Stephen Rees's blog

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

Plan for deeper dredging in Fraser River has high environmental price

with 5 comments

Steveston Ladner Canoe Pass and Mt Baker 2007_0710_1058

The story comes from Business in Vancouver and has a very even handed approach. I adapted their headline to be less even handed since I feel somewhat incensed by the behaviour of the Port Authority. As are the Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change. And it is also worth I think reframing this argument not so much about saving the planet as saving the place where we live from the inevitable consequences. It is not that dredging of the Fraser “may” reduce the protection provided by the wetlands. The mechanism described by Michael Church is readily apparent. The Port of course chooses to ignore it.

The problem is that the Port Authority has a very limited remit and no responsibility at all to the community within which it operates. The current Board’s view is that they only have to satisfy the “stakeholders” of whom the port businesses are about the only ones that get any attention. In exactly the same way the business in general is dealing with climate change – hoping it will go away or someone else will solve it cheaply and at public rather than business expense, all the while ensuring the greatest possible rate of return on capital employed for the shareholders rather than the stakeholders. It is this fundamental misconception – that the economy is somehow more important than the environment – that is the heart of the problem. A different kind of government in Ottawa could easily change this perception. We  – the people of Canada – are in fact the shareholders of the Port. But our government – at all levels – chooses to ignore that and places the interest of short term financial profits above all else. Including the impact of tidal surges on the population of Richmond, where urban development was allowed against all common sense and the regional plan.

This blog has often commented on the port and Richmond. When I lived there I felt personally threatened. No I no longer live there its a more academic exercise – but I still feel that we ought to have public agencies that are acutely conscious of their broader responsibilities. A business like approach is NOT appropriate in any Public Corporation. That is why it is in the public sector, not the private. If all that mattered was profit, then it could be privatized. But even our right wing governments realize that there are public interests in controlling the operations of ports – and all the other kinds of transportation and its associated infrastructure.

It is hardly surprising now that people here do not see the decision to downgrade the protection afforded to whales not as scientifically driven (when has the Harper Government ever paid any attention to science?) but as a spectacularly inept gift to the oil for export lobby. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics? On the other hand they have finally decided to something about DOT111 tank cars: what a shame it took the deaths of so many people fo force them into action. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? I would take that approach to dredging deeper in the Fraser. If for no other reason than every dredging operation I have been in touch with was always temporary – since each time you dredge a hole it fills up again. As any kid with a bucket and spade at the beach will tell you.

5 Responses

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  1. We all know why, Harper took the Humpback Whales off the endangered list. Harper is going to force the Enbridge pipeline through. Humpback Whales have the most ship strikes, than all the other Whales. Hence, the Humpback Whales are again threatened.

    A world standing on a precipice.
    Feb 9/2014

    At what point will common sense trump greed?

    It is as they say. Man is the most destructive animal on earth. And, the most stupid one’s at that.


    April 23, 2014 at 11:34 am

  2. Most of the world’s major religions elevate human beings above all else and take the approach that the earth exists so that mankind can exploit it. Many are taught that we have been granted the divine right to do whatever we wish to this world, that sins are eventually forgiven and that there is a true paradise waiting for us at the end of our time here on earth. With teachings like that how is the environment supposed to survive?

    It’s possible that there’s nothing wrong with killing a bunch of whales or owls or a dozen species of plants and fungi in the name of progress.

    It’s also possible that we were supposed to use our brains to learn how our actions affect the world around us and adjust accordingly.


    April 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm

  3. The environmental impact of further dredging of the Fraser is something I had mentioned here but could not elaborate further…so I am glad to see the issue get some light here…

    PS the transit modal share of 11% mentioned in the linked post as since been confirmed by the own Translink study on the Massey tunnel (remember that the Province was stating a fantasist number of 26% …to explain we can’t do better…alas too many journalists, advocy groups, urbanistas, transit advocates… take the Province words as Gospel…it is a sin. may God forgive them…)


    April 23, 2014 at 10:09 pm

  4. The timing alone is terrible, but when they have a secure parliamentary majority, and the polls trending once again in their favour, what do they care about optics?

    A May 5th update from, averaging of several nation-wide polls shows that the Conservatives are still mired below the Liberals in most jurisdictions including, surprisingly, BC. This has been the trend since The Kid was elected Liberal leader.


    Liberal : 35.3%
    Conservative: 29.5%
    NDP: 22.2%
    Green: 5.9%


    Liberal: 33.5%
    Conservative: 28.2%
    NDP: 23.3%
    Green: 13.0%


    May 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

  5. Dr. Church was a prof of mine the 80s. I’m quite surprised he’s still around, but he certainly had a lot of respect and a wealth of knowledge. He’s inclined more to the technical aspects of Urban Geography, so I wonder why he didn’t get into engineering.

    His comments should be heeded by all, because they will certainly be replicated in future if massive dredging for a coal port goes ahead and Richmond ultimately floods from eroded dikes as the result.

    I had no idea that another 2,500 acres of ALR land will be industrialized in addition to the Delta Port project at Tsawwassen. That is 2 ½ Stanley Parks. With the deep California drought entering its third year with no end in sight, therein threatening agricultural exports, the Fraser Valley will become increasingly vital for food production for our own population. Most people don’t realize how tenuous our food supply chain is and seem not to be able to read the “Imported from…” tags when they buy produce. They will complain when the prices go up, but I doubt they will see the conection.


    May 16, 2014 at 1:54 pm

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