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"Slip, sliding away..." - Printable Version

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"Slip, sliding away..." - Skook - 03-29-2013

On Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 4:00 am a massive landslide occurred on Whidbey Island in Washington State. If for some unbelievable reason this is news to you, here is a picture of that slide.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=64]

Those were expensive view properties on top of the bluff - one report says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a property there. Many have lost half or more of their property, and some of the homes will never be lived in again. The road on the left is the only access road for a string of beach front homes below the bluff and seventeen of those homes are now, for the time being, water-access only.

What do you think the value of those homes above and below the bluff is now? Zilch. Can the owners expect to get any insurance money? If they do, they are dreaming because this “event” will be ruled an “Act of God” and AOGs aren’t covered. What about the value of the properties on the other side of the road on the bluff? Will anyone want to buy them in the future? Maybe, but they are a whole lot cheaper now because I don't believe there is anything that can be done to stabilize that bluff.

The next images show what is happening below one of those affected properties. Those red arrows point to three areas of water seepage and it is this that undermined the cliff face and caused the landslide. Can the authorities find the source(s) of this water and divert it? Possibly, but at what expense and if it could be diverted it would only become someone else’s problem somewhere else.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=65]
I was curious to see what the soil looked like under these homes and the pictures below speak volumes. The first picture on the top right is the soil below the house above. You can see a depressed area on the right which to my eye looks like a sink-hole (a warning sign of problems for sure). You can also clearly see distinct layer upon layer of soil deposits.

The two other images are below another property and again there is water seepage and it is clearly occurring across a layer of deposit. The close-up of the shed that went for a ride gives a good idea of the nature of those layers - gravel, sand and clay.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=66]
The major media reports that came out the day of the slide quoted many of the homeowners who talked about how wet the winter was and how much rain had fallen over the past few days. However, it was the next day on the 28th that a small independent newspaper in east Snohomish County, the Sky Valley Chronicle, that printed the real reason for the slide and the title of the piece might have surprised most: “WHIDBEY ISLAND LANDSLIDE CONNECTED BY TIME TO EVENT 15,000 YEARS AGO.”

Here is an excerpt:

Quote:The slide reportedly was not triggered by massive rainfall in the last few days but by the geology of the area itself, according to geologists who understand the region. The soil there is inherently unstable due to the fact it is part of the ancient Vashon Glacier. With water peculating through it over time, steep hillsides become unstable and can give way with no warning.

About 15,000 years ago the Vashon glacier which covered a vast area of Washington State began to melt and recede from land that thousands of years later we would call the Puget Sound region and the Columbia Basin region in Eastern Washington. By 11,000 years ago, the glacier has retreated to the border of present-day Canada. During its advance, meltwater flowing under the ice sheet had carved out Lake Washington, Lake Tapps, Lake Sammamish, Puget Sound, and Hood Canal, according to HitsoryLink.org and a piece written by Jennifer Ott.

After the glacier had retreated it left behind, in places like Whidbey Island, unstable geology due to a sandwich like composition of glacial till on top of the earth that holds everything up, then below that a layer of sand and below that a layer of clay. And over time as water peculates through that sandwich it makes the land unstable and prone to slides.

I have no doubt there were home owners in North and West Vancouver who looked around their properties and felt a little sick. I am also certain there were some on the Sunshine Coast who did the same. In fact, I can think of two areas off hand on the SC that somewhat mirror that Whidbey Island locale. Here’s two Google Earth images showing those areas.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=67]
The top image is Gibsons. The majority of the town is actually built on a plateau as anyone getting off the ferry at Langdale knows because you drive up a steep four lane road from the ferry terminal to connect to Highway 101 via North Road. In the picture, that plateau is a darker shade of green to what lies below long the coastline and there are homes built following that lower strip. After a decade of trying, a big development has finally been given the green light for the Gospel Rock area and I wonder if they have started to cut down the trees.

