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Trans Mountain’s ‘Amateur Hour’ Work Destroys River Habitat, Endangers Salmon

Hagerty Ryan/USFWS

Federally-owned Trans Mountain Corporation’s “amateur hour” work on the Stewart Creek river crossing in Chilliwack, British Columbia has destroyed habitat and will reduce food sources for coho and chum salmon that are part of the diet of the endangered southern resident killer whale pod off the west coast.

The shoddy work raises “concerns about the Crown corporation’s ability to build infrastructure through waterways if the expansion project proceeds,” The Canadian Press reports, citing Mike Pearson, a biologist with 30 years of experience.

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“There was no consideration given whatsoever to the habitat, which is just not acceptable,” Pearson said. “The work has degraded habitat in several ways,” he wrote in an assessment filed with the National Energy Board (NEB) by Yarrow Ecovillage, a community of 3,000 people in Chilliwack.

In its plan to cover exposed pipe in Fraser Valley creek, Trans Mountain told the NEB it would “place concrete mats in the channel, extending about eight metres upstream and nine metres downstream of the exposed line, and cover it with small stones,” CP states. “Pearson said the work was completed in August to September of last year. He visited the site in December and took photos that he says show most of the stones have been swept away by currents, leaving the concrete blocks exposed.”

The smooth, hard surface “provides no hiding places for salmon, supports very few of the aquatic invertebrates they feed on, inhibits plant growth, and prevents fish from burying their eggs,” the news agency adds, citing the Yarrow Ecovillage submission. And “Pearson believes it’s not an isolated incident. An assessment he did of a pipeline creek crossing on Sumas Mountain in 2015 for Pipe Up Network, an anti-pipeline group, concluded the site was physically unstable and reconstructed with materials inappropriate to restoring habitat.”

Trans Mountain also faces several complaints from Burnaby streamkeeper John Preissl, who says excavation at the company’s tanker terminal has allowed sediment to fall into two salmon-bearing creeks.

The company maintains that its work at Stewart Creek was designed by a third-party engineer and approved by the BC Oil and Gas Commission, and that “extensive” measures are in place to control and mitigate sediment in Burnaby.

When the NEB first approved the project in 2016, its 157 conditions included 10 related to fish, CP notes. But West Coast Environmental Law attorney Eugene Kung says most of those requirements were “a plan to make a plan,” and “don’t have any actual measurable effect on the outcome.”

With the NEB’s updated project assessment due February 22, scientists and environmentalists have expressed concern that the review is limited to 12 nautical miles off the B.C. coast, but “Board spokesman James Stevenson said it will consider all evidence on the record relevant to assessing impacts of project-related marine shipping, including but not limited to impacts on southern resident killer whales,” CP states. The NEB rejected Pearson’s submission on behalf of Yarrow Ecovillage because it missed a December filing deadline, but noted the evidence “may have some relevance as it pertains to salmon, which is a food source” for the orcas.