Anne Murray: A dark cloud hangs over South Delta

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      The Fraser delta, on Vancouver’s southern doorstep, is a wetland of international importance, a gathering place for salmon, waterfowl, shorebirds, and whales, and for people. It has rich, productive farmland, some of the best in Canada, yet under the wide open skies, nature struggles for space. Snow geese feed in school yards and orcas swim among container ships. Pumpkin and blueberry fields compete for space with shopping malls, golf courses, and housing developments. The delta landscape, recently designated as a UN Ramsar site for its critical wetland values, is changing rapidly, powered by agencies and policies that destroy the environment and ignore community concerns. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the actions of Port Metro Vancouver, whose determination to push through operational expansions on a massive scale, has many Delta residents enraged.

      It was standing room only, when 200 people rallied in the heart of Delta to voice their concerns about the port’s plans for their community. Residents are just beginning to wake up to the huge changes that are reshaping their local landscape, changes that are driven in large part by the port’s overly ambitious business projections and poor record of listening to local communities. Branded by the federal and provincial governments as the “Gateway to Asia”, the once-agricultural municipalities of Delta and Surrey are being ripped apart by a string of new highways and overpasses, expanded rail lines, and acres of depots with teetering stacks of containers. Many attending the information rally, organized by local groups, expressed frustration with the powerlessness they feel in the face of so much change in their once-rural community.

      As presenter Roger Emsley characterized it: “There is a dark cloud hanging over South Delta.” Farmland is disappearing fast and with it goes fresh, local food sources, food security, and wildlife habitat. The death knell for the farmland and wildlife is the looming presence of Deltaport Terminal 2, a proposed 115-hectare artificial island perched off the end of the existing superport on Roberts Bank, with expanded causeway, rail access, and associated facilities. Truck traffic will increase exponentially. The Roberts Bank superport currently houses Port Metro Vancouver’s three Deltaport container berths, alongside Westshore Terminals’ coal facility. Two berths opened in 1997 and the third in 2010. Coal exports are also expanding. Each expansion has seen an increase in the size of the road and rail causeway, blocking the natural tidal flows in the estuary and disrupting the movements of juvenile salmon. Power lines along the causeway’s length are a hazard for the fast-flying flocks of shorebirds that feed in the Roberts Bank intertidal zone. The tidal flats to the south are eroding physically and ecologically, taking with them the sand banks and biofilm that sustain hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Bright lights shine into the sensitive estuary waters throughout the night, and massive container ships travel the narrow inland waters of the Gulf Islands and Georgia Strait, home to orcas, porpoises, and grey whales. Light pollution has a deeply detrimental effect on the natural biorhythms of organisms, and the collision risk for cetaceans increases with shipping traffic.

      The port is not the only development threatening the farm fields and internationally significant wetlands of the delta, but it is the major driving force. Daniel Woods vividly described the changes underway in Delta, in a recent Georgia Straight article. When the Tsawwassen First Nation’s landmark treaty with B.C. and Canada took effect in 2009, 124 hectares of their land was earmarked for port-related, industrial uses. The TFN are also building two very large shopping malls on former farmland near Highway 17. A development company, Lamington Heights, has optioned 226 hectares of Agricultural Land Reserve between the highway, the B.C. Rail line, and the TFN lands, for a port-associated logistics centre. A multi-track rail yard is planned. The Boundary Bay airport is expanding to accommodate more industrial facilities.

      The $1.2-billion South Fraser Perimeter Road chewed up 40 kilometres of delta farmland and Burns Bog edge habitat, before plowing through woodland bluffs, archaeological sites, and historic homes in North Delta. The road is part of the Gateway Program, designed to deliver trucks to and from the port. It took a controversial route, opposed by local citizens, including Delta council, and its design has gone through several iterations. It has been destructive of habitat, displacing sandhill cranes, endangered southern red-backed voles, and Pacific water shrews. Conservationists concerns were ignored, as were requests for information on habitat mitigation and compensation.

      Numerous housing developments are also sprouting up, detached from, or peripheral to existing urban centres, exasperating urban sprawl and traffic congestion, and causing community conflict. There is no overall, coherent vision for livability or environmental protection in the delta. Metro Vancouver’s Green Zone lies in ruins.

