William Boei, Vancouver Sun
DELTA - The provincial government is not doing enough to protect
Burns Bog from the proposed South Fraser Perimeter Highway, Environment
"The overall impacts to sensitive ecological communities, particularly those associated with Burns Bog, have not been adequately assessed," Environment Canada said in a submission to the province's Environmental Assessment Office.
Environment Canada and other federal agencies, including Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, asked dozens of questions seeking more information about the highway project, which is part of the province's $3-billion Gateway program.
Most of the questions suggest the ministry of transportation has not gathered enough information about the proposed highway's effects on the unique bog, most of which is protected from development.
But the route does skirt around the northern and western edges of the bog and in several stretches totalling 1.7 km, runs through transitional lands whose water courses drain into the bog and which provide wildlife habitat.
Environment Canada said it has many concerns about the highway's effects on wildlife, including rare sandhill cranes, barn owls, shrews, voles, frogs and other amphibians, bald eagles and other birds that breed or winter in and around the bog.
But, the federal agency said, Gateway has not even done a thorough review of existing literature on such impacts.
Environment Canada suggested the project could get around some potential problems by building several elevated highway sections near the bog and providing 100-metre-wide "vegetated corridors" between the bog and the Fraser River.
The Greater Vancouver Regional District and Delta's municipal government were also critical of the highway proposal. Those agencies said part of the highway route could be shifted further west to protect the transition lands on the western edge of the bog.
Senior Gateway Program officials were on vacation and could not be reached Tuesday.
But an EAO official noted that the submissions, filed during a public comment period that ended in mid-December, are not the last word on the environmental assessment.
"The next step will be to go through the comments in detail and start to identify the issues from those comments," said Paul Finkel, project assessment manager for the EAO.
The ministry of transportation will be asked to respond on the issues; its initial response is expected in mid-January.
Finkel said an intergovernmental working group will also start meeting to discuss issues raised and ask the ministry for more information.
Environmental groups were highly critical of the project.
"Compromising the flow of water [in the transition lands] will affect this marvel of nature and have serious detrimental repercussions on the many ecosystems that rely on Burns Bog," said Rick Le Noury of Delta Residents for a Healthy Community. "Research into the point of no return for Burns Bog is needed before the work is done. To do otherwise is to sound the death knell for both Burns Bog and the Fraser River delta wetlands."
Donna Passmore of the Fraser Valley Conservation Coalition said she was especially concerned about sandhill cranes.
"Given the dramatically small number [less than 20 birds] and their known hypersensitivity to nesting disturbances and pollution, the impact on these birds' Burns Bog home is of particular concern," Passmore said.
© The Vancouver Sun 2007