People Count Versus Northumberland Rock Quarry Georgeville, Nova Scotia ~ The Story ~ Background Fire In The Hole The Environmental Assessment Process What Went Wrong Making It Right Background Alva Construction Ltd. owns and operates the Northumberland Rock Quarry in Georgeville, Nova Scotia. Alva Construction Ltd. indicated: the quarry has produced 650,000 tonnes of aggregate over the last 15 years, from September 6, 1996 to November 09, 2011. This equals approx. 43,333 tonnes per year for the past 15 years. the total disturbed area over the last 15 years has been 3.5 ha, approximately 0.23 ha / year. Background Industrial Approval 2011 The existing quarry is operating under an Industrial Approval issued on April 11, 2011. This permits Alva to produce aggregate from within a defined 4 ha area, of which 3.5 hectares have already been exhausted over the past 15 years, leaving .5 hectares of “productive aggregate”. More on this later! Surrounding communities and residents of the Georgeville area didn’t express concern in 2011 to this Industrial Approval for three reasons; Background Industrial Approval 2011 Most residents weren’t aware of the 2011 industrial approval. The Industrial Approval process also does not include a public input component. It only requires Public Notice before an approval is issued. Misleading Information: The Public Notice for the 2011 Industrial Approval stated that “hours of operation” would “stay the same”. Since a large sign at the entrance to the quarry used the term “hours of operation”, residents believed that these were the same “hours of operation” mentioned in the Public Notice. In fact, the “hours of operation” in the Public Notice referred to a 24 hour a day/7 day a week schedule of the previous industrial approval. Other residents weren’t overly concerned about the 2011 Industrial Approval because of the limitation of space. Only 0.5 hectares of land was left to produce aggregate over a 10 year period. Fire In The Hole Remember the .5 hectares of remaining quarry to mine… To increase the size and production levels for the quarry, Alva submitted an Environmental Assessment application in November 2011. Preparation work (field studies etc.) started more than 1.5 years earlier. On November 09, 2011 Alva Construction placed the following ad in the Antigonish newspaper, The Casket, Fire In The Hole Fire In The Hole For the 13 communities and residents surrounding the quarry site in Georgeville, NS this caused little initial concern UNTIL We read the EA Registration Documents (=application), all 222 pages. Instead of “business as usual” Alva applied for: An increase in production from 43,300 tonnes per year to 450,000 tonnes per year. The implications were staggering: Fire In The Hole Past 15 Years Anticipated with EA Registration in 2011 and approved by EA Branch in 2012 Change Production level 43,300 tonnes 450,000 tonnes 1000% increase Traffic 28 trips per day 300 trips per day 1000% increase Hours/Days of Operation Mo–Thu: 7:00 - 7:00 Fridays: 7.00 - 3.00 (as posted) 110 days per year 24 hours per day, 300+ days per year 300% increase Size of Operation 4.0 hectares 54 hectares 1300% increase Environmental Assessment Environmental Assessment (EA) is a planning and decision-making tool used to provide sustainable development by protecting and conserving the environment. It is an information gathering process used to identify and assess the potential environmental effects of undertakings prior to their development. It is also a process that provides the public with an opportunity to contribute to the decision making process. Quote from Nova Scotia Environment – Official Government Website: http://www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr/paal/nse/paal164.asp Environmental Assessment Regulations The Minister’s decision, which marks the end of the EA process, has to follow EA Regulations (made under sect. 49 of the Env. Act). According to the EA regulations a proponent must submit (among other information) the following to the EA Branch: Details of the nature and sensitivity of the area surrounding the proposed undertaking All steps taken by the proponent to identify the concerns of the public and aboriginal people about adverse effects or the environmental effects of the proposed undertaking A list of all concerns expressed by the public about the adverse effects or the environmental effects of the proposed undertaking All steps taken or proposed to be taken by the proponent to address concerns of the public (...) Environmental Assessment The Process The information gathering phase as preparation for the EA Registration (application) is time and resource intensive. It is in place to collect facts of the situation/location of the proposed project and to identify and address potential concerns/issues. The EA Branch as well as many other levels of government (DOE, DOT, DNR, Tourism etc.) are involved during this preparation process. Public Involvement at this stage is an important source to identify potential issues YET, the Public is excluded from this phase.