Strategic Thoughts

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November 13, 2003

Sea-to-Sky Hurts Communities

The Sea-to-Sky highway project has more critics than just Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Habitat Enhancement Branch. Some residents of West Vancouver are extremely concerned over the impact changes in the traffic flow will have on their community. They would be joined by users of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal if they had the slightest idea what is being proposed.

A map of alternative alignments for a tunnel that would bypass the ferry terminal is available on the Environmental Assessment Office website. The map and the correspondence between West Vancouver and the project's engineer confirm the concerns raised by local residents. The proposed tunnel would just serve northward bound traffic. Local vehicular access to Highway 99 North, including access by vehicles departing ferries, would be denied, forcing that traffic to detour to Eagleridge or Caulfield in order to access communities north of Horseshoe Bay. The detour would add approximately 10 minutes each way; a delay could be disastrous for emergency vehicles. It would also add 20 minutes travel time, round trip, for children attending Gleneagles School from Lion's Bay - just so that occasional visitors to Whistler can save 20 minutes.

A letter dated November 5, 2003, from the SNC-Lavlain Inc. engineer acting behalf of the Ministry of Transportation to the Director of Engineering and Transportation for the City of West Vancouver begins by saying "The design of the project is evolving, as we seek to continually improve and refine concepts. The project is quite challenging from a schedule perspective and it is important for us to continue to move forward to meet the project objectives." Those words paint a frightening picture. It looks like the maximum budget of $670 million was set for the project, and the design team must now sacrifice safety, the environment and community concerns, if necessary, so as to bring the project in on time and on budget; it is no wonder that DFO complained that it doesn't have enough information to access the projects impact on the environment. "Project objectives" should include satisfactory resolution of the concerns that are being raised.

When discussing delays in emergency response times, the Ministry of Transportation's contracted engineer wrote "This is an area where the project team will make improvements to the couplet concept presented in the Project Application. Clearly we want to reduce the impacts to both emergency response and local mobility between Horseshoe Bay and the southern Howe Sound communities and we are working hard to develop solutions, which we will discuss with the District." He went on to suggest that relocating emergency services might be one solution!

By discussing possible solutions to issues raised by the community, the engineer's letter serves to confirm the importance of the concerns. The letter addressed concerns that the project will negatively impact the Larsen Creek watershed when it said "With respect to upper Larsen Creek, we are confident that by adjusting the location of the north tunnel portal northward, possibly by extending the length of the tunnel to about 1.4 km, we can avoid impacts to the Larsen Creek watershed." That also means that if the tunnel remains as originally proposed, there will be a negative impact to the watershed. Nothing is finalized with respect to the length of the tunnel. West Vancouver prefers a 3 km tunnel with two way traffic in both the tunnel and on the old highway.

It is time for the Campbell government to articulate the "project's objectives" and to offer assurance that those objectives include more than building the cheapest possible highway so as to speed traffic to Whistler.

November 12, 2003

Sea-to-Sky Design an Environmental Hazard

The more than $600 million Sea-to-Sky highway project may be crucial, in some people's minds, for the 2010 Olympics, but its construction is fraught with environmental risks. On November 10 the 10 page letter dated October 24, 2003, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Habitat Enhancement Branch (CFO-HEB), was posted to the project information centre webpage for BC's Environmental Assessment Office. The letter begins by saying that the federal agency has reviewed the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement project application dated August 2003 and that "DFO-HEB has a number of major concerns with the application. As explained in our July 30, 2003 screening of the application response to Environmental Assessment Office, DFO-HEB recommended that the application be rejected as it does not give appropriate and meaningful treatment to the project's terms of reference." (emphasis in original)

According to the DFO letter, the federal agency had a "lengthy, detailed discussion" with BC's Ministry of Transportation, and their engineering and environmental consultants on May 2, 2003, during which DFO explained that it will only authorize alteration, disruption and destruction (HADD) "if the proponent can provide compelling technical rationale why" the options of relocation or redesign are "impossible or impractical". (emphasis in original) The strongly worded letter criticizes the Ministry of Transportation for ignoring its comments, and goes into specific detail on what it believes are many threats to fish habitat posed by the project. Concerns range from acid rock drainage to the consequences of disturbing water flows in an area that is subject to intense storms.

Creek by creek the DFO letter lists deficiencies in the project's application before the Environmental Assessment Office. The Mashiter Spawning Channel, Meigham Creek and side channel, Thurderbird Creek, Newport Creek and Hop Ranch Creek are found between Centennial Way and Deport Road near Squamish. According to the DFO letter those streams "collectively form a highly productive and complex wetland ecosystem which is one of the most important salmonid rearing areas in the Sea to Sky corridor, yet the application does not give any specific information on the culvert extension designs".

The letter points to inconsistencies in the Ministry of Transportation's application with respect to the impact of the expanded highway on population growth along the corridor. In one section of the application the Ministry argues that growth rates will have only minor significance, but in the "project rational" and "need for the project" sections of the application DFO argues that the Ministry has affirmed "that the project is needed to accommodate the increasing pressure for urban development, high profile recreation and the 2010 Winter Olympics."

DFO argues that claims made by the Ministry lack quantitative analysis. The letter says that DFO "does not concur with the conclusion that the indirect effects of this project will be of minor significance."

The Campbell government has given itself draconian powers to sweep away labour standards, municipal zoning and bylaws and anything else it may consider to be red tape, but even its "Significant Projects Streamline Act" draws the line at the Environmental Assessment Act and its regulations by allowing that Act to prevail over what some have called the equivalent of a War Measures Act. In view of the considerable concerns regarding the negative impacts of the expanded highway on fish habitat, environmental advocates will need to be alert to see whether the Campbell government attempts to force the project through without relocation, redesign or mitigation.


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