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Delta calls for environmental assessment on BNSF siding
Delta Council is calling on the federal government to review a proposed rail siding in North Delta under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway (BNSF) has owned and operated a rail line from the continental U.S. to the Lower Mainland since 1909. In 2008 the company constructed a siding along its line from the Delta-Surrey border at Highway 99 to south of 64 Avenue in North Delta.
In order to increase capacity and provide growth opportunities within their regional service area, BNSF has told Delta it is constructing a three-kilometre siding extension between 64 Avenue and 72 Avenue. The company says the siding extensions will allow BNSF to move trains off its main line, allowing other rail traffic to utilize the corridor without interruption.
According to the Canada Transportation Act, railway companies do not require approval from the municipality for approval to construct railway lines within their existing right-of-way.
"I just want to make it very clear that this is by no means an approval by Delta of this project," said Coun. Bruce McDonald on Monday. "And a lot of people seem to be under the impression that Delta has approved the tracks. We don't have the right to either approve or disapprove."
But as 1.6 kilometres of the proposed work is immediately adjacent to the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area, a staff report has recommended the project be reviewed by the federal environmental agency.
"This approach is consistent with the work done during the environmental assessment for South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR), which is adjacent to the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area," the report notes.
As part of the SFPR Environmental Assessment, potential impacts to Burns Bog related to the construction and operation of the road were carefully considered and mitigation measures were required.
The North Colebrook Siding extension won't end at 72 Avenue. BNSF has indicated it has future plans to continue a siding three kilometres further to Fraser Surrey Docks once that company receives environment approval to receive U.S. thermal coal for transloading onto barges that would bring the shipments along the Fraser River to Texada Island.
"That's going to have a really negative impact on the Delta Nature Reserve and community use of it," said Eliza Olson, president of the Burns Bog Ecological Society.
She said she has received phone calls from people who have concerns about idling rail cars on the siding, as well as coal dust and diesel particulates.
Olson is also worried about the impacts of the project to the streams which feed into Cougar Creek, a man-made but fish-bearing waterway.
Delta's staff are similarly concerned. The proposed work will be adjacent to Cougar Creek, over which the current railway alignment is situated, and is Delta's most productive salmon habitat. BNSF is currently facing charges under the federal Fisheries Act for a 2010 incident in which rail crews were spotted allegedly dumping riprap materials without authorization from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. According to Delta, the rick, gravel and silt damaged sensitive salmon spawning grounds and reduced channel volume. That matter will go before Surrey Provincial Court on Feb. 18.
Council resolved to send a letter to BNSF Railway Company describing Delta’s concerns, and that the company undertake a public information and consultation process. Council also approved a recommendation to send a letter to the Federal Minister of the Environment requesting that the proposed siding extension be considered a reviewable project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.