Troy Speedie and Jeff Gau: McNab Creek gravel mine threatens all of Howe Sound

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      By Troy Speedie and Jeff Gau

      “Anywhere else in the world, Howe Sound would be a great National Park.”
      - Murray Newman, former director of the Vancouver Aquarium

      A large part of the beauty and international appeal of British Columbia’s West Coast can be found in the natural environment of Howe Sound. Over the past 20 years, Howe Sound has been the subject of millions of dollars in reclamation projects to restore its health, paid for by industry and you, the taxpayer. Regrettably an Alberta-based company has proposed a large-scale gravel mining and crushing facility at McNab Creek that will set back rehabilitation efforts, especially for local salmon populations. All at a time when the recovering health of the sound has led to sightings of Pacific white-sided dolphins and grey and killer whales for the first time in decades. We should not allow this progress to be placed at risk.

      The massive project as filed by Burnco Rock Products Ltd, envisions one million tonnes of gravel, with spikes up to four million tonnes, pulled out the creek per year. During the project’s first phase, a 77-hectare industrial pit would be dug out of the McNab Creek estuary to depths of 55 metres below surface grade and more than 15 metres below the water table.

      According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, a large-scale gravel mining and crushing facility in the northern part of Howe Sound is likely to result in the destruction of fish habitat which cannot be compensated elsewhere in the sound. During a 2010 review of the project, DFO determined that the project would result in harmful destruction of fish habitat. During a follow-up review after some scoping changes by the proponent, DFO stated that they “continue to have serious concerns about the extent of the impacts to fish and fish habitat that may result from this project” and that “The project presents a high risk to Salmon and Salmon habitat.”

      In addition to the risks to fish habitat, the project description indicates the site could be home to up to 20 species at risk, including a population of Roosevelt elk that were transplanted to McNab Creek by the B.C. Ministry of Environment in 2001 in an effort to re-introduce the species to the area.

      Despite concerns voiced by DFO, the Burnco project has recently begun a review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

      Industrial mine incompatible with Sea to Sky vision

      This unfortunate situation clearly illustrates the absence of a long-term planning strategy for Howe Sound like the adjacent Sea to Sky strategic land use plan. As a result, there is no forum which will consider the overall sustainability of the sound or the impact on other socio-economic interests involved when reviewing incompatible projects of the nature proposed by Burnco. The McNab Creek estuary and surrounding waters are extensively used for recreational and commercial fishers, tourism operators, boaters, recreational property owners, numerous children’s camps, and other compatible users—all placed in profound jeopardy by the Burnco proposal.

      The need for a specific Howe Sound plan was formally recognized by 12 local governments and First Nations representing the communities in the Sea to Sky corridor in September 2002. They signed a “Principles of Co-operation” Agreement which identified the importance of community involvement in the consideration of issues affecting Howe Sound and the need to “work together for the greater good because territorial lines on a map mean nothing in terms of sustainability”.

      The Burnco mine proposal, if approved, will cause permanent, irreversible damage to a unique natural estuary that is home to at-risk species and will also endanger ongoing efforts to sustain marine biodiversity in Howe Sound. In addition, important jobs and significant economic activity and opportunity in recreational tourism and commercial fishery will be put at risk.

      Community concerned about proposed industrial mine on the shores of Howe Sound

      In order to stop the Burnco proposal and contribute to a rational planning process, a group of individuals and communities active in the Howe Sound area have formed the Future of Howe Sound Society. This is a not for profit society whose objective is to encourage community participation and develop an integrated planning approach for Howe Sound with a view to ensuring that the overall environmental sustainability of Howe Sound and the greater socio-economic impacts are considered when development proposals are put forward. Please join with us today to put a stop to Burnco’s incompatible proposal.

      Further developments regarding the next steps in this review process and details of how to make your views known will be posted at

      Troy Speedie is a director and Jeff Gau is a member of the Future of Howe Sound Society. They wrote this article in collaboration with other members of the society.




      Feb 10, 2012 at 12:28pm

      Fuckoff Burnco or anyone else with this type of proposal for the Howe Sound.
      This isn't progress.


      Feb 10, 2012 at 1:19pm

      Unless large numbers of people hold politicians' feet to the fire on issues like this, corporate profit will always come first.

      9 15Rating: -6


      Apr 1, 2012 at 10:17am

      The salmon create more jobs and keep the money local. Burnco can dig gravel pits in Alberta. Stay out.

      8 10Rating: -2


      Apr 20, 2012 at 9:58pm

      I would rather see a Canadian company that's family owned do this project over a huge multinational corporation you can't hold accountable. Let's get real about the need for local gravel sources that take trucks off the road by using barges. The project doesnt mention mining in or near the creek and besides, the end result of the mining is a freshwater lake. How's that for new habitat?

      8 18Rating: -10

      toxic lake

      Feb 9, 2013 at 10:04am

      actually, the end result is a mega toxic lake...


      Apr 6, 2013 at 11:20am

      actually you are a typical cidiot that has no idea what you are talking about. Gravel mines do not produce any toxins. Gravel is required to you can drive your smart car or fixie on roads. And the toxic copper mines you are actually complaining about, are required for the transfer of electricity to your smart phone, ipad, and what have you. People are so out to lunch in this province. They use social media for their anti mining campaigns yet all along are using electricity. Green cars require more REE's which are hands down the most dirty form of mining. Maybe take an unbiased approach for once and do some research. As for the person who said we should mine gravel in Alberta: Now that would be really green! Maybe we can transport the gravel to the market (Vancouver) using tar sands oil as well. Wake up and read something other than propaganga for once.

      9 16Rating: -7