In May, Sparwood residents posted photos of what they described as “black rain” falling from the sky. File photo

Teck, District agree to monitor dusting events in Sparwood

Agreement comes amid public concern about dust caused by explosions at Teck’s Elkview Operations

The District of Sparwood and Teck Coal have entered into an agreement to monitor mining activity in the area amid concern about dusting events.

At Monday’s regular meeting of council, councillors voted in favour of working with the mining company to install a climate and air quality monitoring station, which will include a photographic platform for District cameras.

“The main objective of installing the cameras is to collect ongoing data on activity at the Elkview mine site as it relates visual quality and other impacts, such as individual dusting events,” said the District’s Manager of Planning Nelson Wight.

One camera has been installed at the District’s main office on Spruce Ave and is operational, with another to be erected at Teck’s Climate and Air Quality Monitoring Station, located at 6000 Highway 43.

Wight said as one camera is still to be installed, the total cost of the project is not yet known.

Under the partnering agreement, Teck is required to record air quality and meteorological data on a continuous basis at its own expense and submit it to the B.C. Ministry of Environment’s air quality database.

It will supply all data to the District each month and be subject to audit by Ministry of Environment personnel, with the monitoring station to be included in the province’s quality assurance/quality control audit program.

It comes amid public concern about dust caused by explosions at Teck’s Elkview Operations, including an incident in May when residents reported “black rain” falling from the sky and soiling clothing and property.

Sparwood Mayor Cal McDougall said the information would give the District a baseline to work from, offering an example of how the data could help staff better respond to complaints.

“A lot of the times we will have complaints from the public… ‘it’s really dusty today’ and we can look at the data from Teck and their data shows that it wasn’t a particularly dusty day, so where is that dust coming from?” he said.

“Is it coming from the highway? Is it coming from construction sites within the community? If we have our own visual on something like that then we’ll know, we’ll be able to tell if it’s coming from the mine site.

“So it just sets a base for us as well to know and it’s just kind of heads up for Teck that we’re watching, and we’ve got a recording.”

McDougall admitted the District won’t be able to take any real action in response to dusting events “other than to be able to verify comments that yes, we feel that there was a dusting event on August 25 and it appears as though it came from the mine site”.

He said the District continued to receive complaints about dusting events and was encouraging residents to report their concerns directly to Teck.

“I’ve put in a couple of comments myself to that feedback mechanism… because it seems like Teck often doesn’t get near as many comments and complaints as we do,” he said.

“I think they said they had 17 last year. We all get 17 each in Save-On on the weekend,” added McDougall, referring to his fellow councillors, who nodded in agreement, “so there’s something not right.

“They’re complaining to us about it but they aren’t communicating that to Teck and Teck really wants to know, they need to know, so we’re really encouraging people to fill in those feedback forms and get them into Teck, and there are a number of different ways to do that.”

Anyone who has concerns about air quality in Sparwood can contact Teck’s public feedback line via 1-855-806-6854 or feedbackteckcoal@teck.com.

More District of Sparwood news

Community fund

Sparwood registered charities can now apply for nearly $1000 in funding through a new grants program.

The Sparwood Community Fund steering committee has developed the Sparwood Small is Beautiful program to provide funding for small projects that will benefit the community.

They have about $900 to give away this year and expect that this will provide for two projects this fall.

Committee chair Barbara Nunes presented to the District of Sparwood at the regular meeting of council on Monday.

She explained the committee has been active since the fall of 2017 and has so far received $118,386 in donations, including $25,000 from the District.

Mayor Cal McDougall congratulated the committee on their achievements and encouraged them to continue spreading the word about the fund.

“Just imagine what $20 million could do for a community like ours and I don’t think that’s unreasonable for a fund like this,” he said.

For more information on the fund, visit Facebook.com/SparwoodCommunityFund.

Wetland restoration

The District of Sparwood will not provide any more funding to the restoration of the local Beaver Wetland.

On Monday night, councillors supported staff’s recommendation to direct the Elk River Alliance to complete the restoration project as presented in their initial funding request in 2015.

The District chipped in $6000 to the restoration, which was pitched as a one-year project that included the installation of interpretive signs, removal of invasive plants and a community engagement program.

However, the project was extended without the District’s knowledge and the ERA subsequently requested more funding.

Councillors made the decision not to provide more funding for several reasons, including that doing so would set a precedent of providing funds to organizations outside of the original scope of a project.

Employer Health Tax

The District of Sparwood will send a letter to the B.C. Government opposing a new tax that will hurt local governments.

Unveiled in the 2018 budget, the employer health tax requires companies with payrolls over $500,000 a year to pay a 0.98 per cent tax on annual payroll.

The tax goes up in increments for every $250,000 in payroll and comes into effect on January 1, 2019, to offset the loss in revenue from Medical Services Plan premiums.

Big employers, such as local government, will be hardest hit by the tax, with the public sector to account for about 20 per cent of the revenue the new tax brings in when fully implemented.

The District of Sparwood will join other councils around the province in requesting that local governments, regional districts and school boards be exempt from the tax to lessen the financial burden on taxpayers.

Bylaws supported

Councillors gave first, second and third readings to two bylaws at Monday’s regular meeting of council.

The first was the Community Standards Bylaw, which consolidates regulations for the control of public nuisances, such as noise, unsightly properties and derelict vehicles.

Chief Administrative Officer Terry Melcer described the bylaw as a “one stop shop” that will make it easier for residents to refer to District regulations on such matters.

The second bylaw related to recreation fees and charges, with the current bylaw to lapse next month.

It includes rate increases that will bring Sparwood to the average facility user rates by 2023 and more clearly identifies how these are to be applied.

The Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw will be considered for adoption at a special meeting of council of August 27 at 10 a.m.

Councillors thank first responders

Every councillor acknowledged the difficult times the community of Sparwood has faced in recent weeks and thanked first responders.

Councillor John Baher described the fatal apartment fire at Ponderosa Manor in Sparwood Heights on August 9 as an “incredible tragedy for the town”.

His thanks to the fire service were echoed by his fellow councillors, who also acknowledged the swell of community support in the wake of the fire.

Sparwood Search and Rescue also got a mention after being called upon during series of emergencies, including the Ponderosa Manor fire and wildfire evacuations in other towns.

The next regular meeting of council will be held on September 4 at 7 p.m.

 

At Monday’s regular meeting of council, Sparwood councillors voted in favour of working with Teck to install a climate and air quality monitoring station, which will include a photographic platform for District cameras. File photo

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