Thursday, 12 May 2016

Finally, in writing, how AI thinks it can wrestle 1.2 million tonnes from Straitgate

Earlier this month, we wrote how DCC belatedly revised the Straitgate resource figure down to 900,000 tonnes for the Minerals Plan, to reflect the "retention of a one metre unsaturated zone above the winter water table, as required in Table C.4 of the Plan".

Now - almost 12 months since Aggregate Industries first applied for planning permission to quarry Straitgate Farm and less than 2 weeks before the Examination - the company has finally put in writing - for the Minerals Plan - exactly how it hopes to win 1.2 million tonnes of sand and gravel from the site.

People will remember how persistently evasive AI has been on this point. At the time of the application, we said it was clear that AI wants to quarry down to the water table - of the aquifer that supplies 106 people. We wrote to the Environment Agency, and posted Clarification from the EA that said:
Aggregate Industries have proposed to stop quarrying a metre above the water-table. We expect DCC to make this a condition of any permission that is granted.
The same day, in email correspondence with DCC, AI claimed:
a 1metre depth of unsaturated zone will be retained above the winter water table as per AMEC's technical note
the calculation of the 1.2Mt reserve was modelled to a surface 1metre above the highest winter water table
By the end of October, however, matters were still unclear, and DCC warned AI that:
Given the importance of this point, to you as the proposed operator, and evidently to the MPA and the EA who were both of the understanding that you had agreed to this restriction. I am now asking you to clarify in writing whether you are intending to work to the proposed levels set out in the Amec technical Note to the Policy Team and the EA (and on which their recommendation was clearly based) or whether you wish for the MPA to consider your proposal as working to the highest measured level of the winter water table without the 1m standoff. You will understand the importance of this point and the need for absolute clarity in your response as it has serious implications for the further progress of this application.
In December, we revealed what AI’s idea of a 1m standoff really was, and that the amount of sand and gravel the company intended to leave as an unquarried buffer above the maximum water table to safeguard private water supplies was nothing.

Now, 6 months later, AI has finally confirmed as much in writing:
The resource declared assumes a working base that coincides with, and never drops below the maximum recorded winter water table modelled by hydrogeological specialists AMEC Foster Wheeler following extensive monitoring and analysis since January 2013. However these levels will only be progressed during summer months when the water table is at least 1m below the said modelled surface thus maintaining a minimum 1m buffer zone. Prior to winter water table rebound, relevant levels in the quarry floor will be restored using overburden to at least 1m above the said modelled surface, again always maintaining a minimum 1m buffer zone.
It's a particularly reckless idea given the number of people who rely on Straitgate for their drinking water, given that the maximum recorded winter water table modelled by hydrogeological specialists was deduced across an area of some 60 acres from just 6 data points, despite "the acknowledged variations across the site and the concern that there has been no piezometer installed at the centre of the site". In January, we asked DCC:
Since AI now intends to dig right down to the maximum water table, perhaps you could ask Amec to confirm the specific level of accuracy (in +/- m) to which their maximum groundwater contours are mapped?
DCC did indeed ask AI/Amec for an answer. Tellingly, none has been forthcoming.

What’s also telling is that there’s no longer any talk of the 460,000 tonnes of saleable resource that AI claimed could be rescued from the overburden. AI says:
Resources were re-calculated accordingly and currently amount to 1.2 million saleable tonnes. "Resources are classified as Measured Resource according to PERC Standard 2013". Calculations have been undertaken by Chartered Geologists.
Not many months ago, the very same Chartered Geologists gave an altogether different statement: