Site C gravel use growing concern for rural road maintenance

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Gravel roads connect rural communities and the people in them to the rest of the region, but they depend on a specific resource to do so: consistent access to truckloads of gravel. 

Gravel is also a major component of the Site C Dam project. Used in both the dam itself and the roads requiring reconstruction because of it, concern has been raised about the future availability of gravel in local pits for use on local roads once the dam construction is completed. 

The North Peace Rural Roads Coalition, colloquially called the Rural Roads Taskforce, raised this issue with representatives from BC Hydro in the last month. The response they received left more questions than answers. 

The coalition is built of local municipalities and includes the mayors of Taylor and Hudson’s Hope and the Director of Electoral Area B (north of Fort St. John.) It was formed in 2021 to address issues with the roads surrounding the communities. 

Discussing the response from BC Hydro to the taskforce’s presentation in a District of Taylor council meeting on Monday, Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser outlined the issue.

“We [are] concerned about the potential for gravel reserves and that the cost to haul gravel to repair the rural roads over the long-term of the region will potentially significantly increase based on the amount of gravel available,” he explained.

“Our concern was that perhaps when they did the original environmental assessment for the dam that the volumes of available gravel in the rural areas… may not have been taken into consideration.”

As gravel is hauled in to Site C, gravel pits— even though the project is only hauling gravel from pits owned either by BC Hydro, the Ministry of Transportation, or other crown land sites—will be depleted. Once gravel pits in the area are emptied, it will become more expensive to haul gravel from further afield to maintain rural roads.

Whether the gravel would be hauled in or new pits developed in the future, Fraser said, the current budget would not suffice. If not adjusted, “it means less roads get maintained to an acceptable standard,” Fraser said. 

The letter sent in response to these concerns from James Thomas, senior manager of Site C properties, addressed some of the questions the taskforce had.

Though a large portion of the available gravel in the region is available in riverbeds, much of it will be inundated under the reservoir formed behind the dam. Though BC Hydro, according to the letter, was not required to use this gravel they are using some.

Further, gravel is a provincial resource and BC Hydro, though they are paying royalties to the province for the use of the gravel, is not required to replace it.

Finally, the letter said that BC Hydro respected the importance of the resource and took precautions to limit usage. 

“Essentially,” Fraser said, “they’ve responded saying they were satisfied that they’re doing everything that the environmental assessment requires. And they’re going to continue to do that. Nobody seemed too concerned about it.”

Though it is not necessarily an immediate problem, Fraser said, “It’s an issue that’s building.”

Another presentation from the taskforce to representatives from BC Hydro is planned.

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