A Fraser Valley-based conservation group has lodged a formal complaint with the College of Applied Biology over a Trans Mountain biologist’s role in the installation of matting to discourage salmon from spawning at stream sites where the company plans pipeline crossings.
In the official written complaint, WaterWealth program director Ian Stephen quotes a Trans Mountain blog post of Sept. 12, 2017, that reads: “Trans Mountain fisheries biologist Calum Bonnington and his team are temporarily installing snow fencing flat down onto some sections of streambed that are intersected by the pipeline construction right-of-way and sections immediately downstream.”
The letter adds: “Among quotes of the biologist Bonnington in the blog are that the technique is ‘a relatively new mitigative method’ and ‘a relatively new science, without a body of supporting evidence for its success.’”
Stephen asserts in the letter that “this apparently unproven spawning deterrent method” was applied to eight streams, one in Alberta and seven in B.C., that Trans Mountain considered to have a high “fish habitat sensitivity rating” in documents filed with the National Energy Board.
Among the fish species with conservation concerns found in those rivers are bull trout, chinook salmon, and Interior Fraser River coho salmon.
In addition, Stephen writes, the snow fencing was “installed prior to completion of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project’s pre-construction conditions” under both NEB and B.C. environmental assessment certificates, and prior to approval of the route of the project by NEB. “It seems safe to assume that under these circumstances there could have been no application for approvals under the Water Sustainability Act.”
WaterWealth seeks an investigation and disciplinary action.
Ali Hounsell, spokesperson for Trans Mountain, said in response that the company’s team was installing preventive measures “aimed at protecting spawning fish” and that the use of “spawning deterrents ahead of migration periods” is one tool to build the pipeline in a way that minimizes impact on the environment.
According to the company’s website, Bonnington is a “registered professional biologist who leads the team that will look after watercourse crossings” for the pipeline expansion project, which extends from Alberta to Burnaby. Bonnington started as a marine biologist in New Zealand, but converted to freshwater fish after coming to Canada 12 years ago.
On Oct. 12, NEB wrote Trans Mountain to confirm that compliance and enforcement staff have determined that installation of the “spawning deterrents prior to approval of relevant conditions for commencement of construction and approval” was non-compliant.
The NEB noted that the removal of the spawning deterrents while “fish remain actively spawning … has the potential to result in greater environmental harm” and that Trans Mountain should remove them as appropriate.
The federal regulatory agency added: “The board will hold Trans Mountain accountable for its performance during the construction and operation of this project, including full compliance with all regulatory requirements and commitments.”
Stephen said in an interview from Chilliwack on Monday that the affected streams in B.C. are located in the Valemount area, and include Swift Creek, Camp Creek, Serpentine Creek, Chappell Creek, and three crossings of Albreda River.
The complaint comes on the heels of the provincial NDP government announcing in August it is reviewing the system of professional reliance created under the former Liberal government.
Under the controversial system, the government, rather than use its own experts, relies in large part on the advice of professionals such as biologists and foresters employed by companies seeking project approvals.