Money and influence cast long shadow over province's decisions on Fraser River, records suggest
In the middle of the project is Seabird Island Band lobbyist and former Chilliwack MLA John Les, who was a vocal proponent of gravel mining during his political career, and has strong family connections to the gravel mining industry.
Les is related to Jake Klaassen of Jakes Construction through the marriage of their daughters into the Kooyman family of Chilliwack Cattle Sales. His former campaign manager, Diane Janzen, is currently employed by the Seabird Island Band as band education manager, although she told The Vancouver Observer she had no involvement in the Seabird gravel mining project.
According to an email obtained by Integrity BC, Les invited 21 individuals to a BC Liberal fundraiser Abbotsford on October 22, 2013. In the email, Les promises attendees "a generous opportunity to meet and speak personally with the Premier," noting that "several MLAs will also be in attendance."
The dinner raised $105,000, netting the party $98,572 according to the BC Liberals, Integrity BC reported.
"Time and again, the same pattern emerges: if you want a project approved by the B.C. government, it doesn't hurt to pull out your cheque book for the BC Liberal party first and hire one of the party's insiders to press the case for you with ministers next," Integrity BC Executive Director Dermod Travis said.
Les was reached several times for comment, but did not respond.
But BCSSGA's Paul Allard said these gravel mining projects aren't about money when it comes to the Fraser River.
"There is very little economic benefit to a sand and gravel producer, if any at all, in mining sand and gravel from the Fraser River," Allard said. "And that is why the majority of sand and gravel operations in the Fraser Valley are landlocked."
"The removal of aggregate from the Fraser River is normally required in order to stop the surrounding farmlands from being eroded away," Allard said.
"The cost of extraction of the river gravels is substantially higher than on land-based aggregate mines and therefore the final products are not saleable at current market prices... by the time the contractor relocates the materials, then processes them into saleable product, the costs to the consumer are too high and the product usually sits there for a long period of time, unsold."
Langer disputed the claim.
"So why's there a line-up to mine the gravel?... Sounds like a bad investment if they don't make any money from it."
A BC Business magazine article from 2010 estimated that a previous gravel mining operation by the Seabird Island Band and Jakes Construction (at Spring Bar) resulted in the capture of 570,000 tonnes gravel worth $2.25 million on the aggregate market. At the article's estimated "lowball" royalty rate of 40 cents a tonne, this would have yielded a $228,000 royalty to the Seabird Island Band.
Seabird Island's Hope said the current project won't yield much profit, but said there is an "element of employment" for the band.
"Jakes Construction is really good at working with the community. [Company founder Jake Klaassen] understands our needs in terms of our employment needs and our social needs as well. We’ve done a number of projects with him."
Public left out of the loop
Opponents of the project say that recent law changes have made it harder for the public to obtain information and have a say on industrial projects along rivers.