The second area is Selma Park and this is in the District of Sechelt. Heading north on the highway, you drive at sea level along Davis Bay which is on the right of the picture. You then take a brief steep climb up onto a ledge where older wood frame homes are built along both sides of the highway. However, on the left (west) side some older homes have been torn down and the new owners have opted to rebuild along the water’s edge and put in long, steep driveways. I know someone who purchased one of these rebuilts and I opted to leave my car at the top of the driveway and walk down when I visited - I drive a manual and I didn't have a enough confidence at that time. There are many locales like these two along the coast.

Up north of Pender Harbour, there is a section of the highway at Ruby Lake that follows a sharp “S” curve and there is one spot there that collapses and continuously needs repairing; as does an significant section of Egmont Road.

Those retreating glaciers that shaped Whidbey Island and Puget Sound also shaped the lower mainland, Fraser Valley and the whole coast line of BC. In my next post, I will take a brief look at the economic impact of the glacial silt left behind and what it could mean to some Sunshine Coast property owners.


RE: "Slip, sliding away..." - Skook - 03-31-2013

Part 2 - It really is the pits...

The last glacier advance and retreat shaped the Sunshine Coast and left behind a valuable resource. As a result, anyone moving to the SC will be exposed one way or another to its extraction: gravel mining. Those with a water view in Gibsons or along the peninsula coastline will see the empty and loaded barges pass in Georgia Strait. If you are driving the Sunshine Coast Highway you will pass the largest sand and gravel mine in Canada located almost in the heart of Sechelt; in fact, you will drive over the plant’s 1 km long conveyor belt which passes through a tunnel under the highway as it heads out to a barge/tanker terminus in Trail Bay. Those living in West Sechelt and Egmont will have to grow accustom to the sound of rock crushers; and, in the dry summer months be prepared for the fine dust that rises from the operations and gets carried by wind.

As I mentioned in my first thread post ‘An Introduction’ gravel mining played an important role in the population growth of the SC and its economic value to the province took on greater importance with the lower mainland’s mad rush to become the “Best Place on Earth” which picked up steam beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I found the interesting map below in a 1980 ‘Sand and Gravel Study’ produced for the then Mineral Resources Branch of the BC Government. It shows the lower mainland was pulling in construction aggregates not only from the SC but from Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands and the western United States to meet its road, bridge and home building needs.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=68]

On the map above, I have indicated the four major SC gravel mines with a blue box. Starting at the top and going counter-clockwise you have Jack Crewe Ltd.’s Delta Rock operation in Jervis Inlet. Below that is the Lafarge Earle Creek operation in the Skookumchuck Narrows near Egmont. Next is the Lehigh Construction Aggregates operation in Sechelt and finally the former Construction Aggregates Ltd. mine at Port Mellon in Howe Sound.

The following map also from that 1980 study puts numbers to the movement of that gravel and sand.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=69]

I went into Google Earth to grab snapshots of the SC mine sites and as you will see they all lie at mouths of deep creek fed valleys. Except for the Port Mellon site, the others began operation mining marine till and as that was exhausted began moving further up the valleys and hillsides to extract the next layers of sand and glacial till.

I will keep the description of these mines brief because most have a history of multiple ownership or operators. Below shows the locations of the Jack Crewe Ltd operation in Jervis Inlet at Delta Rock (locals also refer to it as OB) and the Lafarge Earle Creek operation next to the Skookumchuck Rapids in the Skookumchuck Narrows. (I have also indicated recent logging by Geoff “Trust me, I am a developer” Courtnall and partners; and, Egmont’s bare mountains may be worthy of their own thread down the road).
[Image: attachment.php?aid=70]
Next, is the huge operation in Sechelt. Construction Aggregates Ltd. took over operations in 1989 and the company has since been absorbed into the Lehigh Hanson conglomerate. The first map above shows that the gravel from this mine used to be barged up the Sechelt Inlet, through the rapids and out through the Narrows. This was a costly, time consuming and dangerous route and came to an end after the building of a terminus in Trail Bay which you can see in the smaller inserted images.
[Image: attachment.php?aid=71]
The operation in Port Mellon closed in 1989 when its operator, Construction Aggregates Ltd., was offered the Sechelt operation by the regional government. The SCRD wanted to turn Port Mellon into an industrial Park and it is the present location for Howe Sound Pulp and Paper. However, a new mine proposal for McNab Creek has entered the final environmental process stage. A Google search will show this new mine is controversial; however, I think it will pass regardless of voices raised against it. The details of the Burnco Rock Products mine proposal can be found on the SCRD website (http://www.scrd.ca/BURNCO-Aggregate-Mine).
[Image: attachment.php?aid=72]
With the Gordon Campbell governments, resource extraction or as conservationists call it, “The industrialization of the hinterland,” took on greater importance. In 2001, a ‘Sunshine Coast Gravel Study’ was undertaken and I will briefly look at its results in my next post.


