A BNSF train rolls north along the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s waterfront tracks Jan. 30, past one of the slides that reader Erik Seiz photographed that same day. (Erik Seiz photo)

BNSF offers to discuss railway’s debris-clearing ‘practices’

DFO ‘looking into’ South Surrey complaints

BNSF Railway has offered to review its practices for clearing landslide debris that impacts its rail line through South Surrey with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas confirmed to Peace Arch News this week that the offer was made following word of complaints to DFO that followed recent landslide activity.

“We’re aware of the reports,” Melonas said, of claims the railway had dumped debris including mud, boulders and trees onto the Semiahmoo foreshore.

“BNSF has requested a tour with Fisheries and Oceans and are planning this further… to discuss practices.”

DFO communications adviser Janine Malikian confirmed to PAN via email that the agency has fielded “a number” of complaints regarding the issue.

In a letter to the editor published by Peace Arch News March 30, writer Don Pitcairn claims BNSF dumped “tonnes of waste” onto the South Surrey shoreline – debris he said had been excavated from the tracks after “multiple mudslides.”

Describing the amount as equal to 12 dump-truck loads of fill, Pitcairn calls for the railway to be “held accountable,” and notes the issue was reported to multiple agencies, including DFO and BNSF.

Melonas acknowledged that two “blocking events” sent debris onto the shoreline – including one triggered by by someone dumping material above BNSF property – but denied the allegation that BNSF dumped it there.

“We have not placed debris on the public shore. We have retained the debris on BNSF property,” he said.

Typically, past practice – in place “for decades,” Melonas said – is to place such debris on top of rip rap adjacent to the track. Mother Nature, he said, does the rest.

“There are cases where the weathering will… wash it away,” he said.

“It will basically be washed away, just by the tidal action.”

Melonas said he couldn’t speculate if the DFO tour would lead to a change in BNSF practices.

Malikian emphasized that DFO is not conducting an investigation, noting that incorrect information was published in Vancouver media last week.

“DFO’s Fisheries Protection Program is aware of the deposits and is looking into the matter further to address concerns regarding the impacts these works may be having on the potential sand lance and surf smelt breeding habitat in the area,” she said.

She noted that under the Fisheries Act, projects near water must “avoid causing serious harm to fish unless authorized by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.” As well, that “all debris and/or deleterious substances” generated by such works “should be appropriately disposed of in accordance with all applicable legislation, guidelines, and best management practices.”

At the same time, a ‘Request for Review’ is not required under law.

BNSF has not submitted a ‘Request for Review,’ Malikian said.

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