It's a heartbreaking sight for North Delta residents who played as children in the forests and gullies along the Fraser River.
Great swaths of tall trees have been cut down to make way for the South Fraser Perimeter Road, transforming the once lush hillside to a scene reminiscent of the cratered war fields of 1917 Belgium.
Locals knew it was going to happen, but to actually see the extensive clear-cutting, and the mud and wreckage the machinery has left behind, is hard to take in.
"It's a real kick in the pants is what it is, a kick in the gut," says Don DeMille, a biologist and North Delta resident. "That whole beautiful green strip of forest right on the edge of the Fraser River has been nuked completely.
"It's a real blow to the heritage of Delta," he said. "That great long continuous green strip undoubtedly houses rare species."
Southern red-backed voles and Pacific water shrews have been found in the area, he noted.
"In the United States, we would have just said 'We can't build a highway, or we can't build it here, we'll have to move it,' but we don't have any of the legislation that the United States has for protecting rare and endangered species."
The South Fraser Perimeter Road will connect with highways 1, 15, 17, 91, 99 and the Golden Ears Bridge. It's scheduled to be completed in 2013, with a $1.2-billion price tag. The project has been in the works for some 20 years now but the clear-cutting is fairly recent.
The four-lane expressway will run about 40 kilometres from DeltaPort Way in South Delta to 176th Street in Surrey's Port Kells, hugging the Fraser River shoreline for a large part of the route. Seven environmentally sensitive streams are in its way.
DeMille worked at one time with Environment Canada. Afterward, he did some work on local streams under a program called Fisheries Renewal, and knows them well.
DeMille and Delta North NDP MLA Guy Gentner recently toured the area being cleared near Gunderson (Annieville) Slough, as well as the old Glenrose Cannery site, and the pair ran into some grief from project workers.
"All of a sudden we've got these guys not only shoving a road down our throats but telling us to get off, keep off, get out," DeMille lamented.
Gentner said the MOTH workers (ministry of transportation and highways) were "upset with us. We weren't impeding."
"It's sad stuff, very sad," the MLA said of the clear cutting that's already been done.
Besides the environmental destruction, many homes have also been expropriated by the provincial Liberal government to make way for the highway - roughly 75 in the historic North Delta community of Sunbury alone. Besides these, Gentner is also concerned about what impact the clearing and construction will have, not only on established archaeological sites like St. Mungo and Glenrose, where remnants of 4,500-year-old log posts from a fish weir still jut out from the shore, but also on ravines like that of McAdam Creek. First Nations people used to winter in such ravines, he noted.
"There's probably lots of artifacts."
Gentner compares the local situation to a recent case on Vancouver Island, where an Oak Bay woman got stuck with a $600,000 archaeological bill after unknowingly building her house on an unregistered aboriginal midden.
"I don't see (the same) oversight or due diligence to what happened here," Gentner remarked.
DeMille, for his part, says that while creeks are subject to protective guidelines he's astonished the Fraser doesn't get the same consideration.
"This is the biggest salmon stream, best salmon stream in the world, salmon river, rather, the Fraser, and there's no protection - you can nuke it right to the shoreline because those guidelines, for convenience, were chosen not to apply to this."
Nevertheless, he fears they've gone too far with McAdam creek.
"That's the part that really got me. I knew all of this was going to go on, but when I got to McAdam and I saw that the trees were cut right down and into the valley, which is not supposed to happen because of the streamside protection guidelines."
All said, DeMille figures the road project at this stage is pretty much "unstoppable," but others disagree.
Eric Doherty, spokesman for an organization called Against the Pave, believes opponents of the SFPR project still have a "pretty good chance" of stopping it.
"It's very unpopular," he noted.
According to the website gatewaysucks.org, "Mass Direct Action Against Climate Crime" will be staged against the SFPR during the Easter long weekend, beginning Friday, April 22. Its organizers are calling on all residents, students, parents, elders, stream keepers, tree planters, guerilla gardeners, blockaders, rebels, climate defenders, farmers and freeway fighters to meet at 2 p.m. April 22, at the Annieville Supermarket at 10996 River Rd., to "Join the Wave Against the Pave!"
Doherty said the group has in the past hung banners off of the bulldozers. Last October the group, armed with spades and wheelbarrows, dug up a freeway construction site in Surrey and in December used sand from a SFPR construction site to build a dike that blocked access to provincial cabinet offices.
"We are ratcheting up our tactics as we go," Doherty said.