Angry mob in Alberta confronts a gravel pit developer — what would you do?

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Imagine public fury so organized against a gravel pit plan that the newspaper coverage actually expressed sorrow for the hapless developer. What motivated an angry mob of 800 people to harangue Qualico Developments for a proposal to mine gravel along the North Saskatchewan River? What could a developer do in such a quandary?

Click here to read Scott McKeen’s account of the well-funded protests in The Edmonton Journal. Then click below to read the advice from Chris Hopkins, Saint Consulting”s senior vice president for aggregates and mining, on what steps to take before such a hearing to forestall such a confrontation.

This is a project where the science will have little to do with the final vote and outcome, writes Chris Hopkins.

Regardless of the quality of the science surrounding the blasting, dust mitigation and transportation alternatives, an elected official will not vote against 800 unchallenged opponents. When large opposition groups get involved, emotion and intimidation becomes their primary weapon. A group of this size intimidates supporters that may be in the room.
At this meeting the opponents booed and jeered the one supporter who spoke up in favor of the development.

Could there be a competitor behind this group? Possibly. The group appears very well organized and seems to have a great deal of resources. This is something that should be looked into further, and yes it does happen in our industry.

A group of this size also intimidates the elected officials who need to approve the application, they are very loud in threatening the political future of any elected official who may stand in their way.

The only way you can counter this influence and get your application approved is to
demonstrate that there is support for the project within the community. This support must be unified and large enough that they will not feel intimidated to demonstrate their support publicly and speak at a public hearing. For this application it will now be extremely difficult to find these supporters and if you can find them it will be even more difficult to persuade them to speak out in public.

The support for this project should have been identified prior to filing the application. The chance to meet with the those residents who would be reasonable and willing to listen to both sides and who could see the benefits of the project such as tax revenue and jobs, must occur prior to the opponents. If you wait, as it appears to have happened here, those possible supporters have already been lost to the extremists and the emotional arguments.

Either way at this point in time, Qualico Development should heed the advice of the columnist and look elsewhere.

Chris Hopkins is Saint Consulting’s senior vice president for aggregates and mining.

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