No tolls on controversial highway, government says
The Vancouver Sun subs, as usual, miss the point in their choice of headline. Tolls never were on the table for the SFPR.
It will skirt the edge of environmentally sensitive Burns Bog, remove farm land from the Agricultural Land Reserve, require expropriation of residential properties in several communities in Delta and Surrey, and run over archeological sites containing the remains of aboriginal settlements.
“Skirting the edge” of the bog is not anything like as harmless as it sounds. There remain very strong reasons for avoiding this area altogether, as the bog habitat is both unique and highly fragile, and given what we know is going to be happening to this region should be under plans for expansion not limitation. There are also real fears that interfering with the drainage of the bog could hasten its drying out, increasing the risk of fire and the loss of the bog altogether.
There is no mention, you notice, of salmon habitat. But the construction of the road, and its subsequent operations, are going to impact an area of the Fraser where juvenile salmon spend a lot of time getting adjusted to the switch from fresh to salt water. Of course, global warming, over fishing, fish farms and development adjacent to fish bearing streams have already pretty much spelled the end of the Fraser salmon runs, so maybe the province thinks it can write them off. The DFO doesn’t think so, of course, and there is still the question of federal approval – although I suspect Kevin knows that these days he is on safe political ground with his allies in Ottawa. Professionals in government departments have all been given very clear marching orders about not putting up too strong a scientific case.
The archaeological sites are another matter entirely. Our record in this regard is shameful – with an approach road to the new Golden Ears Bridge being built on a Katzie historic site of immense significance (it proves there was agriculture in the Fraser Valley three thousand years ago) long before any of the research was completed. Any artefacts there will now be covered in concrete if not completely obliterated. You would think that the local First Nations would be concerned. But they are in the treaty process – the $1bn boondoggle that has produced almost nothing. But if you are part of the process (on either side) you are doing very nicely on government largesse, and do not want to spoil the party, which can be prolonged indefinitely it seems. So the treaty process is supposed to be all the protection these sites need. Which just ups the price a bit more. Nothing effective needs to be done to protect them – just hand over some more cash.
And of course there is no mention at all of way that the government’s Gateway strategy is coming apart rapidly. The justification for this road – an increasing share of a growing trans pacific container trade – is no longer valid. The trade has been in decline for two years – and the increases in capacity at other ports, including Price Rupert, is already more than enough, given that the North West Passage is now ice free and the much bigger Panama Canal will be open by the time the SFPR is finished. Plus there was always a better route with much less impact that would have been cheaper to construct, but was never seriously considered. And that the containers for the rest of North America leave here on trains, not trucks, and the real problem the port faces is lack of rail capacity.
Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said the project has undergone significant scrutiny over five years, but he was confident the government had respected the concerns of its opponents.
Which only proves my contention that Kevin Falcon is a liar. The “scrutiny” was cursory at best and the concerns of opponents simply ignored.