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Environmental groups seek protection from habitat destruction at pipeline site near Chilliwack

TMX contractors ‘cleared area of migratory, nesting birds and rare amphibians’ groups claim
Owls, salamanders and others at risk with habitat destruction expected near Bridal Falls with Trans Mountain pipeline construction. (Protect the Planet)

Three environmental groups are seeking protective action from the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) to safeguard endangered species and sensitive wetlands threatened by the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) construction at Bridal Falls near Chilliwack.

A notice of motion was fired off to the CER on Aug. 6, for what The Pipe Up Network and others allege is “illegal habitat destruction.”

The CER should be enforcing conditions of the expansion the environmentalists argue, but in the past decade, several Auditor General reports have confirmed “failures of enforcement” by the federal regulator.

“This small area is important for wildlife and people, and its value is even more crucial now that the neighbouring lands were clearcut,” said Lynn Perrin of the Pipe Up Network in a release.

In addition to nesting birds, the wetland area between Chilliwack and Popkum are home to amphibians such as the threatened coastal giant salamander.

“The area also has mature trees and rare species of plants, all crucial to threatened barn owls and other birds,” Perrin said.

A TMX official stressed last month the company strives to protect nesting birds and other species with mitigation efforts.

“Mitigation measures include the use of non-intrusive nest sweeps, and the establishment of species-specific buffer zones around active nests to ensure our construction activities have the least impact possible on nesting birds,” the TMX spokesperson told The Progress. “If nesting activity is identified during the surveys, a protective buffer is installed.”

But some complaints were also filed this spring about the impacts of land-clearing ahead of construction.

“Tran Mountain’s contractors cleared an area of migratory and nesting birds and rare amphibians in contravention of legislation,” said Peter Vranjkovic of Protect the Planet. “I filed a complaint with the CER about this on July 4, but am not optimistic anything will change.”

Part of the challenge is that the TMX pipeline is owned by the same people who control the energy regulator, he said.

“Our groups have hired independent biologists to determine what endangered species are on the site, but we have not been able to access the site because the site is covered by an injunction,” Vranjkovic said. “We were advised in writing yesterday by Trans Mountain that our independent biologists will not be allowed on site.”

Protect the Planet launched a petition last month asking B.C. Minister Katrine Conroy to rescind the permit given to Trans Mountain to salvage threatened coastal giant salamanders in the area – a technique only meant to be used as a last resort.

“The permit should not have been issued because it is not a last resort,” Vranjkovic said.

Their petition already has more than 600 signatures.

TMX contractors were set to clear the area between South Popkum Road and the Bridal Falls Forest Service Road but a local resident managed to have the work halted, then brought in the Community Nest Finding Network (CNFN) for further assistance. After CNFN located and documented active bird nests, a biologist was brought in to confirm their presence until the young birds fledge.

The existing pipeline runs through Chilliwack on the diagonal, crossing Highway 1 near Rosedale, and as it crosses Sardis it runs through the Kinkora Golf Course, crosses Vedder Road on Tzeachten land, then runs through the back schoolyards of Vedder Middle School and Watson Elementary School. The pipeline crosses the Vedder River east of the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve and runs under the Browne Creek Wetlands before continuing to Yarrow and to Abbotsford.

—with files from Paul Henderson

RELATED: Nesting woodpeckers put TMX on hold near Chilliwack

RELATED: Tree-clearing resumed after stop work order lifted

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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