      Many of these changes are being forced upon South Delta residents with no opportunity for genuine public hearings or votes. The public consultation undertaken by the various aspects of the Gateway Program (South Fraser Perimeter Road, Third Berth, Terminal 2, road and rail upgrades, et cetera) has been a carefully-managed presentation of equally unwelcome “options”, conducted by consultants or junior staff members. A recent pre-consultation session for Terminal 2 began with a question about an engineering detail! At no point have the senior proponents or political boosters placed themselves within listening distance of a public meeting with an open microphone. If they ever do, they should be prepared for an earful, as people are becoming very upset.

      Furthermore, as Emsley and others so clearly described at the rally, the latest port expansion, with its multibillion dollar price tag, is not justifiable on economic grounds. There has been no proper cost-benefit analysis done of alternatives, the port operates at only 60 percent capacity, and container traffic is failing to reach even moderate growth projections. There are many options for increased capacity within Port Metro Vancouver’s various terminals without Terminal 2. With Prince Rupert and the Panama Canal also experiencing expansions, the demand for the Lower Mainland container ports may decline. The port must explore alternative operating scenarios that ensure the protection of farmland and wildlife habitat. Federal and provincial governments and Metro Vancouver must urgently develop and enact a consistent, clear, and workable vision for how they intend to protect the internationally important wetlands and uplands of the Fraser delta.

      Lower Mainland residents need to find their voices: it is not too late to set a fresh agenda for our priceless Fraser delta. The public consultation process is inadequate, the message needs to take to the streets and to the politicians’ offices. We have chosen to live here, it is our home, and we value it. We value the sandpipers, the orcas, the salmon, the farms, and the ocean. We do not want them destroyed to satisfy a stubborn agenda of industrial growth at all costs. In speaking up for these values, we may yet save the remnants of our rural landscape as a lasting legacy. It is time that we were heard. Is anyone listening?

      Anne Murray is an independent writer, naturalist, and author of two books on the natural history of Boundary Bay—A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past: A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay (Nature Guides B.C.). She also volunteers with a number of naturalist and community organizations. Her blog is at



      Eliza Olson

      Feb 22, 2013 at 4:06pm

      Anne Murray is correct, Delta residents need to find their voice--and quickly. It is not just South Delta that is threatened. Delta Council unanimously supported a 35 story high rise in North Delta. Residents were not opposed to the high rise, just the height. Delta Council ignored the concerns of the residents. These include the added costs to service such a tall building (fire protection for starters). Then there is the MK Delta Lands group that wants to put 1850 housing units and "perhaps a hotel" at the bottom of 72nd Avenue and east of Highway 91. That is over half of the housing unites already in Sunshine Hills. Oh yes, they are promising to give 192 acres of bogland on the west side of Highway 91 to the Corporation of Delta.

      My mother used to say "don't look a gift horse in the mouth!" This is one you should look very carefully at. MK Delta Lands Group stand to benefit from a huge tax right-off for donating ecologically sensitive land to the government. For a corporation with deep pockets, this like gold without having to dig for it!.


      Feb 22, 2013 at 4:47pm

      Excellent article. Port Metro Vancouver has no accountability to the public. The out-of-contol Crown Corporation is using public assets and tax dollars to build an empire which includes dredging and building on internationally-significant habitat and buying up valuable agricultural land for industrial purposes. The port is using flawed studies with unrealistic growth projections to justify trashing the Fraser River estuary. The deceptive port studies fail to disclose facts showing that Port Metro Vanouver already has more than enough capacity to facilitate growth in the container business. There is no economic need for Terminal 2 at Deltaport with 3 new containers berths. It is being proposed so that Port Metro Vancouver can move business from the inner harbour to the area south of the Fraser River. Then Port Metro Vancouver can use Burrard Inlet waterfront lands for commericial and residential developments to realize the dream of becoming a real estate mogul. Just read the port planning documents and capital spending plans. The port and business friends look forward to a lucrative future. So what do they care about farmland, orcas, salmon and millions of migratory birds when they dream of millions of greenbacks.

      Do not expect help from the federal government, the Ministry of Environment, or Fisheries and Oceans. Harper and his toadies have changed the legislation that once protected these assets. The federal Government has appointed senior positions to ambitious ladder-climbers who will sign any document to get ahead. Credible fish and wildlife experts have retired, or are leaving, in exasperation. As the article states, we, the people, need to wake up.

