Concerns about TMX work during salmon spawning season

A Hope resident believes Trans Mountain work in the Coquihalla River is stressing and killing salmon migrating through. Monika Gul reports the company says it’s doing everything by the book and the DFO says it’s found no wrongdoing.

Kate Tairyan walks along the Coquihalla River, steps away from her home in Hope, almost every day. But what she’s been seeing in the water this month, has left her feeling dismayed.

“On that first day, I counted about a dozen dead fish as I was going closer to the construction site,” she told CityNews.

Trans Mountain is currently installing the expansion project pipeline and replacing a segment of the existing pipeline under the river. Tairyan believes this work is stressing — and sometimes, killing — migrating salmon during an early spawning season, one which fishers have said is the best in 40 years.

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“The B.C. wild salmon population is declining, and putting such a pressure on [them] during the run, [their] spawning season, is so wrong to do,” the Protect the Planet volunteer said.

Tairyan’s not the only one who has concerns about the consequences of the pipeline construction on salmon populations.

Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance, told CityNews that he thought “we were well past” having machinery operating in or near rivers when salmon are spawning.

“That’s the kind of horror stories you heard from back in the 60s and 70s in logging. And here we are, 40, 50 years later, and for some reason, somehow, it’s licensed to occur. It just does not make sense,” he said.

B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman says he’s heard the concerns and has asked the appropriate regulators to investigate.

“We have urged the federal government, including DFO and the Canada Energy Regulator, to fully investigate these complaints and take appropriate action to protect wild salmon and BC waterways if any wrongdoing is found,” he said.

But in a statement to CityNews, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says during visits to the site on Monday and Tuesday, staff saw work being done in compliance with conditions, juvenile fish being removed from a side channel and outside the construction area, and no barriers to fish passage.

“All works were in compliance with conditions of the applicable Fisheries Act authorization,” DFO told CityNews.

Chamberlin says too often he witnesses “mitigation,” regardless of what the project is.

“And mitigation means they’re [going to] destroy things and pretend to do something else in its place. And that’s the kind of mindset we have to overcome in 2022,” he said.

But the company also says it’s doing everything by the book.

Trans Mountain says it’s in compliance, telling CityNews in a statement that all work being undertaken is in compliance with Canada Energy Regulator-approved Environmental Protection Plans, as well as permits issued by the DFO and BC Oil and Gas Commission.

“Great care is taken to preserve the environmental features around the river, such as the wildlife and aquatic habitat provided within the riparian zone. During the crossing of the Coquihalla River, diversion pumps are also being used to reduce flow through the excavation area and water monitoring is taking place throughout the construction process,” the oil company wrote.

“After the pipes are installed, the stream will be returned to the natural flow path and the site will be reclaimed to its original condition with additional bed and bank flood protection,” it continued.

Both Tairyan and Chamberlin aren’t so sure.

“Hear that phrase ‘do everything by the book and regulation.’ I mean, we have to arrive at a new definition of sustainability,” Chamberlin said.

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