example of submission to RVC re: gravel pit hearing on march Second

Here is an example of a submission made to Rocky View County regarding the proposed gravel pits. You could choose part of it to submit your own. There is background information and an explanation of the real challenges.

We do hope to inspire you and motivate you to express your opinion. It is a very important matter.

Big Hill Springs – Not Gravel, but

An Oasis on the Prairie

Submitted (PL 20200031) February 2021 by RVC resident, Vivian Pharis

Vision

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is no ordinary park. This tiny gem was set aside in the 1950’s as one of Alberta’s first parks, apparently on land donated by Senator Patrick Burns. Since the 1920’s people have been drawn to the prairie oasis at Big Hill Springs for picnics, fishing and camping. The attractive tumbling waters, where Grasslands meet Foothills and Parkland ecological regions, has drawn many admirers who have, between the 1950s and 2020, repeatedly called to better protect the springs and expand the park.

Over thousands of years, Big Hill’s high-volume mineral springs laid down unusual tufa formations which are the foundation for uncommonly beautiful falling waters that flow on to form the main volume of Bighill Creek. Today this 70 acre park draws 1/4 million annual visitors and overuse is a constant threat. But, as the centre of a larger interpretive park and conservation area, Big Hill Springs could become a tourist attraction unique in southern Alberta.

Rare opportunities exist to expand the park north to connect to a larger conservation area, east to incorporate a picturesque buffalo jump with high interpretive value, west to properly protect and interpret the springs that rank among the top four mineral springs in Canada, and south-west for 6 km along a pathway through a sandstone-studded, steep-sided glacial coulee, leading all the way to Cochrane. Interconnecting pathways could join Big Hill and Glenbow Ranch Provincial Parks. Recreation, nature appreciation and tourism opportunities abound.

RVC’s Need for Parks:

  • RVC is the most populous county in Alberta; people are attracted to it for “a country lifestyle” based on proximity to nature.
  • RVC reports and plans recognize that the primary recreational needs of residents are walking paths, interconnected trails and nature appreciation, including: 2018 County Plan, 2020 Rocky View Recreation Needs Assessment Study, 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan and draft 2021 Rocky View Municipal Development Plan.
  • Provincial parks make up 0.4% of RVC’s 1481 sq mi land base, with the 0.15 sq mi Big Hill Springs Provincial Park being the smallest, yet supporting 1/4 million annual visitors.
  • The demographics of RVC are older, with almost half being 45+ years and this trend is expected to increase; older people especially recreate by walking and nature appreciation.

Big Hill’s Unique Attributes:

  • Big Hill Springs Provincial Park has attributes of national significance, including springs that rank amongst the “top four mineral springs in Canada”, yet today they are unrecognized and neglected.
  • The spring’s high water volume (84 L/s), their constancy of volume, their year-around temperature constancy and the rare tufa formations that have built up over 1000’s of years, bestow national and provincial significance.
  • The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has ranked the springs and park area as critical habitat for threatened Bull Trout under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
  • Bighill Creek Protection Society, a local watershed group working to develop a watershed plan for the Bighill Creek Basin, has conducted six different scientific assessments of the creek in the past 5 years, that support the goal of reintroducing endangered native Bull Trout and West Slope Cutthroat to the creek.
  • The park is provincially unique because it is one of Alberta’s only sites protecting an example of the Foothills-Parkland Subregion and supports a broad assembly of plants and animals associated with Grasslands, Foothills and Parklands.
  •  Bighill’s steep-sided valley and open landscapes to the north, support surprising numbers of wildlife, including moose, elk, mule and white-tailed deer, black and grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, mink, weasels, skunks, porcupines, red squirrels, ground squirrels, and in the bird world, rare piping plovers, a blue heron colony that is over 100 years old, peregrine and prairie falcon nesting sites, sharp tail grouse leks and many raptor and song bird species. Even raccoons and bob cats have been caught recently on area wildlife cameras.
  • Buffalo jumps, bone piles, pictographs and lithic tools are all found in the immediate area. The area has great potential for further archaeological examination and interpretation.
  • Historically, Alberta’s first creamery was sited near the springs in 1891, and operated 19 years, supplying Calgary, rail lines, forestry operations and local residents.
  • An early fish hatchery was built to take advantage of the reliable waters that flowed year-around and maintained a constant temperature.
  • The glacial coulee that stretches about 6 km from Bighill Springs Provincial Park to Cochrane, passes through dramatic scenery where wildlife is varied and abundant. The decommissioned roadway through the coulee remains a public asset that would require little monetary outlay to open it as a walking/cycling trail. Indeed, this is a stated goal in RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan.

