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Along the Fraser: Diverting discussion from slash pile
Former B.C. Hydro environmental consultant John Kelly says the Crown corporation deserved praise for right-of-way clearing practices in the 1980s and 1990s, but a section of the new Interior-to-Lower Mainland Line failed to avoid environmental damage.
We’d driven to Burke Mountain in Coquitlam recently to view the clearing for towers 5071 to 5075, the tail end of the ILM’s 250 kilometers of towers and cables from Merritt.
Kelly wanted to see what this site looked like after being frustrated by what he found at Millionaire Creek in the Malcolm Knapp UBC Research Forest in Maple Ridge.
An environmental audit in June identified damage to the coho producer. It still hadn’t been repaired in November as spawning occurred.
Other steps to mitigate impacts – reseeding of scraped off vegetation, and water diversion channels – were just being taken.
Luckily, sunny weather delayed the rainy season.
At tower 5071, at the base of the mountain, Kelly noted more failures to “avoid damage, and mitigate impacts.” He’d later report them to Maple Ridge stakeholders, including ARMS, the research forest and Rod Stott, environment officer for Maple Ridge.
“Trees were felled and left across a stream,” he noted.
Kelly thought they’d been cut a year ago, “but the mess is still here and the clearing contractor is gone. This is very poor construction practice. Damage occurred when some trees were pulled out [by skidders].”
ARMS favors the use of helicopters to remove trees – more expensive, but less disruptive.
Further uphill, Kelly found a gravel tower pad “pushed into a riparian area at the base of the access road. This would increase erosion and siltation in nearby creeks.
“There should have been a silt fence at the base of this slope.”
Seeding with grass was present on one side of the access road here.
“Why is one side treated and other not?” Kelly asked. “The exposed sites are subject to invasion by undesirable species. This will cause unnecessary maintenance and weed treatment.”
Kelly says problems caused by right of way clearing and their solutions start with the clearing.
“BCH used to manage the vegetation by removing everything that was growing down to the mineral soil,” he says. “It seemed the cheap and easy way to keep right of ways clear and safe. But we learned such was not the case. Problem species like alder and knapp weed thrived.”
In the ’80s, says Kelly, “Hydro developed prescriptions that selected for low-growing species that would out-compete the fast growing, shade-tolerant ones. It began to rely less on herbicides.”
Leaving nature alone preserved habitat for wildlife, and reduced the destructive impact of uncontrolled water flow. But, on Burke, after viewing merchantable trees left to rot, and surfaces scraped to the mineral line – practices that encourage erosion and sedimentation – Kelly felt the bad old days had returned.
Near tower 5071, Kelly snapped pictures of an improperly placed culvert that could “easily become plugged under heavy rainfall.” It was already. Rock filled a waterway. Douglas Firs had been fallen and left.
In his report, Kelly wrote: “The right of way contained numerous examples of work practices that caused, or have the potential to cause environmental impacts beyond what can be reasonably expected. That used to be a no-no under the Forestry Act. Where the hell are the regulators doing their job – the DFO, the B.C. Dept. of Lands, Forests and Natural Resources?”
Kelly’s observations didn’t end at Burke Mountain. The next day he visited clearing near Stave Lake, where logs were “dumped into the roadside drainage channel to a culvert,” and found “improperly installed screening to minimize silting in streams.”
Again, Kelly observed “vegetation and duff layer had been removed by an excavator used to pile the debris for burning.”
A dry autumn made it a fire hazard, says Kelly, who predicted silted creeks would drain into Hayward Lake Reservoir.
Hydro has refused to meet with all stakeholders at once, offering talks with individuals instead. Kelly calls that approach “divide and conquer,” a way “to divert discussion from his observations.”
He wants the district to arrange a group tour to see what he did firsthand, and find solutions to real problems.
Stott says any decision to do that is in the hands of council, which, with reduced environmental oversight by senior governments, means more work for municipalities, and stakeholders alike.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.