West Springs residents protest southwest ring road gravel pit

Residents in West Springs are raising health concerns about a gravel pit and crushing operation for the southwest leg of the ring road that's being built near houses and a school.

'We’re concerned about the long-term health consequences,' resident says

A boisterous crowd of West Springs children and parents held homemade signs Thursday afternoon and chanted, 'We want clean air, no crushing, no gravel.' (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Residents in Calgary's West Springs community are raising health concerns over a gravel pit and crushing operation for the southwest leg of the ring road that's being built near houses and a school.  

Several dozen families staged a demonstration after finding little success with a letter-writing campaign. The group hopes to catch the transportation minister's attention by being a bit louder.

On Thursday afternoon, a boisterous crowd of children and parents held homemade signs and chanted: "We want clean air, no crushing, no gravel."

Construction on the gravel pit has already started.

Health concerns

"We're concerned about the long-term health consequences for all of the residents in the area and our children," said Lisa McDowell, a parent who lives in the community. She said she feels Brian Mason, minister of infrastructure and transportation, has not been taking residents' concerns seriously.

Lisa McDowell is a concerned parent who lives in West Springs. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Rizwan Hussain, Alberta Transportation's urban construction manager for the ring road project, said in an update on the City of Calgary's website earlier this year that several modifications to the plan have been made in response to concerns raised by area residents.

He said a dust-control berm will be moved farther west and raised from three metres to four metres in height.

"We are also looking into planting trees near the berm to further screen dust and improve sightlines," said Hussain.

Pit will grow deeper

He also noted the gravel crushing machinery will be located located between 100 and 250 metres from the nearest home

"It will be located in the gravel pit, starting at a depth of at least two metres below ground level," said Hussain.

"As the pit becomes deeper with excavation, the crusher will be housed lower and lower in the pit, away from wind conditions at the surface. Because of this, the majority of the fine dust created by the crusher will be confined to the pit."

He said there will be a "rigorous dust suppression program" and air quality will be routinely monitored so that dust and fine particulates are within safe levels.

Tom Barrow says the gravel pit is about 180 metres from his house. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Tom Barrow says the gravel pit is about 180 metres from his house.

"The minimal amount that we've been contacted since this process has started has indicated to me that they really don't understand some of the health risks of the crushing so close to a populated area," he said.

A report prepared in February for the province by engineering consulting firm CH2M Hill Canada Ltd. said that the earth in the West Springs area is mostly sandy gravel with less than one per cent of the very small, respirable material such as silica dust that is a health danger.

"The production of sand in quarrying is fundamentally considered a nuisance dust," the report said. 

Better locations

Barrow said there are better locations for such an operation. McDowell said the province rejected a proposal to move it  to a nearby Burnco site, which has an existing gravel crushing facility.

"Why did they chose to place a crushing unit so close to a populated area? That's the question that we've been asking the government," Barrow said.

"I understand that there's a financial benefit to placing it there, but what about the health risks, what about the property value depreciation that all of us here on the west end are going to suffer because of it?"

In January, Coun. Richard Pootmans called the operation "not great news" but said the government is going to do all it can to mitigate it.

Another new gravel pit and crushing operation for the southwest ring road, located west of Bridlewood and north of Highway 22X, has also been met with opposition from residents.  

With files from Justin Pennell