Depletion of gravel worries RMs
BY EMMA GRANEY,
LEADER-POST JULY 21, 2015
As the province grows, it's a "constant battle" for RMs to get gravel in Sask. SARM is studying the availability of the resource and plans for when it eventually runs out.
REGINA — You know that gravel you drive on every time you head down a grid road in any rural municipality in Saskatchewan? It’s getting harder and harder to come by.
So much so, that the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) is commissioning a report to better understand gravel stocks around the province, in the hope it can address the eventual depletion of this non-renewable resource and figure out how best to manage what RMs have now.
“It’s an ongoing battle to be able to source gravel,” says SARM president Ray Orb.
Some RMs have never had access to their own gravel pits and have been forced to truck it in from elsewhere, but that need is becoming more widespread.
Orb explains the issue as a kind of perfect storm of traffic, population and commodity growth, coupled with years of wetter-than-usual weather and booming cities that are accessing the same resources as rural municipalities, ramping up competition and prices.
It’s not just cities — emergency highways repairs and other projects have led to competition between RMs and the province.
Government turning to more public-private partnerships in road construction could present a whole other set of hurdles, where rural municipalities end up competing against private companies for access to gravel pits.
“It’s becoming more prevalent now because of the fact (RMs) need to spend more money on infrastructure,” Orb says.
“If you’re a rural councillor, a reeve or a rural municipality administrator, you think about (gravel) a lot, because that’s one of our No. 1 priorities — to be able to find good gravel sources.”
As reeve of the RM of Cupar, not far from Regina’s borders, Orb knows from experience just how tough the gravel market is becoming. “For the last five years, it’s been much more of a struggle,” he says“A lot of gravel is being hauled out. Looking beyond the next 15 years is the challenge.” It’s those long-term plans the SARM report will address.
“Without improved information on the current state of gravel, current and future needs, and actual costs to RMs for gravel, it is unclear as to whether the current legislation and policies governing gravel exploration, allocation and extraction are sufficient to support easy and affordable access to existing gravel supplies,” explains a tender released recently.
Given that the costs of maintaining, upgrading and building new roads “currently take up the largest portion of RM budgets,” continued growth in rural areas and ever-increasing weights on rural roads means those costs will increase.
“This reality coupled with depleting gravel stocks are of great concern to Saskatchewan’s RMs,” the tender reads.
Orb hopes for recommendations by early winter “so we can sit down and talk to the province, and then go to our members and explain ... what this means.”
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