|Special to Surrey Now|
Work started along the residential portion of the right-of-way in Tsawwassen Monday, but residents are vowing to keep up their fight against higher voltage power lines.
About a dozen people held a peaceful protest at the side of Highway 17 near 52nd Street Monday afternoon to keep their battle in the public spotlight.
Carrying placards, the protesters didn't stop traffic, although it was slowed down as police closed one stretch of the right lane to ensure safety. A police helicopter flew overhead and a command post was even set up at the South Delta Baptist Church parking lot to monitor the protest, which only lasted about an hour.
Mike Pazdera, who lives on the right-of-way, said it's important to keep the issue in the public's eye, even though work on the Tsawwassen portion of the power project has begun.
Pazdera said he has yet to hear any details about the government's assurance that homes will be purchased.
Mark Warwarick, who also lives on the right-of-way, said the response to the protest was overwhelmingly positive by passing motorists.
"Nobody gave us the finger, nobody waved their fists at us," said Warwarick. "A lot of people honked and gave us the thumbs up. We need to do this again, but next time with more people. Desperate times call for desperate measures."
The message must also be hammered home that Highway 17 or Deltaport Way are viable options for the power lines, he added.
The B.C. Transmission Corporation is replacing and upgrading the existing overhead lines to serve Vancouver Island's power needs. The 130 kilovolt (kV) transmission lines on 78-foot wooden poles will be replaced with 100-foot steel poles carrying a 230 kV line and a 138 kV line. BCTC says the poles are up to 120 feet only in some parts depending on the terrain.
Although the new towers will be taller than the wooden poles, there will be fewer of them.
Part of the Vancouver Island Transmission Reinforcement Project (VITR), it's to be operational by October.
The most controversial part of the project has been the plan to string higher voltage overhead lines along the right-of-way through central Tsawwassen that goes by almost 150 homes, businesses and schools. BCTC points out the existing right-of-way was acquired over 50 years ago and has been continuously used as a transmission corridor.
Concerned about the impact increased electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure would have on their health, Tsawwassen Residents Against Higher Voltage Overhead Lines (TRAHVOL), which didn't organize Monday's protest, has waged a three-and-a-half-year battle against the power lines.
On its website at www.knowthefacts.ca, BCTC notes EMF levels for the VITR will be well within the exposure guidelines endorsed by leading health authorities such as the World Health Organization. However, the World Health Organization's website states some uncertainty remains when it comes to EMF.
Saying they'll likely hold a protest on private property, TRAHVOL's Cec Dunn noted they would slow things down for the Crown corporation by having affected homeowners demand the appropriate paperwork before crews access their properties.
"What we're saying is if they're coming on to our private land, regardless of whether it's the right-of-way or not, they don't have signed agreements with residents as to what they're going to do from a restoration perspective or any of that stuff. They also haven't shown proof of liability insurance. I don't think it's unreasonable, but to date they've refused to provide anything like that," he said.
Dunn said as residents gathered Monday to watch the work begin, several people from BCTC were videotaping them. He said it was clearly an attempt to intimidate.
A spokesperson for BCTC said the Crown corporation was recording its construction crews as they carry out their activities in Tsawwassen, which began this week with crews attempting to access a number of properties along the right-of-way for the purpose of building construction access routes.