RE: "Slip, sliding away..." - Skook - 04-01-2013

Part 3 - You’re building your dream on a gravel deposit? Bummer!

Scenario:
You have found your ideal property. It’s forested ocean view acreage on the Sunshine Coast somewhere between Sechelt and Pender Harbour. You’ve walked the land and know what trees you want to keep and which to remove and have milled. The work begins and after the trees are felled and moved off the landscaping begins and you discover part of your land has a substantial deposit of really nice gravel. So, you think, “I made some money from the trees, so maybe I can make some money from the gravel.” But, you’re going to need a licence for that and you head to the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas website:

[Image: attachment.php?aid=73]

You click the “Launch” button and on the next page you’ve been told to click “View Mineral Tenures” and then zoom in to the Sunshine Coast on the pop-up map. You keep zooming in until the Sunshine Coast fills the screen and you stare at the map in disbelief.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=74]

You ask yourself, “What do all those mauve boxes mean?” The answer is - well, think “kitty litter.”

A Little History:
In 2001, the Geological Survey Branch of the then Ministry of Energy and Mines with funding and support of other government agencies initiated the “Sunshine Coast Aggregate Mapping Project.” The project was to “outline exploited and known aggregate resources as well as potential new deposits.” The extent of that survey can be seen in the map below which also indicates where natural aggregate pits were found. The picture on the right shows one such pit. (Can you see the similarity between those layers and the layers exposed in the Whidbey Island landslide?)

[Image: attachment.php?aid=75]

This 2001 study was but one in a long line of studies stretching back to 1968 and more would come in the future. One study dated March 31, 2004 and titled ‘Market Analysis Coast Aggregate Development Opportunities’ was a turning point. Whereas in the past, studies aimed to find cheap resources for the lower mainland’s growth, this study aimed to find potential American markets for the exporting of our aggregate resources and exploit the incredible growth occurring in the western United States. The Gordon Campbell government was determined to open the doors to mineral exploration and extraction; to cut the red tape; and, stream line the whole process - and it would all be aided by the internet.

This new online process; the current tenures on the map above; and, the reference to ‘kitty litter’ are explained in an April 19, 2005 news story by The Tyee:

Company Grabs Mining Rights to Premier’s Land

The Tyee followed with another piece on June 14, 2006 which is also worth a read:

‘War Brewing’ over Mining Rights in Rural BC

Pan Pacific Aggregates caused quite a stink on the lower Sunshine Coast and after a few years of bad publicity the company decided to change its name and lie low for a while by moving off into the Fraser Valley. It is now called Astar Minerals PLC and it owns and operates the Quadling Quarry between Abbotsford and Chilliwack. I am sure it is now much easier to raise investment money back in the U.K. - yes, it’s a small British company with great big dreams.

But as the current mineral tenures map shows, they haven’t given up on the Sunshine Coast just yet. (The MTO mapping site allows you to call up Historical Tenures, too, and I have included it for interest sake. I remember being told there were gold mining claims staked out somewhere off Egmont Road and Google does bring up many other such old claims for the upper coast.)

As for that 2001 mapping project, the result is below. It is referred to as an ‘open’ map and is dated 2002-14.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=76]

As the map indicates, the communities occupying the whole southern tip of the peninsula (Granthams Landing, Hopkins, Landing, Gibsons, south Elphinstone) have been built on a primary source of aggregate and for that reason the area has been given a “low” priority; likewise, Selma Park is red. My next and final post about gravel makes you wonder if all who live there should be concerned.

