Clear, loud voice for North Alouette

Collection of 10 environment groups considering
‘consensus statement’
on river

The Golden Eagle Group installed a 45-centimetre wide water intake pipe into the North Alouette without a water licence in May 2009.

The Golden Eagle Group installed a 45-centimetre wide water intake pipe into the North Alouette without a water licence in May 2009.

They’re hoping a few tiny voices can grow into one big one – that will get the attention of government and find a way to protect the North Alouette River.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Environmental Council, a loose collection of 10 groups, is considering a request to give unanimous support to a “consensus statement” on the river.

“For a long time we’ve been thinking we need a very, very big voice to speak to government and federal politicians … because they’re disregarding anything that’s small,” environmentalist Jack Emberly explained Monday.

He has been lobbying for more enforcement of environmental regulations along the North Alouette River for the past few years.

The statement calls for federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea to review how the department enforces the Fisheries Act.

It also wants the minister to study how the department works with the federal and provincial ministries of environment “over concerns about the lack of effective and efficient protection of the Alouette watershed,” and to address “deficiencies” in how it investigated violations of the Fisheries Act.

Emberly has reviewed DFO’s and Environment Canada’s response to the death of juvenile fish in the North Alouette and reports of excavation in the river in May 2009. He notes the confusion between the departments and that no one visited the site until the next day.

When he collected some dead fish for possible biological testing, the DFO refused to take them.

Also during that month, Golden Eagle Group installed a 45-centimetre wide water intake pipe into the North Alouette without a water licence.

The company denies any connection between the fish kill and the installation of the pipe.

The company, part of Aquilini Investment Group, admitted it put in the pipe and pumped at least 100,000 litres of water in order to save a cranberry field.

The provincial government still hasn’t decided whether to lay charges in that instance.

The issue is already getting support from a Maple Ridge councillor, even though the incident took place on a Pitt Meadows section of the river.

Cheryl Ashlie wants the issue put on a future agenda of council for discussion. She told Emberly that council finds it unacceptable that there are no answers about why the fish died and that no one is being held accountable.

She credits him for staying on the issue.

“If it wasn’t for people like that, these things would just go by the wayside.”

While Emberly wrote the statement, the CEED Centre is supporting it and recommending the local environmental groups support it.

Christian Cowley, at the CEED centre, said the North Alouette is an important issue.

The members of the environmental council, which only had its second meeting in five years, must be unanimous on the statement, he said. Most of the council’s action takes place online.

If all the members approve the statement in the next few weeks, Cowley expects it to have an effect.

“Yes, because it’s been repeatedly stated by our elected representatives that until people speak loudly on issues with a degree of consensus, then it’s very difficult for them to respond.”

Cowley said he understands that politicians get a wide range of requests on issues, so it has to be clear that this is what the community wants.

The statement also wants the minister to declare that Fisheries can test fish samples and that those results should be made public.

It also wants the minister to convince the public that the department will never again ignore reports from residents about disruption and disturbance of the river bank that happened before the fish kill.

Acting executive-director of ARMS Abby Cruickshank was at Monday’s meeting and said, barring a few editing changes, the statement should get support of her group when directors meet Jan. 31.