(British Columbia, Canada) — The B.C. government will create a seven-hectare reserve around a significant cave threatened by a planned limestone quarry development on Crown land on Texada Island on the Sunshine Coast.
Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell also says the quarry proponent, Lehigh Hanson Materials Ltd., has offered to remove 35 hectares from its mining application at the cave site, in effect creating a 28-hectare buffer around the reserve.
The developments follow The Vancouver Sun’s publication Oct. 17 of a lengthy story based on a personal exploration of the cave with Paul Griffiths. The Campbell River resident is a global expert in karst landscapes, caves and other delicate formations sculpted by naturally acidic water eroding subsurface carbonate rock.
The province’s “map reserve” designation under Section 16 of the Land Act would protect a small area of Texada Island around Stromberg and Grow Op creeks, but it falls short of park protection and could be reversed by a future government.
Griffiths said the province deserves credit but noted the reserve also won’t protect the greater karst system that connects with the cave and stretches for several kilometres across hundreds of hectares – and that calls for a comprehensive karst assessment.
While exploring what is known simply as Cave X, Griffiths and his colleague, Carol Ramsey, discovered a white millipede that may yet turn out to be a new species. The carcass of a dead one has been shipped to an expert in Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia for identification.
Cave X contains various formations such as flowstone, soda straws, and a stalactite that would have measured 4.4 metres – potentially a Canadian record – had the bottom one metre not been broken off, most likely through an act of vandalism or carelessness.
Griffiths said the quarry proposal emphasizes the need for comprehensive cave legislation in B.C., something that is already in place on federal lands in the U.S. as well as in at least 22 states.
Only four of B.C.’s 29 forest districts so far have orders providing for protection of karst caves.
These orders apply only to forests, not other potentially damaging activities such as mining, hydro development, and recreational caving.
Bell, the minister in charge of Crown land tenuring through the Integrated Land Management Bureau, made the reserve announcement in a letter to Friends of Davie Bay, a community group that is concerned about the environmental impact of the quarry proposal.
Beyond raising concerns about karst, the quarry would require construction of a conveyor to haul limestone to a barge site in the Davie Bay area, a popular and scenic recreation spot.
Richard Fletcher, spokesman for Friends of Davie Bay, said a full environmental assessment is the only way to fully address the potential impacts of the project.
Lehigh, part of the multi-national Heidelberg Cement Group, has proposed to mine 240,000 tonnes of limestone annually on Texada Island – 10,000 tonnes below the threshold required for a provincial environmental assessment.
Environment Minister Barry Penner has decided not to use his powers under Section 6 of the Environmental Assessment Act to order a review in the public interest. Based on advice from the Environmental Assessment Office, Penner said he believes that environmental and impacts can be addressed by the Mine Development Review Committee of the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources.
By: Larry Pynn