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Boundary changes for industrial corridors expected for at least 35 B.C. protected areas

Adjustments to accommodate pipelines, transmission lines, resource roads listed in ministry documents

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun

The Ministry of Environment is anticipating applications for boundary adjustments to at least 35 parks and other protected areas to accommodate industrial pipelines, transmission lines and resource roads, freedom-of-information documents reveal.

The proposed boundary adjustments — which would amount to new or enlarged industrial corridors slicing through protected areas — are contained within a four-page ministry document dated May 17, 2013 and entitled “provincial protected area boundary adjustments project tracking.”

“It’s a real concern, a horrible slippery slope,” said Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee, who was tipped to the four pages, which are among hundreds of pages of briefing documents posted on the province’s open-information website.

“There’s always going to be an economic rationale to violate park boundaries. This should send a red flag to anyone who values our protected areas system in B.C. We need to nurture the park system, not fragment it.”

According to the documents, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to Burnaby could potentially require boundary adjustments to 10 provincial parks, ranging in size from 8.5-hectare F.H. Barber and 32-hectare Bridal Veil Falls, both between Chilliwack and Hope, to large protected areas such as 615-hectare Jackman Flats near Valemount and 15,000-hectare Lac du Bois Grasslands near Kamloops.

Kinder Morgan declined to comment Wednesday.

(The route of the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would pass close to but would not directly bisect a B.C. protected area.)

There are also concerns that the province is planning legislative changes to B.C.’s Park Act in the spring.

Bob Peart, executive-director of Sierra Club BC, said Wednesday he’s been told by sources within the ministry that legislative changes are being planned that would allow for preliminary industrial survey and exploration work in parks without a permit and that would make it easier for companies to push pipelines and other industrial infrastructure through Class-A parks of 5,000 hectares or less. Class A parks have the highest level of protection under the Park Act.

Peart worked as chief of staff to former NDP environment minister John Cashore in the early 1990s, has had a long-standing affiliation with the Canada Parks and Wilderness Society and was founding chair of the Elders Council for Parks in B.C., an independent group of retired park employees and conservation advocates seeking to support B.C.’s park system.

“We’re concerned,” Peart said in an interview. “I’m told there will be some kind of legislative change. Whether it’s a stand-alone bill or hidden in an omnibus bill, we still aren’t clear.”

Environment Minister Mary Polak declined a request for an interview; however, a ministry statement released through public affairs officer David Karn said that any pending legislation is confidential until announced in the throne speech or introduced in the legislature.

The statement added that the FOI documents represent “enquiries, requests or formal applications under the Provincial Protected Area Boundary Adjustment Policy, Process & Guidelines that BC Parks” received from individuals, communities and industry proponents and that “adjustments to protected area boundaries usually require an Act of the Legislature.”

The list was valid at the time and subject to change, the ministry noted.

The FOI documents note that a project called the North Thompson transmission line could require adjustments to five parks, including 5,733-hectare Upper Adams River, north of Salmon Arm, and 540,000-hectare Wells Gray, north of Clearwater.

BC Hydro spokesperson Simi Heer said in response that a planning study for the transmission line was initiated following a request from Yellowhead Mining’s proposed Harper Creek mine. “BC Hydro’s planning work is on hold because the industrial load we were anticipating hasn’t been confirmed,” she said.

According to the FOI documents, the TransCanada LNG pipeline would require boundary adjustments to four protected areas, including 17,683-hectare Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed, in the Nass River Valley north of Terrace.

The company’s Alaska pipeline project would require three, including 88,989-hectare Liard River Corridor, near the Yukon border, and its Coast GasLink pipeline one, the 360-hectare Sukunka Falls, near Chetwynd.

The Spectra Energy LNG pipeline is proposed to go through two protected areas, including 14,523-hectare Babine River Corridor.

The document lists the specific parks and projects and provides each with one of three ratings: completed; no proposal received but considered likely to be submitted in the next 12-18 months; and proposal considered less likely in the next 12-18 months.

Other protected areas that may require boundary adjustments to accommodate miscellaneous projects include Elk Falls for BC Hydro’s replacement of the John Hart generating station on Vancouver Island; Inkaneep for a provincial prison near Oliver; Sasquatch for both a Seabird Island First Nation logging haul road and BC Hydro transmission line near Harrison Lake; and E.C. Manning east of Hope for a Telus road and provincial highway realignment.

As well, adjustments may be required to Myra-Bellevue for road access to a private lot east of Kelowna, Muncho Lake west of Fort Nelson for a mining road, Nahatlatch for a Boston Bar First Nation land transfer, Diana Lake for Port Edward Power Co., Bridge River Delta north of Pemberton for the BluEarth independent power project, Indian Arm for a recreational cabin removal; Paul Lake for Bee Springs (no further specifics), Greenbush Lake for a “cutblock overlap removal,” and Campbell Brown for an intersection realignment.

The Vancouver Sun last month published a BC Parks document, dated June 2013 and titled Linear Energy Projects and Protected Areas, that sets out how industry may apply to obtain permission for boundary adjustments — even to Class A parks, the highest level of protection — provided a compelling argument can be made.

“If a project impacts a Class A park, the proponent should seek an alternative route,” the document reads. “If no economically, environmentally or technically feasible alternative exists, government must decide, upon receipt of a boundary amendment application, whether to amend the boundary of the park to remove the land in question in order for the project to proceed. Most often, this requires an Act of the Legislature.”

The document adds that “if sampling, disturbance of the soil, or other disturbance or destruction of a natural resource is contemplated, a park use permit is required. Proponents should make every effort to minimize intrusive research in protected areas.”

A Sun story published in September noted that a company proposing to build an LNG pipeline through a grizzly bear sanctuary near Prince Rupert had been warned twice about “nonpermitted access” to the environmentally sensitive area, and that B.C. Parks was investigating a third possible transgression.

A subcontractor of pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. received a verbal warning from B.C. Parks after the first incident in the Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservancy on June 16 and a written warning after the second on June 28, according to the provincial environment ministry. A third incident was under investigation. All three incidents involved helicopters and work crews.

Khutzeymateen Provincial Park was established in 1994, and two adjacent conservation areas — the Kwinimass Conservancy and the Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservancy — added in 2006. John Dunn, vice-president of TransCanada subsidiary Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, said at the time the non-permitted access incidents were all “inadvertent and not deliberate.”

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