Exshaw residents seek to resolve frustration with Lafarge
Thursday, Apr 25, 2013 06:00 am
MD of Bighorn council agreed recently to help Exshaw residents address concerns they have associated with living in the shadow of the Bow Valley’s largest industrial complex.
On April 9, council passed a motion during a regular council meeting to request Diana McQueen, minister of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, review the Exshaw Quarry Reclamation Plan to see if current work in the Lafarge quarry complies with that plan.
The motion, proposed by Councillor Paul Ryan, came after two delegations representing the Exshaw Community Association (ECA) and the Exshaw-based Rocky Ridge Townhouse Association sought the municipality’s support in resolving what they say has become a difficult and challenging time.
In making his motion, Ryan said the 1996 reclamation plan shows specific elevations for the quarry and that the haul road, which sits lower down in the quarry, west of the ridge, is sufficient for the life of the quarry.
“That is no longer the case,” Ryan said. “The department-approved plan remains in effect until revised or updated. Activities going on up there are contrary to that plan and we need to move on this.”
Council also agreed, as part of the motion, to request AESRD consider requiring Lafarge to suspend blasting and other work on the east ridge of the Exshaw quarry until the effects that work is having on residents in Exshaw and Lac Des Arcs is established.
“In recent months it has become quite obvious that there is a rapidly growing concern in the hamlet that the Lafarge operation next door has created a number of issues and is moving in a direction that will no doubt magnify the problems that are just becoming evident today,” ECA president Jessie Sanderson told council.
“The recent blasting on the ridge took everyone by surprise and immediately raised the communities’ fears and concerns about safety, dust and noise. Speculation that the ridge itself would be lowered to accommodate a new haul road, on the east side of the ridge, would substantially increase the problems,” Sanderson said.
Speaking on behalf of the Rocky Ridge Townhouse Association, Geoff Ellis said the association fears that work on the east ridge of the quarry will change the nature of the ridgeline and no longer shelter the community from dust and wind.
“We feel we are directly affected by the work on the east ridge. That shelters us from the quarry,” he said, adding cement dust is damaging the townhouses’ shingles and exteriors.
“We hear comments regularly on the challenge of keeping windows clean and dust out,” he said. “And there are fears moving the ridge will change the wind patterns and affect the townhouses even more.”
Al Doll, who has owned and operated the Heart Mountain Store & Service Centre since 1993, described the recent state of affairs as the “most serious problem” he had seen over the past 20 years.
“I can only speculate where it ends. My livelihood is affected by what happens in Exshaw,” Doll said. “The concerns that have been brought forward are legitimate. We look to council as the guiding path for us to get us to the right department and the right people and we call for your support.”
Bighorn Reeve and Exshaw Councillor Dene Cooper said while the MD may not have regulatory power in this matter, he added the municipality does have influence.
“If your council doesn’t have legislative authority and power, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have influence. You are asking council to find the doors that are open to you. It becomes less clear between applications and permits,” he said. “I do appreciate that you have come as a community and as a community association. I think we can work together and can go to a better place.”
Representatives for the two Exshaw organizations reiterated they are not against Lafarge and its planned expansion project, but want Lafarge to address the issues.
“We respect the industries’ right to operate, but they need to make concessions to make the impact as low as possible,” Ellis said. “They should be setting a world leading example.”
Lafarge began work earlier this year on its plant expansion project, which was first approved in 2009. The work will result in a new kiln line and decommissioning and upgrading of older kilns. It will also include a new bag house to capture dust and infrastructure to reduce other emissions.
Along with closure of the Exshaw Creek trail, which Lafarge closed at the beginning of April citing safety issues, and the work on the east ridge of the quarry, other concerns residents raised during their presentations to council include emissions, dust, air quality, communications and blast vibrations allegedly damaging two Exshaw basements.
In an open letter addressed to Cooper and provided to the Outlook by Lafarge, plant manager Heinz Knopfel addressed the concerns raised by the two delegations, stating: “We are saddened to have contributed to the anger, frustration and mistrust we are clearly feeling in the community – sad that it’s also affecting our own employees who live, volunteer and contribute to the greater vision for Exshaw. Clearly, this has not been the intent of our actions.”
Addressing the key issue of work on the east ridge, Knopfel said that Lafarge is not building a new haul road. Instead, he said, the work is part of Lafarge’s reclamation plan.
“Work on the east ridge of our quarry is directly related to our reclamation plan and is in compliance with government regulations. We have no immediate plan to build a haul road on this ridge,” Knopfel wrote.
He added the company is developing a new quarry plan to address increased production once the new kiln line is operational. He indicated that plan will likely take two years to develop and will include “significant public consultation with the Exshaw community.”
Also, Knopfel stated Lafarge is not removing 80 metres of material from the top of the ridge, adding the company is planning to remove an estimated 18 metres of material from the top of the ridge.
“Once we have completed our next few blasts, we will be able to confirm how much rock we need to remove from the ridge to enact our reclamation plan and ensure the safest operation within our quarry,” he wrote.
In regards to dust, Knopfel stated the plant’s data is showing dust has decreased over the past three years.
“We take these concerns seriously. Our plant leadership team meets regularly to identify options to further reduce fugitive dust. We are always aiming for improvements,” he wrote, adding the plant has undertaken to adjust its kilns to reduce dust, rerouting trucks and tarping loads to lower the amount of dust.
Lafarge is still planning to build employee housing on a parcel of land it owns in Exhsaw. However, Knopfel added the company is not in a position to make this project a priority.
Knopfel added that communication is a priority for the plant, but “we recognize there remains room for improvement in this area.” He pointed to the new website (lafarge-na.com/wps/portal/na/en/Exshaw), which posts regular updates, including blast notices, as one example of how Lafarge is attempting to keep the community informed.
In his letter to the MD, Knopfel stated the company recognizes its operation has affected residents, but added it intends to find solutions to those issues.
“We know that recent changes to our operations, the closure of a trail on our property and work on the ridge has exacerbated concerns and we will work hard to address them as they are brought forward,” Knopfel said. “As we move forward with our expansion, we are hopeful our relationships with the community will be strengthened. We recognize there is room for improvement and invite constructive feedback moving forward.”
Alberta Environment met with representatives of Lafarge and the Exshaw community April 17.