Gravel pits-urgent matter

Public, written comments about gravel pit proposal can be submitted until Feb. 17.

By Gerry Bietz
President, Bighill Creek Preservation Society

Gerry Bietz

Open pit gravel mines planned for the area immediately northwest of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park risk the health of the Park and Bighill Creek.

The most recent application to Rocky View County is for the 163-acre Mountain Ash Limited Partnership, Summit mine. If these and the other lands in the immediate vicinity owned by gravel companies are allowed to be developed, they would create a basin almost two square miles in size.

The open pit mines would excavate to within one meter of the water table in the aquifer which feeds the springs in the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and almost half of the flow in Bighill Creek. The County has opposed any assessment of the cumulative effects of these mines.

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique, much loved and heavily used ecological and recreational asset for our region. Over thousands of years, the aquifer has created nationally significant calcium formations known as tufa—a focal point of the park. Although only about 70 acres in size, the park receives almost one quarter million visitors each year. As a result, it is currently under renovation to upgrade its facilities. Bighill Creek and the valley it inhabits provide diverse habitat for a broad array of species ranging from birds and fish to moose, bears and cougars. It provides opportunities for recreational and natural respite for the region and the Town of Cochrane, and has been identified as critical habitat for species at risk.

“Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a unique ecological and recreational asset for our region.” Gerry Bietz

Gravel mines would remove the protective layers which guard the aquifer from contamination.  Excavation would leave only one meter of gravel to filter out contaminants like spilled fuel, herbicides and contaminants released by the mining process.  The water level in the aquifer fluctuates over time, raising concerns about the adequacy of the narrow remaining filter and the potential need to pump water from the pit directly into Bighill Creek.

Mining operations and the craters left behind would force the recharge of the springs through a dramatically reduced protective filter, funneling groundwater contaminants into the springs and eventually Bighill Creek. This could cause serious ramifications for the fish and aquatic species supporting them. Proposed observation wells in the mines would only identify harmful contaminants in the aquifer after they have already entered the groundwater and traveled towards the Park, making recovery and any possible mitigation extremely difficult.

Based on studies of the aquifer, Bighill Springs Preservation Society is extremely concerned that open pit gravel mines adjacent to the park will do irreparable harm to these valuable assets. Significant gravel deposits exist in innumerable other locations in the region which could supply gravel without imposing significant risks to the ongoing viability of Big Hill Springs aquifer, the park and the creek.

We encourage people who share our concerns to voice their opposition to the Mountain Ash proposal and to open pit gravel mining in this area to the Rocky View County Council for the upcoming public hearing.  Emails should be sent to legislativeservices@rockyview.ca and should reference Bylaw C-8051-2020 (Mountain Ash Application PL 20200031) in the subject line. The deadline for written comments is Wednesday, Feb. 17.