Whither the Bend?
Home to the Fraser Valley's greatest diversity of wetland features, some worry the Surrey Bend will be threatened by the South Fraser Perimeter Road
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
No problem whatsoever, to certain environmental catastrophe.
That's been the spectrum of debate concerning what impact the controversial $3 billion Gateway transportation project will have on Burns Bog when the South Fraser Perimeter Road cuts through a section of its environmentally sensitive land.
But what of the bog's forgotten sister, Surrey Bend?
The $1 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road - a key component of the massive Gateway program - will hug the Fraser River for some 45 kilometres from Port Kells down through North Delta south to Roberts Bank Superport.
Depending on who you ask, the road's either been overdue by at least 20 years and must be built immediately, or it's an environmental nightmare waiting to happen with huge human costs - health concerns and property expropriation among them.
Despite the controversy, little has been said of the impact Gateway will have on the 354 hectare (875 acre) Surrey Bend. A virtually unblemished forest, the Bend is a little bigger than Stanley Park. It's bounded by the Canadian National Railway to the south and west, and Fraser River to the north and east.
But now Kevin Purton, a long-time Fraser Heights resident and member of the Surrey Environmental Partners, is ringing the alarm bell.
Every once in awhile, the otherwise forgotten forest makes headlines when somebody proposes to develop a part of it or create a landfill there. But chances are a good many readers are unaware of its existence, despite aquatic ecologist Ron Kistriz's study commissioned by city hall and the Fraser River Estuary Management Program, which found Surrey Bend to contain the greatest diversity of wetland features in the Fraser Valley.
In 1995, the provincial government designated the Bend a protected area and it became a regional park under the auspices of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, now known as Metro Vancouver.
Since then Purton has been "intimately involved" with restoring salmon habitat in and around Centre Creek, which cuts through part of the bend and flows into the Fraser.
Centre Creek has every species of West Coast salmon as well as 14 non-salmonid species. "It's quite a diverse area," Purton notes.
Bear and deer haunt the Bend and there was even a report of a cougar in the area five years ago.
Since the summer of 2006 there have been three reported incidents involving black bears in the area, says Purton, who's lived in Fraser Heights for 14 years.
"One was actually right in my front yard. The police were running around like they had their heads cut off," he chuckled.
"It's a transition point for movement from Port Coquitlam, Burke Mountain, Pitt Meadows - all areas through there to Tynehead and other areas in Surrey, it's an important corridor for movement of wildlife."
The GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) has not developed the Bend from a passive area for public use because it wants to keep human impact at a minimum. "That's how sensitive and important this area is. It has more diversity as far as bog type than Burns Bog, actually," Purton notes.
"The lack of feedback and public awareness of Surrey design is by design," he argues. "GVRD officials have stated a number of times that due to the high environmental sensitivity of the area little or no public use of the area would be preferred over public use and creating awareness. Surrey Bend has been purposefully kept out of the public eye."
The irony that this silence is now keeping some heat off the provincial government, which plans to run about four kilometres of the SFPR parallel to Surrey Bend, is not lost on Purton.
"There were five discussion papers done for the environmental assessment on the South Fraser Perimeter Road and Surrey Bend was not included in that," he noted.
"The statement by the proponent that Surrey Bend Regional Park has been excluded from the vegetation and wildlife impact assessment because it will not be impacted by the South Fraser Perimeter Road developments is an outrageously appalling statement," Purton argued.
"The proponent has predicted more than 5,000 trucks per day using the proposed route through a corridor width of 40 metres between sensitive habitats in one area," he pointed out.
"The effects of noise, reduced air quality, direct mortality and the movement of large animals have been significantly discounted by the proponent. Sound methodology and the development of inclusive, sound science that can stand up to public scrutiny must be used."
Purton is not alone in his concerns.
Cathleen Vecchiato, of the Fraser Valley Conservation Coalition, questions why the government is even bothering to build the SFPR.
"I think the South Fraser Perimeter Road is a bad idea because it doesn't benefit us economically. It's based on Chinese imports," she noted. "It doesn't really benefit our manufacturers."
Deb Jack, president of Surrey Environmental Partners, noted that this area has only about 10 per cent of its bog land left. Surrey Bend, she said, is an "extraordinary piece of land."
"Not a lot of people are aware that we have this huge bog in Surrey, and it's ours."
The SFPR, she warns, will pass close by, "steering all sorts of noxious elements into the air right near the bend, which won't do any good at all."
© Surrey Now 2007