Neither passionate nor fact-based arguments on the need to protect the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park from the development of a gravel mining operation didn't win over Rocky View County (RVC) council.
At a Mar. 2 public hearing, RVC council approved the Summit Pit's master development plan and land rezoning by a 6-3 margin.
Division 9 councillor Crystal Kissel was one of the three county councillors who opposed the project. She made a motion to deny the master development plan, then sought to table the decision until an updated hydrogeological assessment report was completed. Neither were successful.
Kissel believes it was clear nearby residents and park users were strongly opposed to the development, and those in support would not be impacted by its development. She says there is no shortage of gravel elsewhere in the county and there was no need to extract it from so close to the provincial park.
"We only have one Big Hill Springs Park. If we destroy this spring by making a poor choice today, it will last for generations. Then we'll only have a big hill park, and we've got lots of big hills on the west side of Rocky View County."
Questions surrounding the health of the aquifer, the spring, and its tributaries were fuelled by recommendations of hydrogeologist Dr. Jon Fennell to establish major setbacks from the park.
A late submission by Michael Roycroft, Kananaskis regional director for Alberta Environment and Parks, supported Fennell's recommendations. He suggested an updated site assessment and for a decision to be tabled until it was completed.
SLR Consulting senior hydrogeologist Steven Usher refuted the Fennell report, saying it used inappropriate data. He assured RVC council there would be no ill-effects on the water from the gravel extractions.
"In respect to their concerns on water chemistry, there will be no change. With respect to maintaining the tufa formation, they will remain to be there, the water will have the same water quality and carry on. Concerning fish habitat, the water quality will be the same, the water temperature will be the same, the water flow will be the same with a small increase that you can't even measure, so therefore the fish habitat of the spring will be fine."
Gerry Beitz, president of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society, says he believes many organizations made cogent arguments against the development from several different perspectives.
"They layered one on top of the other in what I thought was a pretty convincing case and should have been for this council. Three councillors were convinced of the appropriateness of a denial but obviously, there was a majority that held firm to what seems to be their world view that development supersedes environmental concern."
Beitz says this isn't necessarily done yet.
"We'll confer with those of us who are like-minded on this and determine what the next reasonable step will be."
The county council also agreed to become the development authority responsible for overseeing the project.
Div. 4 councillor Al Schule made the motion, believing it will allow the council to better address any issues that may arise.