of the lake, and the lake will form soon after we get down [several] feet."

While the mine is in operation, the only visible element would be a barge loading dock. Because McNab Creek is a salmon-bearing stream, Powell said the company will be bound by environmental rules requiring development to stay 30 metres from the stream.

But Brenda Broughton, the mayor of Lions Bay, doesn't buy Burnco's reassurances that the project won't have much of a visible impact.

"[Its website] shows all this green stuff," said Broughton. "Well, that green stuff is in a hundred years, not now."

"People at Lions Bay look directly at it," said Henshaw. "Everybody on the backside of Cypress Mountain skiing will see it, and everybody going up the Sea to Sky highway."

Area tourism is growing, especially as wildlife returns to the sound after decades of environmental cleanup (see sidebar). Film companies have been increasingly using the location, but Broughton said they will keep filming in the sound only if it stays pristine.

Powell said his company wants to develop the site because of its proximity to Vancouver. He added that barging large amounts of gravel – up to 6,000 tonnes – is also more efficient than trucking 25-tonne loads.

While opponents have scoffed at the 12 jobs the project will create, Powell said other indirect jobs will be created, and the company plans to use local suppliers.

Henshaw said the absence of a master plan for Howe Sound, which is the responsibility of three separate regional districts, causes confusion for industry.

"It's really tough for industry to know what are the ground rules, what are they able to do or not do, and how would it impact, say the tourist business."

Burnco's McNab Creek project is going through B.C.'s environmental assessment process.