Sunbury Neighbourhood Association

the Surrey Leader - Oct 28, 2008

Civil disobedience likely against Gateway

Freeway expansion opponents say they may physically confront or block construction as work gears up on the $3-billion Gateway program.

Several groups met Saturday to strategize on how to take "direct action" against the planned work to twin the Port Mann Bridge, widen Highway 1 and push through the new South Fraser Perimeter Road.

Activist Carmen Mills predicts some form of civil disobedience will be "inevitable" in the weeks or months ahead unless Victoria calls an "absolute halt" to those projects.

"People are very seriously considering direct action both north and south of the Fraser," she said, defining that as physical actions that directly affect project proponents.

"If that involves obstruction or occupation, that may be where it needs to go," Mills said. "The province is not listening."

Mills, who coordinates opposition through the website, said the aim will be to pressure the province to back down in the run-up to next May's provincial election.

"A lot of people are willing to get out there and be physical on this issue now both experienced activists and complete newbies to direct action."

Until now, opponents have primarily staged rallies in parks or community halls.

But talk of direct action sets the stage for a possible replay of the civil disobedience and resulting arrests that delayed reconstruction of Highway 99 through Eagle Ridge Bluffs in West Vancouver.

Preloading of the road base has begun on some sections of the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

Mills called the move "extremely risky" as no private-public partnership has been struck to finance and build it.

Much of the anger is coming from residents of North Delta and Surrey who face the loss of their homes to make way for the 40-kilometre truck route.

Sunbury Neighbourhood Association spokesman Don Hunt said he has so far urged his neighbours to refrain from those tactics.

But he said they are outraged after the provincial Environmental Assessment Office this summer approved construction despite clear evidence Burns Bog will be impacted, contrary to its protective covenant.

"People have no other recourse," Hunt said. "That's when you get civil disobedience. It's unfortunate that it has to come to that."

Many of those likely to participate are retired, he said, and in some cases from the area's founding families.

Hunt said many homes won't actually be needed by the route but face a plunge in property value because their tranquil view of greenspace or a ravine will be replaced by a view over the freeway.

"That property value drop is unconscionable," he said. "And there is no compensation if they don't touch your property."

Will Hunt personally engage in direct action tactics?

"I haven't made my mind up on that."

Transportation minister Kevin Falcon said he hopes protesters don't try to block the work.

"I can't speculate on what these folks might do, but I'd advise them that this is a project that enjoys enormous public support," he said. "If they're going to look at things like breaking the law I would hope they think twice because I don't think that advances anyone's legitimate interest."

Falcon called the environmental assessments for Gateway the largest public consultative process in transportation ministry history.

He said opponents of the South Fraser Perimeter Road would deny residents in areas like River Road the congestion relief that will come once truck traffic is rerouted.

"Those areas see some of the worst congestion for truck traffic anywhere in the Lower Mainland," Falcon said. "We cannot lose sight of the problem we are trying to fix."

He advised residents worried about property values to contact the ministry, adding the government has sometimes bought homes in such cases and then resold them later at a profit.

"We're not adverse to entering into those types of negotiations."



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