Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The environment and the industrialization of the Fraser River

There has been a lot of pressure on Vancouver and British Columbia to allow the industrialization of the Fraser River. The Port of Vancouver (POV) under the guidance of Robin Silvester has established itself as the driver for the Pacific Gateway Plan. Many people, groups and professionals have spoken out against much of this development. For years preferable alternatives have been studied, discussed and proposed. Most of this has fallen on deaf ears as the environment appears to have taken a back seat to the economy.

At the AGM for the Port “Sustainability” as defined by Robin Silvester takes the following order: 1-The Economy, 2-The Environment and 3-Community. This would suggest that jobs are more important than the environment. If we severely compromise or destroy the planet with climate change (through industry/jobs) there will be no jobs. In order to have sustainability the Environment must be considered before the Economy. That is not to belittle the importance of the Economy. By all means, we need to survive. However, Prime Minister Trudeau was elected with the understanding that he recognizes the importance of the environment in the balance of sustainability.

The industrialization of the Fraser is the starting point of further degrading our fish supply and food chain. It stays the course of known industrial development (as opposed to “new” or “alternative” development) at the cost of the environment. It is not known or studied how further dredging of the Fraser will damage fish stock. It is not known how much damage will be done by the increase in the salt wedge due to the deeper channel. This will affect both fish stock and farm irrigation practices.

The Fraser River is the primary and possibly the largest source of Chinook Salmon. This species has already seriously been affected by many factors, most man-made. As a result of the dwindling salmon stock (and other factors, also man-made) the “Southern Resident Killer Whales” residing in our coastal waters are at peril. Salmon, primarily the Chinook from the Fraser makes up 97% of the Orca diet for the three resident pods. The pod numbers have decreased to about 80 and they are presently the only killer whale listed as endangered by the American Fish and Wildlife. The Canadian equivalent, COSEWIC, has also listed these pods as endangered.

These issues about the Salmon, Fraser and farming are just a few of the many detrimental affects the proposed Port developments have. There are issues over jet fuel, LNG gas handling and shipping, and urban sprawl and industry taking over valuable farm land. Not to mention the shipping of coal from the USA, which American ports have wisely refused to handle. How is it that the many environmental concerns over the Fraser expressed by the public have been waved off as insignificant? Why is our new Federal Government being quiet on this subject?

The Port of Vancouver is a Federal Crown Corporation and has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen. Instead it is a corporation that claims to be community minded while showing little community concern. Claims of hundreds of hours of collaborative community involvement and thousands of hours of scientific study are regularly made. The fact that the city of Richmond, one of the most affected communities, is against this project speaks volumes. Now that the Board of Metro Vancouver has spoken up against the bridge will there be recognition of the issues? It seems unlikely as the first to respond was a collection of Chambers of Commerce in support of the Pacific Gateway Plan, thus supporting the bridge. Sadly the Vancouver Sun opinion piece carried a number of erroneous claims and failed to speak of the negative effects of the proposed bridge.

Where is the Board of the Port in all of this? It is the Board that should be driving the Port and the communities that should be driving the Board. This issue was recognized by our local MP during the election. So far no recognition of the issue has been made and any change to the Board or Board structure is no more than rumour.

Will this bridge be built? Premier Clark has said that contracts will not be signed until after the election. Ultimately we will have to see who wins the next Provincial election. Should the Liberals be re-elected, the bridge would seem to be a done deal.


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