Gateway waiting on decision
Special to Surrey Now
Friday, February 08, 2008
The provincial Gateway Program needs a little more time to respond to concerns raised by Environment Canada about South Fraser Perimeter Road.
In a highly critical report, Environment Canada expressed "serious" concerns over the environmental impact the new highway would have on Burns Bog.
The federal agency's report to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways, which was made public last fall, concluded the project would have "permanent negative impacts that cannot be mitigated or compensated" and "would impact rare and unique habitats and wildlife."
Environment Canada noted it had serious concerns with the alignment along the northern and southwestern margins of the bog. For instance, any mitigation measures proposed by the province to offset environmental impacts, especially in the western portion, would be "extremely challenging" and "most likely impossible."
In response to those concerns, Gateway proposed a series of measures, including a double ditch system to aid hydrology and elevating the road in certain sections so wildlife would be able to pass under.
However, those measures weren't enough, according to Environment Canada, which responded to the proposals with another subsequent report issued to Gateway last November. That report, made public only this month, was critical of the proposed measures to address wildlife and wildlife habitat, hydrology and aerial dispersion effects related to Burns Bog and cumulative effects.
It concluded: "The management objections for the restoration of Burns Bog, to which the Province of BC, GVRD and Corporation of Delta committed to Canada in the Conservation Covenant, and further articulated in the Burns Bog Management Plan, will not be attainable should the project proceed as proposed."
Geoff Freer, project director for the South Fraser Perimeter Road, said Gateway has been working with Environment Canada and other ministries to make further adjustments.
The much-talked about South Fraser Perimeter Road is to accommodate an increase in truck traffic that will come as a result of port expansion in Delta. Carrying an estimated $1 billion price tag, the 40-kilometre, four-lane highway will connect Roberts Bank with Highway 1.
Gateway has submitted the project to the province's Environmental Assessment Office, which must decide whether to recommend granting an environmental certificate. The EAO's report is go to the ministers of the environment and community services, who will then have 45 days to decide whether to grant the certificate.
Noting issues regarding wildlife and vegetation are being addressed, Freer said Gateway asked the EAO to "stop the clock" in order to delay the project assessment for a couple of weeks.
"We should be able to wrap that up over the next several weeks. Once they (EAO) get our finalized table of commitments and assurances, I don't expect them to take too long to finalize their report," said Freer, adding he expects the ministers will get a report from the EAO in March.
Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said the request for an extension is all part of a normal process to address environmental concerns raised by agencies such as Environment Canada.
Falcon said independent environmental experts as well as those from various government agencies are working to address the concerns.
"What we have made sure on the South Fraser Perimeter Road is that we do not impact the protected areas of the bog. So the issue becomes, since we are not going to impact any of the protected areas of the bog, we have to make sure any other impacts can be minimized as much as humanly possible.
"We're not going to rush it and get it wrong; we're going to take our time and get it right. So I'm comfortable taking whatever time is necessary to do that."
© Surrey Now 2008