Transmission project harms the estuary

Last fall, I addressed the Massey transmission line issue on this blog. Electric power lines, secure in the tunnel in working condition, were to be junked. New lines would be suspended over the Fraser from towers 120 metres tall.

Beyond the trees, the rendering shows a grey 75-metre tower and red 120-metre tower for electric-power transmission lines to replace the ones in the George Massey Tunnel.

The effect would be massive clutter, with no evident benefits for Richmond. So Richmond council firmly objected.

But the BC government simply priced the power-line project at $76 million and prodded BC Hydro to go full speed ahead with it. Hydro did as told, even though the consultation guide had said it could start after bridge construction began, if need be.

That same BC government likes to describe how much Richmond has been consulted on this issue and related ones, but consultation without heeding is nothing.

So why the hurry? The Sun’s Vaughn Palmer thinks it’s because “Christy Clark promised after the last election that construction would be underway before the next one.”

It’s that and more. Near-ready towers before Election Day could give voters the impression it’s too late for a new government to revisit the Massey options.

For sure, speeded-up tower work makes it harder to build another tunnel tube beside the existing one, since the tower foundations would block the new-tube route on one side.

On the bright side, it may prompt voters thinking about the Massey project to realize that it’s a tunnel removal project. The key word is “removal.” The intent is to remove what the project has called “an impediment” to bigger ships going upriver and back.

Transporting LNG, they’d put residents of Richmond and Delta at risk with substandard LNG safety. And they’d transport Wyoming thermal coal, via Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD), that US ports refuse to handle.

FSD proposals require that the deep-sea ship channel be dredged to a depth of at least 13.5 metres. That’s at least two extra metres, which is a lot. Channel widening, with still more dredging, would be needed too.

The ecological effects of deep-dredging the 34-kilometre channel each year would be devastating, especially since several other ecologically risky projects are planned or in progress. Only the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project is getting a federal review.

In contrast, the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (FREMP) harmonized the estuary’s ecology, economic development and quality of life for twenty years, and it was bolstered by federal willingness to do environmental reviews.

Then, in 2013, the Harper government handed it over to Port Metro Vancouver, an agent of industrializing—and deadening—the Fraser. That typifies the problem.

The Trudeau government promised to fix the problem. We’ll see.

For now, moving a transmission line from the tunnel to towers may seem like a local detail, but keeping it in the tunnel would have welcome ripple effects for the estuary. And every battle matters in the Fraser’s fight for life.

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This article was also published as a “Digging Deep column” in the Richmond News, March 8, 2017.

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