The owners of a dormant quarry at the base of Sumas Mountain have applied to restart operations, but local residents have concerns after the last operator went bust.
But while neighbours are worried about the effects of blasting, the site’s new operators say they want to improve the site and repair the lingering danger caused by the last outfit that ran the quarry.
The quarry is visible from Highway 1 and directly across Quadling Road from Sumas River, the Barrowtown pump station and a boat launch.
The rock quarry was opened in 2007, but a work order suspension and business troubles closed the site in 2015. Joanna Grayston said her neighbours remember rocks raining down from above during the quarry’s operation.
She worries that the resumption of mining would bring similar dangers, disturb a pair of endangered Peregrine falcons and potentially harm the Barrowtown Pump Station.
“It’s such an incredible public safety issue,” she said.
Grayston, who has launched an online petition opposing the plan, said she was startled to find that mine plan said the quarry was two kilometres from the nearest home. A satellite image shows that Grayson’s house is one of at least a dozen that are located within 500 metres of the mine.
Brent Palmer, the manager of the site and a co-owner of a company involved in the project, said he understands residents worries, particularly given the past.
The previous operator, he said, “had so many mining infractions … that it was incredible.”
When the project went bust, the site was left in its current condition, with an exposed cliff face and rock that Palmer says regularly falls to the valley floor below. Palmer said the present owners were encouraged to take over and fix up the property.
“It has to be finished and reclaimed,” he said. “You can’t leave a mine in that state of order.”
Palmer said the quarry would likely be operational for four or five years, with plans uncertain beyond that. He said the owners have commissioned several engineering reports for the site, including one that suggested that Quadling Road should be closed due to the danger currently posed by falling rock. That would cut off road access to five properties north and east of the pit. (Grayston and others are not convinced that the site is a danger if it remains undisturbed.)
Palmer also said new blasting rules are much more strict than in the past, with video monitoring of every explosion.
“You can’t have fly-rock leaving the site period,” he said. “They shut you right down.”
He also said there is no possible impact to Barrowtown, with previous monitoring showing that blasting at the quarry couldn’t be seismically detected at the site.
As for the distance from neighbours, Palmer said those measurements are taken from the centre of a property. However, satellite images suggest the nearest homes are within 600 metres from every point on the property.
The operators told the city that environmental consultants had provided guidance about working near bird’s nests in the quarry.
In order to begin extraction work, the quarry must receive a permit from Abbotsford council, which has previously expressed concern about mining work in the area.
Several years ago, one of the mine’s owners previously asked to explore a piece of land behind the pit for its gravel potential.
That proposal, though, was refused by the province and opposed by the City of Abbotsford, Sumas First Nation and the Fraser Valley Regional District.
The city itself listed nine concerns with that project, including the “potential to significantly increase the risk to the safe operation of the pump station facility and, in turn, the livelihood and safety of Sumas Prairie residents.”