      Canada Needs A Canadian Abraham Lincoln

      Feb 22, 2013 at 5:10pm

      i hear you Anne and i feel hopeless about this situation. maybe i'm a bit off topic, but sometimes we've got to start at the source from where the spring began to flow. how are we going to change anything when prime minister harper has himself surrounded with his yes henchmen? harper's behaviour appears to be very intent on making canada into china. look at what he's abolished since he's had his majority term? look at our coast guard in kitsilano closed without a thought about the valid and necessary role? what a master of the senate passing omnibus bills that circumvent a democratic process? harper deals with parliament using and abusing the 'party machine'—the party as a disciplined, centralized, loyal team that dare to turn on him or else they're out, and he's famous to pull the prorogue parliament card at his convenience. harper appears to have canada hostage, playing madness like it's convenient, and does it so often he starts to believe it, oh yeah, he's quite a salesman. we've seen examples of what happens to any member of parliament that is female and/or speaks too strongly in opposition. are we are only beginning to see the extent of the beginning of the end to a Canada that our great-great-great grand parents built with their blood sweat and tears? there's too much diversity and what appears to be a despot at the helm. yes, take the inniative and write to your mp or the pm but we all know they have assistants and assistants assistants and will they really get the message?

      “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”
      ― Abraham Lincoln


      Feb 22, 2013 at 5:54pm

      At Saturday's rally, local residents heard great speakers warn about impending doom for this community. It's not enough to attend rallies or speak to locals, especially when our Member of Parliament was not in attendance! Thank goodness that South Delta's MLA cares about what's going on.
      EVERYONE young and old must get on the bandwagon and write to Ottawa and bombard Mr. Harper and other MPS with letters! I don't feel that signing a petition is as effective as individuals taking the time to write a passionate letter telling this Conservative government that enough is enough! They need to step back & think about what they are doing, if that's possible, as Mr. Harper seems 'hell bent' on destroying and/or selling out Canada. Do it for future generations..we owe it to them.

      AND in the next election don't vote Conservative.

      Anita den Dikken

      Feb 22, 2013 at 6:35pm

      I am a South Delta resident and am a strong supporter of the environment. But apart from that, it is time that Port
      Metro Vancouver was made accountable to the citizens of this area and of Canada. It is criminal that this Port is in competition with the Port of Prince Rupert. Yes - they are, and they seldom liaise. What is the government thinking?
      We know that they want to move their Vancouver terminals to Delta in order that they can reap profits from the sale of those terminals. A feather in their caps!
      But what about the birds who depend upon the associated lands to rest on their long migratory journeys? What about the fish? What about the noise and pollution impacts upon we, the people who live here?
      Where are our voices and the voices of the species which they so callously are willing to destroy?

      Voice of Reason

      Feb 22, 2013 at 10:30pm

      Great article, Anne. The important thing to focus on is that while many of these developments are already underway, it's not too late to stop some of them, including both the port expansion and the Southlands development. This community will have to stand up and say no just like it did during the original attempt to develop the Southlands decades ago.

      Okanagan Orchardist

      Feb 23, 2013 at 10:22am

      You can hardly blame the TFN for taking advantage of newly found wealth after years of having to live on government assistance. They are, however, once again being taken advantage of, and this time on an even greater scale. "Whitey" is finding a way to use them, as he is doing everywhere in BC, to make loads of money for themselves in the process.
      I appreciate Anne's comments, but this needs to go mainstream. The Straight is not the most widely read paper in BC, and this needs to be brought out on TV, radio and other newspapers.
      Perhaps with the election of the NDP a lot of this Liberal fanagling will come to an abrupt halt. It is important for Delta residents to realize that this whole thing is part of the BC Liberal agenda to enrich their business pals before they become old news.

      Okanagan Orchardist

      Feb 23, 2013 at 10:29am

      I forgot to mention in my last post that here in the South Okanagan we have a prestigious "birder," Dick Cannings, running for the NDP in the next provincial election.
      Perhaps you should consider doing this yourself.


      Feb 23, 2013 at 10:35am

      Protesting is not enough, it is closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. I sometimes wonder whether those in power get an extra blissful thrill when they can push through something nobody wants, just because they can.
      We need to change things at election time, make sure that we are aware of what the different candidates stand for, not by what they say but looking at what their actions have been in the past. We need to examine the values of each party, again not by their policy statements but by the policies and practices in the recent past, making sure that we retain a memory of that. Stripes tend to stay the same even after the hair is renewed!
      We also need to work on the values of the general public; as long as 'the Economy' is considered more important than the quality of life for all that lives, we're rolling a stone uphill that inevitably rolls back down again.


      Feb 23, 2013 at 7:12pm

      Maybe the geriatrics compalining about the view from their vacation homes should think about young people in the area who desperatly need something besides minimum wage service jobs that the port could provide.

      The area has been an industrial park for decades and been drenched with pesticdes by farming so it s hardly a pristine area