Local environmentalists are criticizing the province’s $3-million plan to upgrade fish habitat in Metro Vancouver’s Colony Farm Regional Park to compensate for damage from building the new Port Mann Bridge and widening Highway 1.
Elaine Golds of the Burke Mountain Naturalists says Metro’s board shouldn’t have agreed May 27 to the construction of 80 hectares fish channels and ponds in the park’s Wilson Farm area.
“It’s very important bird habitat,” she said. “It’s more rare in the Lower Mainland than salmon streams.”
Golds said the park’s old field habitat supports short-eared owls, barred owls and great blue herons in winter.
Her group wanted the provincial government’s Transportation Investment Corp., which oversees the Highway 1 project, to find other sites where fish habitat can be improved without it coming at the cost of wildlife habitat.
“Under this plan, the birds lose and the fish win,” she said. “It shouldn’t be one versus the other. It pits the salmon supporters against the birders, which is not a good move in a public park.”
Colony Farm’s bird habitat once got upgrade money from federal authorities in compensation for the construction of Vancouver International Airport’s third runway.
“They’ve forgotten about that and now they’re piling on fish compensation work,” Golds said.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore in April persuaded the board to send staff back to press Victoria to look for better sites, adding Colony Farm may have been picked because it’s the easiest and cheapest option.
Metro officials say they took up the concerns with the TI Corp. but were told no other alternatives were possible.
The project needed quick approval in order for work to start this August when impacts to fish would be minimal.
Golds had suggested instead remediating an old dump site by the Coquitlam River and converting it to fish habitat.
But that was unworkable, according to a Metro report.
“DFO considers clean up of a contaminated site to be a high-risk activity that is likely to result in the release of contaminants to the aquatic environment,” it said.
Other sites along the Coquitlam River either had low value for salmon enhancement, a high risk for failure or didn’t meet DFO requirements for suitable compensation, the report said.
The TI Corp was required by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to provide 174,000 square metres of in-stream habitat and 441,000 square metres of streamside habitat to ensure no net loss from the project.
The work shouldn’t significantly alter public access to the park.
The former Wilson Farm was once an important wetland until it was diked for agriculture a century ago.