The city’s rehabilitation fund is too low to cover the cost of quarry reclamation, warns councillor Doug Graham.
If a quarry operator depletes their gravel supply and abandons their operation, the city could be stuck with the bill, he added during Monday’s council meeting.
“One of the problems I have with it is that (the quarries) have been there for a long, long time, with a huge amount of gravel being taken out of the countryside,” he said. “A lot of environmental degradation has happened there, and at some point it’s got to be reclaimed.
“If we have to reclaim that whole area there, and we’re talking almost 40 hectares of land — it’s going to cost us a heck of a lot more money than what we have in that rehabilitation fund.”
Currently, the city collects 15 cents per cubic metre of gravel extracted for its reclamation fund. The fund sits at $136,000.
The quarries, which lie along Robert Service way abutting Ear Lake, have been in operation since the 1960s.
But the fund was established in 1996, when the operators were issued their first 10-year lease.
The fear was that they may not sufficiently reclaim the land once they were finished extracting the gravel.
Now, with the existing leases up for review, politicians are worried the existing fund is not sufficient.
“If an operator goes out of business or walks away from a lease, there’s nothing we can do about it except take the money out of the reclamation fund and use it to redo (the land),” said Graham, who used to play in the area as a boy.
“We’re talking 1950s here, and it was a prime recreation area in Whitehorse.”
The Official Community Plan designates the area as “greenbelt.” However the quarries are exempt from the designation until there is no more gravel left on the site.
Graham is worried that the upcoming lease deal will erase a promise citizens received when the asphalt quarries began in the 1960s — that one day the land would be returned to a natural and healthy state.
“There’s nowhere near enough money to even start doing it.”
Rehabilitation would include re contouring the land, installing topsoil, and planting vegetation.
The three companies on the site are Annie Lake Trucking Ltd., Skookum Asphalt Ltd. and General Enterprises Ltd.
The situation is more dire at Annie Lake’s quarry, since one of its customers, Ron Newsome, is planning on extracting gravel at McLean Lake sometime in the near future, said Graham.
“Annie Lake has an agreement with Newsome and Newsome uses their quarry. But if he moves out of there, and he is going to do it sometime, then I don’t know if Annie Lake is going to run that again.”
There is no change in the 15-cent-per-cubic-metre rehabilitation fee in the new lease to be voted on next Monday.
“We’re charging 15 cents a cubic meter, it should be a minimum of 30 (cents) per cubic meter,” said Graham.
“We should be charging a realistic fee for reclamation.”