By Troy Speedie and Jeff Gau
“Anywhere else in the world, Howe Sound would be a great National Park.”
- Murray Newman, former director of the Vancouver Aquarium
A large part of the beauty and international appeal of British Columbia’s West Coast can be found in the natural environment of Howe Sound. Over the past 20 years, Howe Sound has been the subject of millions of dollars in reclamation projects to restore its health, paid for by industry and you, the taxpayer. Regrettably an Alberta-based company has proposed a large-scale gravel mining and crushing facility at McNab Creek that will set back rehabilitation efforts, especially for local salmon populations. All at a time when the recovering health of the sound has led to sightings of Pacific white-sided dolphins and grey and killer whales for the first time in decades. We should not allow this progress to be placed at risk.
The massive project as filed by Burnco Rock Products Ltd, envisions one million tonnes of gravel, with spikes up to four million tonnes, pulled out the creek per year. During the project’s first phase, a 77-hectare industrial pit would be dug out of the McNab Creek estuary to depths of 55 metres below surface grade and more than 15 metres below the water table.
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, a large-scale gravel mining and crushing facility in the northern part of Howe Sound is likely to result in the destruction of fish habitat which cannot be compensated elsewhere in the sound. During a 2010 review of the project, DFO determined that the project would result in harmful destruction of fish habitat. During a follow-up review after some scoping changes by the proponent, DFO stated that they “continue to have serious concerns about the extent of the impacts to fish and fish habitat that may result from this project” and that “The project presents a high risk to Salmon and Salmon habitat.”
In addition to the risks to fish habitat, the project description indicates the site could be home to up to 20 species at risk, including a population of Roosevelt elk that were transplanted to McNab Creek by the B.C. Ministry of Environment in 2001 in an effort to re-introduce the species to the area.
Despite concerns voiced by DFO, the Burnco project has recently begun a review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Industrial mine incompatible with Sea to Sky vision
This unfortunate situation clearly illustrates the absence of a long-term planning strategy for Howe Sound like the adjacent Sea to Sky strategic land use plan. As a result, there is no forum which will consider the overall sustainability of the sound or the impact on other socio-economic interests involved when reviewing incompatible projects of the nature proposed by Burnco. The McNab Creek estuary and surrounding waters are extensively used for recreational and commercial fishers, tourism operators, boaters, recreational property owners, numerous children’s camps, and other compatible users—all placed in profound jeopardy by the Burnco proposal.
The need for a specific Howe Sound plan was formally recognized by 12 local governments and First Nations representing the communities in the Sea to Sky corridor in September 2002. They signed a “Principles of Co-operation” Agreement which identified the importance of community involvement in the consideration of issues affecting Howe Sound and the need to “work together for the greater good because territorial lines on a map mean nothing in terms of sustainability”.
The Burnco mine proposal, if approved, will cause permanent, irreversible damage to a unique natural estuary that is home to at-risk species and will also endanger ongoing efforts to sustain marine biodiversity in Howe Sound. In addition, important jobs and significant economic activity and opportunity in recreational tourism and commercial fishery will be put at risk.
Community concerned about proposed industrial mine on the shores of Howe Sound
In order to stop the Burnco proposal and contribute to a rational planning process, a group of individuals and communities active in the Howe Sound area have formed the Future of Howe Sound Society. This is a not for profit society whose objective is to encourage community participation and develop an integrated planning approach for Howe Sound with a view to ensuring that the overall environmental sustainability of Howe Sound and the greater socio-economic impacts are considered when development proposals are put forward. Please join with us today to put a stop to Burnco’s incompatible proposal.
Further developments regarding the next steps in this review process and details of how to make your views known will be posted at futureofhowesound.org.
Troy Speedie is a director and Jeff Gau is a member of the Future of Howe Sound Society. They wrote this article in collaboration with other members of the society.