Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The Environmental Assessment Process

with 3 comments

The Livable Region Coalition held a press conference this morning about our views on the EA for Highway 1 expansion and the Port Mann twinning. You can probably catch up with what we said on CBC (Michael Mortensen got a minute or so of air time on the 6 o’clock news), CityTV or (maybe) the local press later- but to get a more complete picture go to the LRC web page.


(l to r) Michael Mortensen (land use) Me (transportation demand forecast) Pamela Zevit (biology) Eric Doherty (CBA GHG)

At about the same time the Gateway sent me its latest Community Update on the Pitt River Bridge and Mary Hill Interchange. It includes a project schedule which shows that construction started before they got final environmental approval. I suppose I should not be surprised. The EA process in BC is not actually much of a process at all. They do not really expect anyone to actually take it seriously.


Of course, as a responsible transportation and regional planner, I do have to take it seriously, and the LRC has done a fine job of reviewing the material that the province has presented to the EAO. But if this was say, a class assignment, at a community college perhaps, I would simply give it back and suggest that the deadline for submission be extended so that the submitters could actually produce something worth looking at. The bits that I read were bad enough, but pretty much what I expected. If you start out with a ludicrous assumption – that you can double the size of the freeway and have absolutely no effect on land use or the overall number of vehicle trips – then the results are pretty much pointless.

But to have the province state that the Ministry of Transport cannot do what the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency requires – provide a comparison with a realistic alternative i.e. transit – because it has “no control over transit” beggars belief. This is the same outfit after all that is replacing an elected board by an appointed one at Translink, will be funding Rapid Bus once the new project is opened (whooppee!) but has also decided to put in gates on SkyTrain and the Canada Line using yet another P3! Who do think they are kidding?

And for the natural environment they seem to have been equally slipshod: identifying land as available for mitigation which is already in use for mitigation of earlier expansion, ignoring identified species at risk, cherry picking from earlier comprehensive reports. Pamela Zevit called it “etch a sketch” planning: you simply shake the box, erase all that was done before and proceed as if nothing had happened.

It is, quite simply, Not Good Enough. You will have to do better Mr Falcon.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 13, 2007 at 3:12 pm

3 Responses

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  1. The purpose of an environmental assessment is to determine whether the impacts of the proposed project is aceptable – not to determine whether an alternate wholly different project would provide a “better” alternative.

    The scope of the project is up to the project proponent, whether public or private. In the case of a public project – the decision as to the scope or nature of the project is a political one – but that’s not within the scope of the environemntal assessment.
    Only if the environmental impacts are unacceptable and cannot be mitigated – then the project is rejected (or voluntarily withdrawn) and the proponent is sent back to the drawing board and would then consider alternatives.

    i.e. If a proponent applies for approval for a thermal co-generation plant at a pulp mill, you don’t evaluate whether a windmill farm would provide more environmentally friendly source of power. You examine whether the impacts of the proposed projects are acceptable or not, based on health and safety and impact s to the environment for the project proposed.

    Of course that sets a high threshold, but projects do get withdrawn where it becomes clear to the proponent that approval is not forthcoming.

    ron c.

    November 13, 2007 at 4:36 pm

  2. “The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency … has directed the BC Ministry of Transportation to consider alternatives to the proposed freeway expansion to ‘ensure that the proponent of this large infrastructure project has shown due diligence in planning the project .” Source: LRC Backgrounder on Alternatives

    The BC legislation sets a remarkably low threshold – and there seems to be very little to ensure that the promised mitigation is done properly or maintained. The proponent in this case is claiming that the project will produce an outcome better than before – but has absolutely no credible evidence for that claim

    Stephen Rees

    November 13, 2007 at 4:59 pm

  3. That’s interesting – that sounds like the Feds are trying to micromanage the Province.

    Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, there is a provision that, with respect to comprehensive studies, requires consideration of:

    “(b) alternative means of carrying out the project that are technically and economically feasible and the environmental effects of any such alternative means;”

    However, the act defines the term “project” in terms of the proposed physical work, and “project” essentially refers to the construction and operation, atc. of the proposed physical work, not alternatives to the physical work.

    So the above section means “alternative means of carrying out the [physical structure of the highway]” and not “alternative means of carrying out the [movement of people]. Here’s the defintion:

    “project” means

    (a) in relation to a physical work, any proposed construction, operation, modification, decommissioning, abandonment or other undertaking in relation to that physical work, or

    (b) any proposed physical activity not relating to a physical work that is prescribed or is within a class of physical activities that is prescribed pursuant to regulations made under paragraph 59(b);

    ron c.

    November 14, 2007 at 11:49 am

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