Opinion

Along the Fraser: Hydro misses mark on power line

Jack Emberly is a retired and environmentalist. - The News/Files
Jack Emberly is a retired and environmentalist.
— image credit: The News/Files

We in B.C. are blessed by waterpower – the best way to generate electricity, providing environmental impacts are properly addressed – John Kelly, Alouette River Management Society.


The Alouette River Management Society director John Kelly is a retired B.C. Hydro employee who advised construction crews on environmental practices when constructing transmission line right of ways.

“Right of way clearing creates environmental impacts,” said Kelly. “The challenge is to avoid damage, or mitigate the impacts.”

Kelly said Hydro missed the mark recently on a local section of its Interior- to-Lower Mainland line, 250-kilometres of new towers and cables through bush from Merritt to Coquitlam.

On Nov. 28, forester Cheryl Powers drove us to a clear cut in the UBC Malcolm Knapp Research Forest that she and Kelly are concerned about. Here, towers 5035 and 5034 stand atop a road that dips to three small streams feeding Millionaire Creek, a coho producer.

“Virtually the entire road has been rough graded to the mineral line to remove native vegetation,” said Kelly. “Alder, and invasive species like blackberry and Japanese knotweed take over. This results in ongoing clearing costs. One of my frustrations is the failure to have learned from years of managing vegetation to avoid erosion, fouling waterways, and invasive species.”

We met workers about to lay straw down, and poke willow shoots into the ground to lessen the impacts of unmanaged water – erosion, and stream siltation.

Kelly said this should have been done before the rainy season.

Two channels six inches deep cross the road.

“Water bars,” Kelly explained, “to break the energy of water flow.”

But,” he added, “the upper bar was diverting water in the wrong direction.  Right of way preparation techniques are poor.”

Kelly points to grass seeds strewn about. They’re intended to return vegetation. “Ineffective,” he said, “because they won’t germinate until next spring.”

The first of three streams has been culverted.

“It will plug up and fail in the spring,” said Kelly.

He wants the stream returned to its natural course to avoid loose dirt getting into the creek. It suffocates eggs.

Ironically, ARMS volunteers are counting spawners in the system this day at lower reaches.

An environmental audit this summer (Golder and Associates) revealed damage to two streams at the bottom of the road.

“On June 21,” Kelly said,  “an operator moved equipment through during a rainfall alert and a stop work shut down. The non-conformance was attributed to a failure in communication,” between machine operators and managers.

Kelly wants all streams restored to their natural course.

Maple Ridge environmental planner Rod Stott relayed local stakeholder’s concerns to B.C. Hydro consultant Lea Anne Sexton, along with the district’s fear that woody debris is a fire hazard.

Sexton, replied in emails: “The contractor has installed water bars along the deactivated road to break up the slope length, and to catch any sediment before the creeks. The contractor is grass-seeding the disturbed areas on and beside the road and installing straw mulch on the slopes ... The work is currently underway and should be done this week.”

The woody debris, Sexton wrote, “will be disposed of using various methods, including removal from site, burning, or grinding into chips.”

For them to take credit for the restoration work on Millionaire Creek would be amusing if it was not so tragic, Kelly said.

“The non-conformance occurred in late June. The site restoration commenced in late November – well past the growing season and only after repeated requests to address the impacts.

The district has to push B.C. Hydro to ensure its contractor to improve performance.

Stott has since requested Hydro meet with the district and other stakeholders in January to discuss the company’s policies and procedures. That might result in recommendations that would benefit the district and even farther afield.

 

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

 

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