(Aside: Given that mineral rights in BC supersede landowner rights which could result in the loss of a landowner’s home; isn't the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas additional ‘Responsibility’ ironic?)


RE: "Slip, sliding away..." - Skook - 04-02-2013

Part 4 - You’re building your subdivision on a gravel deposit? Totally bummer, dude!

On June 1, 2012 the ground gave way under Seawatch Lane in a subdivision under construction in West Porpoise Bay in the District of Sechelt (DOS). After taking pictures, DOS Inspectors had the sinkhole backfilled with loose gravel for safety and the Lane was closed to all traffic and it remains closed today.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=77]

This was the second ‘event’ to occur at Seawatch at the Shores in five days; on May 26th a fresh water spring had appeared on Lot 3. Due to the quick succession of these events and because of other problems in the past, the DOS retained its ‘go to’ engineering firm, Thurber Engineering Ltd. In Vancouver, and asked for a “complete review of the June 1st sinkhole and previously reported sinkholes, slope instability, springs and erosions within The Shores subdivision.”

Thurber sent the completed report to the DOS’s law firm on July 12, 2012 and that report can be found on this DOS webpage dedicated to the ‘Seawatch Subdivison.’ I highly recommend a look at that report if only for the pictures; however, it is an interesting read, too.

District of Sechelt - Thurber Engineering - Shores Subdivision - Geotechnical Evaluation - July 2012.pdf . (Note: this is a direct link and you will get a pop-up dialog box when you click on it.)

So, what exactly is going on here? Well, here is my layman’s opinion - we are looking at a Whidbey Island scenario.

Let’s go back and isolate this area from that ‘Sunshine Coast Aggregate Potential’ Map in the previous post - that image is on the left below. This area is referred to as the West Sechelt Agricultural Plateau and according to the map legend the gold colour represents ‘Secondary’ aggregate potential and the overlaying dots ‘Moderate’ pit potential. The green dots were testing drill holes performed at the time of the 2001 survey and the white triangles represent existing gravel pits. The ‘blue’ box is the site of an old quarry which Astar Minerals (Pan Pacific Aggregates) claims and where they were blasting and mucking about in 2006-8 and generally causing a lot of aggravation (interesting how aggregates and aggravation go hand-in-hand, isn’t it? The two words are also one after the other in my Funk & Wagnalls). The black arrow shows the exact location of the Seawatch subdivision which abuts the edge of the DOS at Snake Creek in Snake Bay.

The subdivision site map comes from the developer’s own website. In addition to showing lot layout, it has included the topographical contour lines and those lines represent a height change of 1 metre and the closer they are the steeper the terrain. That June 1st sinkhole occurred on the Lane (Laneway) adjacent to Lot 28 and the May 26th spring appearance occurred on Lot 3 (neither lot has a house).

[Image: attachment.php?aid=78]

Now, in the Thurber report are two excellent drawings that were both produced for Concordia Homes Ltd. (the parent developer) by Engineering Ltd., in April, 2006 and I have included them below. What they illustrate is a text book example of what occurred on the west coast as the glaciers retreated 10,000 -15,000 years ago.

The blue is marine silt so named because at the time of the glaciers it was under water and became exposed as the ocean levels retreated - at one time the lower mainland was 200 metres under water. The yellow is fine sand and lenses of silt (a ‘lens’ is a deposit that is thick in the middle and thin at the edges) and beige is glacial till and marine till. You can see in those illustrations how the subdivision straddles these three types of deposits.

The second illustration shows the elevation and depth levels of these three types of deposits. At the top, you can see the division between the current phase 1 and proposed phase 2 developments. Seawatch Lane is at this upper elevation and is where the sinkhole occurred; the main roadway (North Gale Rd) is at the L-100 level. Homes are planned below the roadway on the marine silt and according to the lower diagram those are water-bearing layers - and this where that May 26th spring appeared.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=79]

What the diagram doesn’t show is the elevation level for phase 2, but there is a picture in the Thurber report that gives you a good idea. Normally, building on gravel is ideal, however, this development and many others on the coast are on the lower sloping sides of plateaus as developers seek out lucrative waterfront properties. In the meantime, those developers building on the plateaus are removing all the forests - forests that would normally absorb the huge amount of rainwater that falls in our temperate rain-forest climate.

