Squamish-based group that was formed to fight the Woodfibre LNG project, is broadening its mandate and taking aim at the proposed Burnco gravel mine proposal.
In particular, My Sea to Sky founder Tracey Saxby says the group is frustrated the B.C. government is reviewing a major project without independent data.
The group argues this time the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) is relying on data that has solely been collected by scientists that are bought and paid for by the proponent.
The BC Environmental Assessment Office is making recommendations to approve the project based on insufficient and biased data, Saxby says.
Burnco is proposing to build an aggregate pit development in the Lower McNab Valley with production volumes of up to 1.6 million tonnes of aggregate per year.
An EAO public comment period on the project closed on Monday.
“The environmental assessment process is completely broken,” said Tracey Saxby, marine scientist and executive director of My Sea to Sky, in a news release.
“Public engagement is nothing more than a checkbox on a form, and the process relies on science that is bought and paid for by the proponent. It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
The group is calling on the provincial government to initiate a review of the environmental assessment process for the Burnco gravel mine thus far and conduct “a robust and fully independent baseline assessment” of wild salmon populations in McNab Creek.
As part of a letter writing campaign by My Sea to Sky, approximately 2,600 people have sent letters to Michelle Mungall, B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
“There is no point engaging in this broken process, so we decided to bypass the process and email the Ministers directly,” said Saxby. “This is a real opportunity for the government to fix the mistakes of the previous government and ensure that our wild salmon are protected.”
For its part, Burnco says the EA process for McNab has been extremely open and transparent.
“Both Burnco and the government agencies have gone to great lengths to ensure all stakeholders are involved and have the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Derek Holmes, land and resource manager with Burnco.
“We just finished a third public comment period, an extra added to canvas comments on the draft assessment report, as well as eight open houses over the past five years. There is also a federal comment period coming up in December… I’ve not seen a more thorough review process in any other jurisdiction.”
Holmes acknowledged that Fisheries and Oceans Canada did refuse permits to at least one gravel application on the same site, but says it was for good reason.
“They were poorly designed with no thought to conservation and enhancement of fisheries in the region. Burnco has spent considerable effort understanding the complexities of the freshwater and marine resources on site with the support of government, independent peer-reviewed scientific studies, Indigenous groups, and local stakeholders to find solutions and put forward a strong application that addresses the needs fulsomely.”
He added that the protection of the environment and the salmon fishery is essential to the company and the success of the business.
“Gravel is a non-renewable resource needed for all construction and as one deposit is exhausted we are working on developing the next one. This requires us to respect the land and be judged on the success of every project as a pre-requisite for the next.”
Last month, the new NDP provincial government announced it would review the practice of professional reliance, which allows companies to hire consultants to determine the impacts of proposed projects.
“It’s the same policy that allowed Woodfibre LNG to ignore herring spawn in Howe Sound thanks to the lack of baseline data,” reads the release.
[Woodfibre LNG says this “is false and misleading. Herring spawn in the foreshore of the Woodfibre site were studied as part of the provincial and federal environmental assessment processes as well as the Squamish Nation’s independent environmental assessment of the Woodfibre LNG Project,” said Jennifer Siddon,associate vice president of corporate communications in an email to The Chief Tuesday. “Mitigation and design measures for herring were also included in the environmental assessments. Any suggestion that Woodfibre LNG 'ignored' herring spawn is a deliberate or a negligent falsehood.”] *
This is the first environmental assessment decision to be made by the new BC NDP government.
“We need the province to press pause until it restores public trust in the process,” said Saxby.
“We can dig up gravel anywhere, but our estuaries are irreplaceable.”
*Please note, this story has been modified since it was first posted in order to include a reaction from Woodfibre LNG to My Sea to Sky's claim involving the company in their press release.