* • • Quote from Proponents Guide to Environment Assessment, provided by NSE: “It is up to the proponent to decide to involve the public…” Environmental Assessment Registration A Final Report marks the end of the information gathering process. This Final Report is the application document for the EA. The Final Report must be registered at the EA Branch in order to start the EA process: Under provincial legislation, the EA process must be completed over a 50-day period after registration A 30 days period for Public Comments starts with the registration of the Final Report A decision of the Minister of the Environment marks the end of the 50 day period Environmental Assessment Process What We know Alva Construction had worked on the application for more than a year with government authorities before registering their proposal on November 09, 2011. The public became aware of the application in the local newspaper after the Registration. Whereas Alva had over a year to work with government officials to prepare their application, the public had only 30 days to review and comment on a 222 page report, from November 9th until December 9th 2011. The Minister’s Decision had to be made by January 9th 2012 – just after the Christmas Holidays. Environmental Assessment Ministerial Approval Despite over 100 letters to the minister opposing the application, a letter from our MLA, two town hall meetings of nearly 200 people, discussions with government officials, legal and environmental opinions to inform our responses, a community health impact study, and countless hours trying to correct incorrect information... An approval was issued on January 9th 2012, by the Minister of Environment, the Honourable Sterling Belliveau. Environmental Assessment Terms and Conditions The approval for the quarry extension project was subject to several Terms and Conditions, to mitigate adverse effects of the quarry extension project. Comparing these Terms & Conditions with terms & conditions of previously approved quarries, more than 95% of the terms and conditions were identical. Slightly different terms and conditions; a community liaison committee and transportation plan, which were tailored for the Northumberland Rock Quarry, are without regulatory enforcement. None of the Terms and Conditions will be able to effectively mitigate the adverse affects identified by concerned residents during the public review. Environmental Assessment Terms and Conditions Clause 11.1 of the Terms and Conditions was written to mitigate adverse effects of the increased size and higher production level of Alva quarry in Georgeville. It states: “The Approval Holder shall operate the quarry in a manner such that the active area does not exceed ten hectares (10 ha) at any time (…).” This clause really does not limit the production of the quarry. As an example: Another Rock Quarry in NS proposed a production level for its own operation of 2 million tonnes/year and 40,000 tonnes/week. For their production, which would be 4.5 times larger than the Alva, their footprint would be 4 ha per year. Environmental Assessment Terms and Conditions Clause 8.1 of the Terms and Conditions was written to mitigate adverse effects for an adjacent residential land development, which was approved with the help of the Department of Environment during the information gathering process for the EA. It was supposed to provide lots in this subdivision with a 800 m setback for blasting. After asking for clarification, the EA Branch stated that this clause only applies for existing structures (time of IA approval) – not for future buildings. Since this subdivision was only approved a few months ago, no homes have been built yet. Therefore this clause 100% useless. What Went Wrong Public Engagement Alva stated in the EA Registration documents that public engagement took place in the preliminary planning stage. The Proponent and their consultant met with NSE on February 4, 2011 to discuss (…). Landowners adjacent to the quarry were also contacted (…) for the purpose of issues identifications.” “In the fall of 2010, Project Information Bulletins (Appendix C) were distributed to landowners within approx. 1.0 km of the quarry. The purpose of the bulletin was to advice local residents and businesses close to the existing quarry and proposed Project site (i.e. those who are potentially most affected) and provide them with the opportunity to comment on the proposed undertaking.” The subsequent EA application indicated under the topic Stakeholder comments and steps taken to address issues: “To date, no comments have been received from stakeholders as a result of the Project Information Bulletin…” Stakeholders adjacent to the quarry insist they were not contacted by the proponent. No documentation has been provided to verify otherwise. What Went Wrong Public Consultation Although the EA application was biased by misleading public notification, this information was never updated, corrected, or taken into consideration in the final decision. The application was approved without meaningful public consultation by the proponent or DOE and under the banner of “business as usual”, an message completely contradicted by the EA application. The current process is biased to the proponent, and does not allow the public the same opportunity to provide informed comment on issues arising from the application, issues that directly affect their lives. What Went Wrong Incorrect Information The EA Branch in Halifax used the following description as official Project Information to other departments reviewing the application and as Public Notification: “Proposed quarry activities (i.e. production levels, blasting and truck traffic) will be consistent with current quarry operations.”