I went to Google Earth and looked at different timelines for this development and the result is combined below. You can see how much forest cover was removed before Concordia began; how much Concordia removed; and, how much has been removed in areas nearby the Seawatch development after Concordia started its project. You would think this has to have an impact on drainage and on the underground water travelling along those three major layers of deposit.

[Image: attachment.php?aid=80]

So, where does this situation at Seawatch at the Shores stand? Well, it is beginning to get nasty as the Coast Reporter notes:

District investigates Seawatch issues, December 1, 2012

Sechelt starts investigation, developer sues, November 16, 2012

I think there are going to be more of these issues as those with expensive waterfront properties discover their lots are now “wet at the bottom, then rises steeply up” (yeah, I follow Vancouver Price Drop…LOL).

Be forewarned all you who dream of moving to the Sunshine Coast. The SC is an incredible place to live and I still “pine for the fjords” and would move back in a minute if I had the financial resources to do so. However, it has undergone an incredible pace of development in the last decade and there will be issues and some will be major. It also finds itself caught in the middle - is it an overflow for lower mainland growth or is it a source for natural resources - can it successfully be both? Time will tell.

(Note: Concordia Homes Ltd is also behind a Maple Ridge development called ‘The Pointe’ and I have read the market out in the Fraser Valley is in a free-fall. What a nightmare on both fronts. As for its issues on the SC, well, after reading the Thurber report, I wonder if they can ever successfully solve them. I think they have tried which is why after six or years the development is still not finished - it’s a ‘hit-the-mole-in-the-hole’ situation - you plug one leak and another pops up somewhere else.)

Okay, the gravel stories are now depleted...fini...totally, dude!



P.S. If any of the links fail to work in the future, please send me a private message through the board. TIA.


More dirt... - Skook - 04-18-2013

For those who read and surely found my exposé on Sunshine Coast aggregates riveting, I have a brief update. You may recall the following graphic:

[Image: attachment.php?aid=103]

I explained in the third posting (You’re building your dream on a gravel deposit?) that those mineral tenures were filed by a company then called ‘Pan Pacific Aggregates’ which morphed into ‘Astar Minerals PLC’ and purchased the Quadling Quarry between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

As I was searching the net for info on another company, I discovered that Astar Minerals PLC has gone bankrupt. Apparently in September, 2012, Astar reached an agreement with an American company, Aggregates West, to operate its quarries located between Seattle and the US/Canadian border. However, to complete the deal, Astar had to raise some fairly substantial capital, so it turned to its British shareholders. However, given the state the British economy, it met with little success. This failure only compounded Astar’s already dire financial straits and so the directors have decided to go to shareholders with a recommendation that the company switch gears and turn itself into an investment company specializing in the natural resource sector.

According to the company’s shareholder circular:

Quote:As a consequence of the Company’s financial position, the Company is no longer able to finance the operations of its Canadian Assets. Therefore, as part of the Proposals, the Company intends to divest its operations in Canada, so as to allow the Directors to focus on the implementation of the Investing Policy. As stated above, over the past year, the Company has looked at a number of ways to make the Canadian operations sufficiently profitable to support Astar but without success. The Company has now signed, conditional upon Shareholder approval, sale and purchase agreements to sell its Canadian assets, including related debt funding of approximately CAN$1.6 million and other trading liabilities, for a nominal sum (“Disposal”). If for any reason, the sale does not take place, the Canadian operations may have to be placed in administration, liquidation or other insolvency procedure.

Astar Minerals will be meeting with its shareholders on April 25, 2013.

I wonder who has shown an interest in its Sunshine Coast mineral tenures and other coast assets? This could be interesting (or worrisome) for those living on the coast. As for the Quadling Quarry, it ceased operations this past February.