Council, enviro groups write to protect Alouette

Still searching for answers to fish kill in May 2009

A pipe was installed in the North Alouette River before the fish kill

A pipe was installed in the North Alouette River before the fish kill

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is getting the message about the North Alouette River: start doing your job and protect the salmon-bearing stream.

Maple Ridge council OK’d a letter last week asking the minister to “personally ensure the appropriate follow-up has taken place, is reported publicly and if someone is responsible, that there are sufficient consequences.

“It is with much dismay that we find ourselves having to write to you almost two years later to report that our citizens have yet to have answers from any of the offices,” says the letter from Mayor Ernie Daykin.

“Minister Shea, something happened on the North Alouette in May 2009 and without a full investigation, it appears the responsibility of the ministry was not being met,” the letter adds.

The letter refers to the death of several hundred juvenile fish in the North Alouette in May 2009.

Environmentalist Jack Emberly has reviewed Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada’s response to the fish kill and reports of excavation in the river in May 2009 and noted the confusion between the departments and that no one visited the site until the next day.

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

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

Golden Eagle Group, however, denies any connection between the fish kill and the installation of the pipe for watering its cranberry fields.

After almost two years, and a provincial government investigation, there has been no decision on charges.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie pushed her colleagues to write the letter.

It’s being copied to MP Randy Kamp, who’s also parliamentary secretary to the fisheries minister.

Council’s had no response yet, but has told Kamp that councillors want some answers when he meets this month.

The MP should come prepared, Ashlie said. “We’re going to definitely want some answers.”

Kamp, though, has said fisheries practices have already started to change.

Ashlie credited Emberly, a News columnist, for his investigation and column writing. “Got to give him full marks.”

Pitt Meadows council has yet to address the issue directly, even though the fish kill took place within its borders.

Council was to review Maple Ridge’s letter and its own correspondence at its Tuesday meeting, said Coun. Deb Walters.

She’d support council writing its own letter, but didn’t know if all of council would support that.

Mayor Don MacLean isn’t offended that Maple Ridge has taken the lead role. “The health of the river extends across both municipal boundaries, so I’m not out of joint on that.

“We left that in staff’s hands and they followed up on it.”

Pitt Meadows staff has corresponded with senior governments, he said. It’s important to find out what caused the fish kill because it could happen again, MacLean added.

“We wanted to investigate, staff expressed their concerns about it and that’s what we asked them to do.

“We wanted things to be factual, so that’s the way we approached it.

“It’s not something that won’t be reported out on.”

While Fisheries Minister Gail Shea has already received Maple Ridge’s letter, she’s about to get another on the same topic, representing every environmental group in the area.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Environmental Council, speaking for a dozen local environmental groups, will send its “consensus statement” on the North Alouette River within days.

The intent of the statement, which gets the final OK from all member groups this week, is to speak with a united voice and calls for the minister to review how the department enforces the Fisheries Act.

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 never again will ignore reports from residents about disruption and disturbance along the river bank.

Christian Cowley, with the Community Education on Environment and Development Centre, a member of the environmental council, expects fisheries practices to change, although so far he’s not seen “any significant action.”

The statement will allow a clear expression of the community’s voice.

“I expect something very concrete to come out of this.

“Because I don’t think the community will sit back and allow this to happen.”