Burnaby council questions environmental process

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Stefania Seccia
Burnaby council expressed its serious concern over how the railway company responsible for the coal spill, is the same one organizing the environment impact study.

Leon Gous, director of engineering, updated council on the status of the CP train derailment that overturned seven cars, with three cars dumping about 40 tonnes of metallurgical coal along the embankment and into Silver Creek on CN’s rails on Jan. 11.

“Following the incident, coal from the derailed cars and the embankment area was removed and placed onto a tarped section on the north side of the rail tracks next to Government Road,” Gous states in his report. “All of the train cars were removed from the site and the damaged embankment was repaired using large rocks.”

As the railway lines belong to CN, it is responsible for the cleanup. The national company retained Triton Environmental Limited to assist in the development of a work plan. The data collected from a survey by Triton will be used to develop a draft response plan for coal recovery from the waterways, which will be submitted to the B.C. Ministry of Environment for its comments and approval.

And that is exactly what council is against.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said the company responsible for the spill should not be the one to hire the company to assess its impact.

“I’m concerned that the Ministry of Environment isn’t really taking the charge,” he said. “I’m not sure what we can do, I just raise the concern because I’m not overly comfortable with this being under the purview of CN to hire their contractor who’s going to be reporting on the environmental impact.”

The provincial ministry should hire an independent contractor to report back to the ministry, and then send the bill to the “polluters,” Dhaliwal said.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said he was also concerned, as most people are probably surprised that the company who did the damage is allowed to hire the company to advise how much money should be spent to undo the damage.

“That doesn’t make sense to most average people,” he said. “One would think you’d want the company to be independent and reporting to the Ministry of Environment on what the issues were that should be dealt with.”

Corrigan said Triton’s first duty is to the company that hired them.

“People suspect that they will be offering up a mitigation plan that will most support the company’s objectives, which are to minimize how much money it costs for them,” he said.

Corrigan noted that it’s difficult to determine if the advice from the lawyer of the company responsible for the damage is trustworthy.

“There’s a strange system going on here that seems to permeate (in) the federal government that in fact, it’s big business that will tell you not only what the regulation should be, but exactly how much they should pay and what they should pay if in fact they breached the regulations,” he said.

City staff has asked the B.C. ministry to include the following in its assessment and recovery plan: options on methodologies to use in recovering coal from Silver Creek, Burnaby Lake and Brunetter River; details on mitigation measures, which would be applied to reduce impacts to various to various species and life stages (salmon eggs, turtle hibernation, Nooksack Dace); details on monitoring a plan both during and post coal recovery; analysis of the impact to downstream habitats from the fine coal particulates; and details on how much coal was released and recovered.

“City staff has been closely monitoring the assessment phase,” Gous said.

Staff is expected to receive a draft of the recovery plan, and will continue to monitor the clean-up efforts.

What’s been done:
According to Burnaby’s director of engineering, Triton Environmental Limited has completed the following steps, which will lead to a draft response plan:

-Collected geo-referenced coordinates to identify areas where the coal has deposited in Silver Creek, Burnaby Lake and Brunette River;

-Characterized deposition areas based on particle size and thickness to assist in remediation planning;

-Outlined habitat characteristics in the channel, such as wetted width, channel width, substrate and cover; and

-Collected other relevant information to aid in formulating practical solutions for the removal of coal accumulations.

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