During this last cold stretch in February, I would admit to spending a few more hours indoors rather than outdoors. Perhaps it was that my warm space heater or a hot coffee had more appeal that the bitter north wind. Even though remaining indoors was pleasant enough, my thoughts drifted back to my naturalist beginnings and to the future of my special places in this valley.
They all began on a rocky hilltop park near my family home in Victoria.
While visiting Victoria this past Christmas, I returned to this same park where I spent endless amounts of time as a young naturalist. I used to explore hidden trails in the underbrush, spy on quail and towhees as they pronounced their springtime vigor, and marveled at the lush wildflowers of Camas and White Fawn Lilies. Today, the park is but a shadow of what it once was. The wild oak forest with its abundance of open spaces, scrub forest, and rocky viewpoints has been minimized by monolithic housing developments. As a young person, it never occurred to me that this special place and its natural inhabitants might one day be diminished or gone.
When I moved to Kitmat some 36 years ago, I had the same feeling. There was so much forest, lake, stream and channel waters. They seemed inexhaustible. They would be here forever – pure and pristine. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call regarding our local Pine Creek. In the flurry of LNG excitement, drawings on display at Riverlodge showed a gas pipelines traversing Pine Creek.
Did no one seem to know there was a legal covenant on Pine Creek, protecting in perpetuity, a 60 m zone along both sides of the creek? In 2006, the creek and surrounding old growth forest was forever saved from the saw, guaranteeing that fish, birds, bears and even butterflies would have a safe refuge, clear water, and open air spaces. The short, two km loop trail allowed all human visitors free access to see truly large trees and watch salmon spawning in the autumn.
A meeting with TransCanada pipeline was arranged and the terms of the covenant were explained. The value of Pine Creek to both the wildlife and the community was explained. The pipeline planners listened. Reasonable alternatives were put forward and it now seems the pipeline route has been diverted around the creek watershed leaving the covenanted land alone.
Pine Creek, however, is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We are now faced with an unimaginable threat to the Kitimat River and 60 km of pristine shoreline along Douglas Channel. The tankers and freighters that have navigated our waters for years are about to be dwarfed by some of the largest vessels in the world. Most will be tankers, specifically built to carry LNG and oil.
Not oil, however, as we see on the TV as it surges out of wells in the Arabian desert. Rather, the proposed pipeline and tankers will ship bitumen, the product we see being dug out of the ground in northern Alberta.
Fast forward to February 14 of this year. The front page of the Northern Sentinel carried a story about a proposed refinery. Mr. Black, the refinery proponent, spoke of a bitumen spill.
“It would be pretty awful,” and worse than the Exxon Valdez,” he is quoted as saying. “And even if we did know where it went (in the water column) we couldn’t get it back up.”
Bitumen is not your average, everyday oil product. And as Mr. Black relayed, it is pretty awful and not something anyone would want in any of our drinking water, waterways or ocean shorelines.
To me, this is like visiting the park near my Victoria family home. How did the park become so small, so insignificant, and lost to the local residents. It happened, at least in part, because the developer won the day with the municipal council. They were somehow convinced a dozen or two more homes were more important than preserving a piece of irreplaceable parkland.
Does this also have to happen here? Will we put at risk or even lose the very part of our landscape and waterways here that makes this valley special and even unique? The answer is no, provided enough of us say ‘no’ to moving bitumen products throughout our valley or along Douglas Channel.