Balancing Fraser River Economies, Ecosystems

By Wendy Bales. At its March 3rd /14 meeting, Mission Council unanimously carried to third reading an end to our community’s moratorium on barging, and also the industrial rezoning of a property located at 31870 Duncan Avenue, bordering the Fraser River in Mission. The application address was previously known and mapped as Environmentally Sensitive Area # 18, and is adjacent to prime Sturgeon and Salmon habitat in the Fraser River. For the lay public, if you were just looking at the agenda item for re-zoning, you would not know that the zone change could include a toxic waste facility.

On May 16th /14, the Mission Record posted an ad for an application to the province for up to 60,000 tons a year of hazardous soil remediation for the same Duncan Avenue property. The list of contaminants to be remediated at the facility included “light/heavy extractable hydrocarbons (LEPH/HEPH), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), benzene-toluene-ethylbenzene-xylenes (BTEX), volatile petroleum hydrocarbons (VPH), dissolved metals, chlorophenols, non-chlorinated phenols, and sulphate and/or sulphide”. The public was asked to submit comments within a 30-day period based on the small ad that did not include the benefit of any detailed studies.

At the June 10th/14 Mission Town Hall meeting, Council once again unanimously supported this application for hazardous soil remediation. They touted the benefit of a few new jobs, getting trucks off the highway, and the support of one local, well-known, environmental supporter. In contrast, there are several local people, fishing, environmental, and tourism groups, that are opposed to increased barge traffic or any toxic recycling facility next to the Fraser River. That was very evident with an application for hazardous waste recycling in Chilliwack (see R. Clapton, Footprint Press Issue 11).

Contrary to Council extolling using the river to decrease truck traffic, there are several resource plans afoot that could greatly increase rail, trucking and barge traffic through the Valley, adding risk to transportation safety. At an FVRD Board meeting last year, Mission’s mayor and some Council, were in favor of transporting US Coal through the Valley on our already over capacitated rail lines (coal that US residents don’t want to support shipping in their own country as they divest from dirty fuels). The provincial Liberals have touted a super cycle of logging that includes logging old growth areas. There is, as well, the planned Aggregate Pilot Project that could easily overburden highways, rail lines and the Fraser River with extra barging. Once Mission Council lifts the current moratorium on barging, they will lose the ability to moderate river use at a safe and balanced level. Rapid resource extractions often impact longer term, local, sustainable, and value-added industries and jobs.

Concerns have already been raised about safety, river accidents, damage to fishing and nets, and tourism. Shore erosion is known to be exacerbated by the wake from barges. Riprap on the bank of the river also impacts spawning areas. Top experts agree that dredging the river has little lasting effect on flood risk, as river currents will rapidly fill in dredged hollows (see M. Rosenau, Footprint Press Issue 10). Add barging toxic waste and storage on the Fraser river flood plain, with the added earthquake risk, and you could easily decimate tens of millions of dollars worth of sustainable existing jobs, and lose irreplaceable habitat.

In the past there have at least been some overriding checks and balances in the Fisheries Act and other forms of legislation, but recent federal omnibus bills have gutted many of the protective measures to our navigable waters and environment. Can we gauge the future based on the past without those protective measures in place? The most common comments received in a recent public meeting on Riparian Area Regulations, was that industries self-regulating has been ineffective. Remember that self-regulated train bridge that washed away in the Calgary flood last year? That bridge was just industry tested. The ineffectiveness of self-regulating was the topic of a recent report from the Ombudsman.

The burdens of emergency response and clean-up costs often fall on local governments and taxpayers. Putting the onus on the public also does not work, as they do not have the resources to measure water and air quality or toxic chemicals such as Benzene. Benzene is just one of the 60,000 tons/year of ingredients of concern that is mentioned in the application.

Transporting and locating up to 60,000 tons of toxic soil waste for reclaiming, in a known floodplain and earthquake prone area is a dire issue. One of the reasons that the FVRD and other private solid waste companies send their regular waste to drier climate areas is because it is harder to contain toxic leachate in wet climate areas. Toxic waste should not be anywhere near the Fraser River, one of the most important remaining salmon and sturgeon habitats left in the world, and the pathway to many other important habitats. Adding insult to the Fraser River threat would be transporting toxic substances on a river that has already been adversely affected by accidents. The planned escalation of barge traffic would just exacerbate the risk and safety to current sustainable river users, habitats, and economies.

Calgary certainly was not prepared for last year’s flood event. Even the rail bridge, that was reportedly just inspected, washed away. Too many questions need to be asked of all levels of government relative to health, sustainable habitat and safety impacts to the existing long-term economies that compete for space in safely navigating the river. Is it realistic to risk the tens of millions of dollars of viable economies like tourism and fishing, that are based on the need for a healthy ecosystem and stable habitat? How much of the up to 60,000 tons of contaminated soil/year would be on site at any one time? Will the waste be barged on the river or transported by rail or truck? Who has studied the effects of what more barges on the river would do to the safety of other operators, as well as what the wake of more barges would do to shoreline stability and fish habitat? Will Council’s plan to lift the moratorium on barging tip the balance of the river, and abdicate control and vision of a more eco-friendly tourism-based future along the waterfront?

In a world of polarized extremes, it seems that some people’s dream of a few more jobs could end in a nightmare of destruction of a sustainable economy, jobs, and habitat – habitat that has been the backbone for thousands of families, for many years before there even was a town called Mission.

Wendy Bales

Wendy Bales

Wendy Bales isArea C Director, Fraser Valley Regional District

Today Media Group gratefully acknowledges the permission granted by the publishers of The Footprint Press to re-publish this article in its entirety from their 2013 Issue #10. You can view a downloadable PDF of the magazine
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Editorial committee:
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Catherine McDonald
Val Pack
Mike Diener
Nik Cuff-graphic design
Bruce Klassen-Covers,
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