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Trans Mountain pipeline work destroyed salmon habitat, scientist says

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Work on a Trans Mountain pipeline crossing in a British Columbia stream has destroyed salmon habitat, raising concerns about the Crown corporation’s ability to build infrastructure through waterways if the expansion project proceeds, a scientist says.

Mike Pearson says the “amateur hour” work on the Stewart Creek crossing in Chilliwack will reduce food sources for coho and chum salmon and limit their ability to hide from predators. The fish are part of the diet of endangered southern resident killer whales.

“There was no consideration given whatsoever to the habitat, which is just not acceptable,” said Pearson, a biologist with 30 years’ experience, in an interview.

Concrete blocks exposed

Trans Mountain Corp. filed documents with the National Energy Board showing its plans to cover exposed pipe in Fraser Valley creek. It wrote that it would place concrete mats in the channel, extending about eight metres upstream and nine metres downstream of the exposed line, and cover it with small stones.

Pearson said the work was completed in August to September of last year. He visited the site in December and took photos that he says show most of the stones have been swept away by currents, leaving the concrete blocks exposed.

“The work has degraded habitat in several ways,” he wrote in an assessment filed with the energy board by intervener Yarrow Ecovillage.

The Trans Mountain pipeline crossing in Stewart Creek in Chilliwack, B.C., on Dec. 12, 2018 in this handout photo. (Mike Pearson/The Canadian Press/HO)

The smooth, hard concrete provides no hiding places for salmon, supports very few of the aquatic invertebrates they feed on, inhibits plant growth and prevents fish from burying their eggs, the document says.

Pearson believes it’s not an isolated incident. An assessment he did of a pipeline creek crossing on Sumas Mountain in 2015 for Pipe Up Network, an anti-pipeline group, concluded the site was physically unstable and reconstructed with materials inappropriate to restoring habitat.

A stream-keeper has also raised concerns about excavation at Trans Mountain’s terminal in Burnaby. John Preissl has filed several complaints with the energy board alleging the work has caused sediment to fall into two salmon-bearing creeks.

Federal and provincial officials inspected the terminal in April and found improperly installed sediment and erosion control measures. A follow-up energy board report concluded Trans Mountain had fixed the problems by the end of November.

Trans Mountain responds

Trans Mountain said in a statement that the BC Oil and Gas Commission approved its Stewart Creek work and found no issues in site inspections during and after construction.

It said a third-party engineer designed the plan to protect the exposed line and conducted a study to ensure it would not impede fish passage. Environmental plans were created and work was monitored full-time by a qualified environmental professional, it said.

As for Pearson’s 2015 criticism of the Sumas Mountain crossing, Trans Mountain said an independent environmental consultant completed an assessment and made a management plan. The work was monitored by an environmental professional and the oil and gas commission found no issues.

It also said “extensive” sediment control measures and mitigation efforts are in place at its Burnaby terminal.

An aerial view of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain marine terminal, in Burnaby, B.C., is shown on Tuesday, May 29, 2018. John Preissl, a stream-keeper, has lodged several complaints with the National Energy Board saying excavation work by Trans Mountain has caused sediment to fall into two salmon-bearing creeks. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The corporation added that field crews investigated all potential watercourse crossings for its expansion project even before it applied to the energy board for approval.

“The information gleaned from this fieldwork allows us to avoid or minimize impact to fish and fish habitat during pipeline construction,” it said, adding environmental inspectors will monitor construction.

10 conditions relate to fish

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has purchased the pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion.

The expansion would triple the capacity of the existing line that runs from the Edmonton area to Burnaby. The energy board completed its first review in 2016 and recommended the government approve the project with 157 conditions.

In its report, the board wrote the watercourse crossing plans “would effectively reduce the extent of effects on fish and fish habitat.”

Ten conditions relate to fish, including that the company must file details on the presence of fish and fish habitat with the board before starting construction on watercourse crossings.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government purchased the pipeline and expansion, says he is still committed to building the Trans Mountain expansion project. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Most of the conditions are “a plan to make a plan,” argued Eugene Kung, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

“They don’t have any actual measurable effect on the outcome.”

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the project’s approval in August in part due to the board’s failure to consider marine shipping impacts. The government ordered the board to conduct a new review looking at this issue and produce a report by Feb. 22.

Evidence filed late

Scientists and environmentalists say the new review, which is limited to 12 nautical miles off B.C.’s coast, is neglecting the streams and rivers that support salmon.

Board spokesman James Stevenson said it will consider all evidence on the record relevant to assessing impacts of project-related marine shipping, including but not limited to impacts on southern resident killer whales.

“Some parties have filed evidence regarding (southern resident) prey, including salmon,” he said.

The board rejected Pearson’s evidence because Yarrow Ecovillage filed it nine days after a December deadline, but the board noted the evidence “may have some relevance as it pertains to salmon, which is a food source of the (southern residents).”

Chinook salmon comprise roughly 80 per cent of southern resident orca diet in the summer, but chum, coho and steelhead trout make up about 14 to 18 per cent, and little is known of their winter diet, said Pearson in his filing with the energy board.

Paul Spong, founder of Orca Lab research station on Vancouver Island, said chum are the whales’ second choice after chinook, adding that starvation is the biggest threat to their survival.

“Anything that interferes with salmon using river systems is detrimental to the orcas.”

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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DFO tries to allay fishermen’s fears that protected area would impact livelihood

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The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring “No Marine Protected Area Here!”

It’s a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.

The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.

The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.

“We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA,” said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.

A “No Marine Protected Area Here!” sign is seen along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. (Robert Short/CBC)

Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.

The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.

“The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It’s a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it’s not necessary to have a no-take,” Williams said in an interview.

“We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone.”

Fishermen seek assurances

But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.

“You have to remember this is deathbed conversion,” he said.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.

He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams’s promise.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Peter Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I want to know the mechanism that he’s going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations,” said Connors. “I don’t want a trust me proposition and I don’t want a temporary reprieve … just because they are facing a lot of opposition now.”

Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help “Canada’s brand” from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

‘Give and take’

Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.

Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.

“Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard,” said Fuller.

“For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take.”

While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.

“Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we’re looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn’t. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way,” she said.

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