Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Opinion

Bales Rails on Hazardous Waste

Barges unsafe says FVRD director

Submitted by Wendy Bales, FVRD Director, Area C, Deroche

 

he Chilliwack forum on the Toxic Waste Recycling plant was a packed house with standing room only of about close to 150 river advocates.

 

The room over-flowing out into the halls held many decades worth of experienced professional expertise on the Fraser River Biology and habitats.  

 

There were a few common threads of consensus that resonated throughout the audience.

Although Chilliwack  mayor Gaetz stated that council had followed the legal requirements in regard to public notice and consultation, not very many had heard about this issue in time to attend the public comment period (now closed) at the Chilliwack Council meeting. Council  voted to 3rd reading unanimously in favor of the Aevitas rezoning application RZ000815. In the face of something that concerns so many that make their homes and livings in this Fraser River Valley and the river itself,  many expressed that it wasn’t morally good enough to simple do the minimum legal requirement. So many people, habitats and jobs are dependent on having a healthy river system both upstream and down. Many expressed that Chilliwack Council should have done more to make sure that more people were aware of this proposal as well as facilitating a longer and  better advertised consultation process.

Directors of the Fraser Valley Regional district have been critical of Metro’s lack of consultation and inclusion towards an outcome on the Waste To Energy (WTE) plans. We all need to consider our neighbors that are affected upstream and down if we expect them to do the same, whether about hazardous waste recycling, coal by rail or barge though the valley and on the river, or WTE in our airstreams. We need to stop playing the nimbi environmentalists and consider all the ramifications of cradle to grave resource use.

As recognized independent governments, all First Nations that depend on the river should have been consulted on moral grounds if not legal. As stewards of resources and land bases we all need to advocate as voices for other species that we depend on in our complicated biosphere and ecosystems.

All at the Evergreen meeting seemed to agree that there needs to be a facility for hazardous waste recycling, but of equal  importance was a need to choose the right location for it.

An MOE employee in the audience had worked on the site many years before where they had put the pumping station. A current resident that lives close to the property in question said that it has been under flood water several times in the last few years. So is it realistic to believe the pump station would be adequate to deal with a big flood when emergency personal will have their hands full? We are living in unpredictable times of climate change where breaking weather standards from known records is the new normal. We are also breaking records for insurance costs around the world, where the taxpayer is more often picking up the tab for clean-up. With no known predictable boundaries we need to do our best to use precautionary practices.

One concern that I expressed was about what would happen in the case of an earthquake in which case there is no lead time for being prepared. As I  expressed the geology in the Fraser Basin  as stated in a report that I had read about the Sumas SE2 issue was that in the event of an earthquake the ground could act like Jello or quicksand. Another recent report noted on the news was that the silty Fraser Basin could amplify the impacts of an earthquake by 3 or 4 times in magnitude.

Remember the Alberta floods and the train bridge that washed away? That was reportedly inspected just before the floods. In the current state of self-regulating standards that are poor at best and are mostly inadequate. Enter free trade deals in the mix and I believe that regulating is about to get much worse. Under  trade deals our environmental standards could be lower to the country of trade. According to Wiki Leaks files on the TPP trade deal in the works;

When compared against other TPP chapters, the Environment Chapter is noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in 'environmental' goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise.” 

If local governments contest projects they could be sued for infringing on a company, corporation or a person’s rights of making a profit. That has already happening to local governments across Canada. Under these new trade standards governments could go bankrupt trying to protect their local standards.

Myself and other people were concerned about whether this location would also facilitate transporting  toxic waste on the river itself by barge. On page 33 of this report it states that there were 26 barge accidents during a 5 year period just in the south arm of the Fraser River alone. With Mission also planning for a big increase in barge traffic the numbers of incidents are also sure to rise. 

I also have concerns about rail or any other transport for toxic waste and the lack of safety standards. Will we have timely info on the contents of the various modes of transport in cases of accidents for quick clean-up? There are many recent example of where reaction to accidents has been to slow to mitigate the bigger damage on waterways. See this recent video of the Burnaby coal train spill.

Mayer Gaetz made a point to remind our Cheam river neighbors that they need to do better with the Cheam Dump. While I would agree that the Cheam Dump is a bad location as well, using a bad example to divert blame and liability, was a method that the tobacco industry used for years while many died for decades as a result. Everyone has to own some responsibility for garbage and what we use. Prevention of unnecessary waste especially toxic waste (like those light bulbs with mercury in them) needs to be part of the solution that we all need to own up to. Governments need to take responsibility for negative policy with regard to toxic waste and the inaction of solutions, as well as those that vote for them.

According to a documentary that I saw, it only took about 20 years for China’s rivers to look like some of the below pictures. We can’t afford to be complacent. Like the saying an eye for an eye and the whole world will go blind. Pollution is a global problem, we need to take the high road and be better neighbors and lead by example.

Tomorrow, Chilliwack council will decide on their 4th reading and if so might finalize the zoning, then it is up to the province to give final approval which will take a little longer. So after considering signing the letter Hazardous Waste: write a letter , please think about sending a letter to the minister of the environment Mary Polak as well as Steve Thomson, the minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources operations as well cc your own local MLA.

There is far too much risk to all that depend on the health of the river upstream and down for sustainable jobs and life.

 

 

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