Advantages of Park Expansion:

  • Provincial parks contribute to the environmental, social and economic well being of Albertans, including RVC residents wanting more local recreational opportunities.
  • 2017 figures indicate provincial parks contribute $1.2 billion into Alberta’s annual economy and provide 23,480 years of employment.
  • Bighill Springs Provincial Park, with no advertising, draws 1/4 million visitors annually. Its proximity to Airdrie, Cochrane and Calgary put it within easy reach of over 1.5 million.
  • With expansion, more trails and picnic sites, interpretive facilities for natural, historical and archaeological features, and major trails linking the park to Cochrane and to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Big Hill has enormous long-term recreational, educational and tourism potential.
  • The proximity of the site to three population centres and its gentle topography mean the park could operate on a year-around basis.
  • The spin-off potential for local businesses due to increased tourism is substantial.

The Challenge:

  • Four gravel operators have acquired eight quarter sections or two square miles of land in the immediate vicinity of Big Hill’s springs and park that threaten to destroy the ancient aquifer the springs rely upon. For certain, they will impact the water to the springs. The first of these potential mines will be considered for approval at an RVC hearing March 2, 2021. RVC has a history of approving gravel operations with minimal examination of their environmental and social impacts. Gravel deposits underly much of RVC, many not associated with critical water ways.
  • The public has only one opportunity to influence a county decision on a gravel operation. This comes early, at the land designation stage. If this opportunity is missed, the public has no further recourse to the remaining steps in approving new mines. The public is then left to challenge problems only if they arise during operations. In the situation where a very vulnerable and rare aquifer is concerned, where endangered species are at stake in the waters, and where clean, reliable drinking water could be impacted, there is every reason for sober second consideration of an impacting development. 
  • Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is right now raising the alarm about declining water availability as populations increase and climate change takes a toll. He describes the need to shorten water supply lines, concentrate community living and redouble conservation efforts. There are implications for RVC. There are also obligations on counties to maintain tributary water quality and flow rates wherever possible. Putting these in jeopardy through gravel mining would be a questionable trade-off, needing thorough examination.

Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan:

  • Two Management Plans have guided operations of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, one from 1976 and one from 1998. These and older documented evidence have described this small park as “overused”, suffering from erosion and needing expansion. Indeed, in 2011,  the public again made this point through input to RVC’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan, where there is a call to: “Identify and protect Big Hill Springs Creek and the creek valley north of Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks as a conservation area; and Secure the road allowance to Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks for public access.”
  • As part of the plan’s Grand Valley Foothills Concept Plan, is a trail proposal: “A pathway follows Big Hill Springs Road from Range Road 34 to Highway 22; a pathway starts from the City of Calgary at Nose Hill Parkway to Camden Lane and continues west to Big Hill Creek to Cochrane. A branch of this pathway follows Big Hill Creek to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and continues north to Big Hill Springs Road.

Conclusion:

Rocky View County has a clear need to provide greater trail and park facilities for its residents, many of whom moved here for these very amenities. County plans and various reports recommend that natural spaces be protected, interconnecting trails be developed and new parks be designated. But, despite planning exercises, reports and recommendations for action, so far little has been accomplished in the 50 years I have lived in RVC. Big Hill Springs Provincial Parks has just undergone a $1.2 million renovation that did not include expansion or protection for the vital springs. The 1998 management plan for the park contains a commitment that the park will work cooperatively with RVC for park area improvement. Expansion of this park and trail system would be a cost-effective and very responsible undertaking that could trigger a range of environmental, social and economic benefits for RVC. But, all this will be lost if gravel pits destroy the springs, which are the golden goose, and dust and noise and truck traffic drive park visitors away.

References:

Armstrong D, Gow and Meikle W. 1998. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Management Plan. 25 pages.

Blogorodow P. 1976. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Mini Master Plan. 55 pages.

Hargroup Management Consultants, 2011. Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan. 111 pages.

Sutherland I. 1998. Ecological Land Classification of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. 35 pages.

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