The battle rages on by those opposed to the development of the Summit aggregate mine 800 metres from the boundaries of the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.

Multiple notices of appeal have been submitted asking for the Water Act approval received by the Mountain Ash Limited Partnership (MALP) on July 20 to be rescinded.

If the approval is upheld, the Summit mine is one step closer to becoming operable.

The Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS), the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), and likely a half dozen other notices of appeal have been filed.

The BCPS pressed upon several points in its three-page appendix detailing its notice of appeal, filed on July 26.

It states the decision makes no substantial reference to the impact on groundwater or the aquifer, fails to address remediation and reclamation of AEPA's land, and provides no apparent assurance that the project applicant will be held financially responsible for mitigating, remediating, and reclaiming any impacts on the spring, creek, or park.

"In our view, the board through its process should review the decision made by Alberta Environment and Parks (now Environment and Protected Areas) and require the department to justify the decisions that were made and convince itself whether the application is consistent with the public interest, taking into consideration the impacts of this mine on groundwater and the aquifer, as well as the cumulative impacts on same of all other current and proposed mining operations in the region. The board should also allow for the evidence relied upon by AEP to be publicly tested by third-party experts," it states.

Should the appeal board conclude that MALP's application has merit, they believe a performance bond or other financial assurance must be provided to ensure funds are available for any impacts upon the spring, creek, or park.

BCPS Gerry Beitz says they are now awaiting word on whether their appeal will be accepted, and, if so, when the hearings will take place.

"We don't know that, but in the interim, we understand Mountain Ash can go ahead and start developing their mine while this proceeding. I don't know what the implications are if somewhere down the road the appeal board decides that the application was not appropriate."

Beitz says it's been difficult to unearth the rationale behind the approval received from Alberta Environment and Protected Areas because they have yet been able to access the entire appendix from the Water Act hearing.

"I've never witnessed a decision like this from a provincial government authority in which there wouldn't be a complete document, a complete record of the decision made in a publicly available document that would go through the points of view of the various parties or provide the fundamental reason why it was approved or denied."

They have been directed to locate it on the Mountain Ash website but have yet to be able to find it in its entirety.

On July 29, the AWA was advised the Environmental Appeals Board would soon begin addressing the submissions received. They have been told Alberta Environment and Protected Areas has been requested to provide the appeal board with all the information used to arrive at the approval decision by Aug. 8.

AWA conservation specialist Kennedy Halvorson says they have major concerns about the mining operation's impact on water quality and quantity of the downflow streams into Big Hill Spring, Big Hill Creek, and eventually the Bow River.

"We're concerned that it's going to have detrimental impacts on fish in the stream and adjacent streams. It's going to result in varying water levels just by way of how they've designed the pits and their location right above the aquifer that recharges the Big Hill Springs." 

AWA says the mine will result in the removal of 15 waterbodies and disrupt the habitat used by at least five provincial sensitive species observed within the project area, including great blue heron, sora, least flycatcher, Eastern kingbird, and barn swallow.

She says they've been told owners of neighbouring properties are concerned about how it will impact their water wells. The issue has arisen elsewhere in Alberta.

"I know in Red Deer County recently their council just rejected a mine application to expand because they had already found evidence that had caused lead and aluminum to leak into a water well of a local neighbor, and then they had to make a new water well, and the expansion was then going to impact that water well."

Hydrogeologist and geoscientist Dr. Jon Fennell, who was hired by BCPS to complete a report, has serious concerns about the mine's proximity to the park and the depth of the excavation.

Based upon his report on the hydrogeology, geochemistry, fish and aquatics, and climate change of the Summit Pit, Dr. Fennell proposed a setback of 1.6 km around Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, where no gravel development would be allowed.

He recommended limiting excavation to within four metres of the water table, as opposed to one metre, the industry standard. 

A 30 to 40-year lifespan of the Summit operation is projected. It will be developed in a series of stages, with a maximum of +/- 40 acres open for excavation at any one time. Reclamation of the pit will be phased and will follow closely behind discontinued mining operations,

The entire site is required to be reclaimed for agricultural uses upon completion.

The Mountain Ash Limited Partnership has received approval on its master site development plan (MSDP) and development permit (DP) applications. Besides Water Act approval, it's pursuing a Code of Practice for Pits (COP) approval. 

COP approval is required before operations can begin. It regulates disturbance, reporting, and reclamation activities.

The small 78-acre provincial park is located 19 km north of Cochrane by way of Hwy. 22, Hwy. 567 and the Big Hill Springs Rd. 

Big Hill Springs park sign

It features a series of springs and small waterfalls that flow year-round and has unique geological formations known as tufa. It offers shorter hikes, shallow creeks, and picnic tables and is a popular getaway for families in the surrounding area.