By Marianne Curtis
The day after a RM of Ste. Anne bylaw officer served a cease and desist order against a gravel company operating next to Wild Oaks Campground, campers were again greeted to the sounds of rocks tumbling on conveyers first thing in the morning.
For over a decade, Wild Oaks Campground owners Ray and Gisele Turenne have asked the owners of Vermette Gravel to be a good neighbour and respect that campers want some peace. Instead they have been subjected to the sounds of a fully operational gravel operation on both sides of the otherwise peaceful campground.
“They were served yesterday morning but we have been told by our councilor that he has seven days to object; he’s going to try and get an injunction to stop the order, even though he is operating illegally,” Turenne stated. “When we opened the campground which is located between two slots of crown land we visualized a nice peaceful and quiet environment for our tenants. This peace and quiet came to an abrupt end when a gravel company was able to obtain a Mines and Mineral Permit and started excavating.”
The issue dates back to 1999 when Vermette Backhoe Service obtained a crown land permit to use the site to stock pile gravel, sand and stones on 5 acres of crown land to the north of Wild Oaks Campground. A crown land permit obtained from the province dating from 2010 gives permission to use the site to stock pile gravel, sand and stones on 5 acres of crown land to the north of Wild Oaks Campground. According to the Crown Land Act, the permit is limited to stock piling of material only. Minerals excavated from crown lands cannot leave the property unless by contract with the municipality or the province.
However contrary to the permit, Turenne says trucks are loading and machines are operating as early as 7AM daily six days a week except on Sundays.
“I have been telling my customers that when the gravel runs out, he will move on but the gravel ran out four years ago,” Ray continued. “Now the owners are bringing in material from other locations, along with a wash plant and crusher. These machines are only about 100 feet from our seasonal campers and we are losing business.”
On the north side, Turenne feels like he’s beating his head against the wall so he has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Mines and Minerals and Vermette Backhoe. In letter obtained from Crown council Sean Boyd, his client (Vermette Gravel) is refusing to vacate the site because “it is prohibitively expensive to change to change the location of the gravel operations as such a relocation would involve installing a road at considerable cost”.
Turenne is confident it would not cost the company too much to build an access further north especially since the material is already at their disposal. On the south side of the campground, the issue is in the RM of Ste. Anne’s hands.
Turenne says he has attempted to reason with his neighbour and even gone to the RM of Ste. Anne council to request they step in an impose hours of operation for the company for the past six years. In 2006, the municipality issued a conditional use permit (08-2006) to allow for crushing and screening of gravel on property owned by Lawrence Anderson. This permit specifies that “no material is to leave SE-20-8-8E”, crushing is limited from November to April, and a buffer zone be maintained. All conditions have been broken numerous times, accuses Turenne.
“I went to the municipality looking for help from council to remove his operation from this location or at least change his hours of operation,” Turenne continued. “I don’t understand how I can do something on my property and I am shut down by the bylaw officer without any delay but when I ask the municipality to act on an obvious violation of a conditional use they approved, I am told I have to jump through hoops and go to council first.”
RM of Ste. Anne Reeve Art Bergman says the bylaw officer does not need the approval of council to act on a bylaw violation.
“I am not aware if they’ve been served,” stated Bergman. “However I do see this matter coming to the table at the first meeting of the month where a resolution telling them to cease operations could be read.”
Bergman explained that Anderson, on behalf of Vermette Backhoe has come to council several times in the past few years to amend conditional use permit 08-2006 but council has denied it time. The last application came across councils table a year ago, he noted.
“We were of the understanding that the pit would be depleted so it (the permit) was turned down; there was no need for it if they were moving out,” Bergman explained. “Then last year we found out Vermette was moving gravel from the Anderson pit to another location and we closed our eyes to it. It was not causing problems and it was our understanding that he would be finished with the pit in the fall. It was a mute point until he found a corner of the pit that was not used up.”
Bergmann admits that “council dragged their feet” on this matter over the past few years but the time for leniency has passed.
“Council can serve Vermette and Anderson with cease and desist orders and give them a certain time to vacate the premises and if they don’t the municipality could seek legal action,” Bergmann stated.
The RM of Ste. Anne admits to turning a blind eye to the gravel operations to the south of Wild Oaks after being told the site was depleted until it was recently discovered that a new area was being excavated without council approval.
Campers and gravel crushers are visibly within the 100 metre buffer zone required by the province to prevent the gravel company’s becoming a nuisance to campers.