* This “business as usual” message from government was consistent throughout the process, as indicated in a March 2012 response from DOE that the “proponent did not anticipate an increase in production levels with the EA Registration”.** *Quote from the official EA Branch website for Project Description and Public Notice http://www.gov.ns.ca/nse/ea/northumberland.rock.quarry.extension.asp **Quote from email response from DOE staff, answering the question if the EA approval would allow Alva to increase production levels compared to current operations: “Alva does not anticipate any change to the way in which they have operated over the last ten years.” What Went Wrong Incorrect information The EA Branch was notified of incorrect information many times by numerous members of the public, but they did not acknowledge or distribute this corrected information to other government departments and to the public of the anticipated increase in size and production levels in their EA Registration. Other government departments involved in the review and approval process accepted and disbursed this incorrect information. What Went Wrong Incorrect Information The proponent provided incorrect information, leading to a decision by the Minister of Environment that was ill-informed, ill-advised and did not reflect the best interests of the communities most affect by this change. Residents of Georgeville organized a fire hall meeting during the 30 day public comment period to inform the public about the biased process and provide them with an analysis of the application and implications to the communities and residents of the area. Members of the Public then informed the EA Branch and other government authorities about their concerns and the incorrect and misleading information in the application documents. Their letters asked for more time to respond to the application due to its inaccuracies and misrepresentations. What Went Wrong DOE Correspondence DOE in Antigonish officially commented on a draft version of the application documents as follows: “We looked at the proposed draft and we do not have any major concerns.” DOE advised other government departments involved in the application process with the following email on November 9th, 2011 to inform them about the proposed project : “This is to advise that on November 9, 2011 Alva Construction Limited registered a Northumberland Rock Quarry Extension Project for environmental assessment ... Proposed quarry activities (i.e. production levels, blasting and truck traffic) will be consistent with current quarry operations.” NS Economical and Rural Development and Tourism has raised concerns in regards to additional truck traffic. They officially received the following response from the EA Branch: “No additional truck traffic is anticipated with the expansion of the quarry”. What Went Wrong Outdated Maps The proponent used outdated maps and incorrect area information in the application documents. The information indicated: Other pits/quarries existed near Alva’s quarry. Very low residential land use around the quarry with no oceanfront / ocean view subdivisions. This drew an incorrect picture of the surrounding activities and residential developments that would be adversely affected by the increase in activity. What Went Wrong Outdated Maps There are no active pit / quarries located near the Northumberland quarry. Pits / quarries as presented in the EA Registration documents simply don’t exist anymore. There are more than 50 recently developed waterfront and water view properties, which are located within ~ 1 km of the quarry. None of these were shown. One of the nearby subdivisions is incorrectly shown in the application document as a gravel pit. The Department of Environment was involved in the approval of all newly developed lots around the quarry. Outdated maps and an incorrect description of the neighboring land uses was never corrected on the applicant proposal, despite public input to correct the information. What Went Wrong Socio Economic Aspects The EA application stated: “ Due to the existing industrial activity in the vicinity of the Project area (i.e., the Northumberland Rock Quarry and adjacent quarries) and the distance of the proposed Project from residences, impacts on existing and future adjacent land uses are not expected.`` A neighbouring residential land development stands in obvious conflict with the quarry extension. Despite DOE staff processing both projects, by the same people, at the same time, and meeting with both proponents for site visits the essential issue of the potential for conflicting land use was not discussed or addressed in the EA approval. A Community Health Impact Assessment was conducted as part of the Public Input Process. It highlighted public road safety, highway deterioration, and affects on tourism and residential development. Making It Right People need to count! The EA process needs to address and solve community concerns and resolve conflicts, not fuel them. The solution was/is obvious. The proponent stated in writing, at public hearings, and in correspondence that they had no intension of increasing production levels. If that is truly the case, then put it in writing. Concerned community members and neighbours expressed they could live with an extended quarry area as long as production levels and truck traffic did not increase. The conflict could have been/can still easily be resolved by placing the “business as usual” indicators in the Terms and Conditions. Period.