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This alarming info came to me and I thought you should all be aware. Please call, write to, or email MOE demanding reinstatement of scientific advisor's to the Fraser river gravel extraction project.

Overview

Following from the various recent articles in the Chilliwack Progress
sent to me by Chris Gadsden, I feel the need to clarify what is now
happening in regards to the gravel removal situation on the Fraser for
the upcoming 2008 winter season, contrary to the positions by the
various levels of governments.

In part, the issue constitutes gross interference of technical and
scientific staff by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment MOE
executive, and specifically the Deputy Minister. The Deputy Minister
herself just recently directly removed the habitat scientist/biologist
from the Fraser Gravel Technical Committee, Ross Neuman, for being, in
the words of the executive, "obstructive". That is, the political agenda
of giving access to local gravel interests in the upper Fraser Valley
was not being achieved because this civil servant was doing his job and
providing science-based information on ecosystem values and risks to
that ecosystem that would occur as a result of a project, so she got rid
of him. In short, his information strongly showed that this site should
not be mined based on the available information, and she ordered his
removal from the committee in order to silence him.

As the result of this muzzling of the MOE scientist, there is now the
very real chance of the undertaking of the largest single-site
river-gravel mine in the history of western Canada. This project, should
it go ahead, will cause extensive ecological damage at a location in
lower Herrling Island channel on the Fraser River. The impacts of this
project will be expansive to this location's habitat complexity and
biodiversity, and, what is equally important to note, the removal of
which will provide trivial or no known significant benefits for flood
protection.

While it is not known how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will
still respond to this issue (the decision is to be made prior to January
1, 2008), this project is now back on the table as an option for winter
2008 subsequent to Mr Neuman's removal from the Gravel Technical
Committee.

I point out that this interference of its scientists and technicians by
the MOE executive has been a common theme in recent years, particularly
in respect to Fraser River Gravel Removal, but certainly not confined to
gravel issues.
 

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This is the complete post from another site,

"Overview

Following from the various recent articles in the Chilliwack Progress, I feel the need to clarify what is now happening in regards to the gravel removal situation on the Fraser for the upcoming 2008 winter season, contrary to the positions by the various levels of governments.

In part, the issue constitutes gross interference of technical and scientific staff by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment MOE executive, and specifically the Deputy Minister. The Deputy Minister herself just recently directly removed the habitat scientist/biologist from the Fraser Gravel Technical Committee, Ross Neuman, for being, in the words of the executive, “obstructive”. That is, the political agenda of giving access to local gravel interests in the upper Fraser Valley was not being achieved because this civil servant was doing his job and providing science-based information on ecosystem values and risks to that ecosystem that would occur as a result of a project, so she got rid of him. In short, his information strongly showed that this site should not be mined based on the available information, and she ordered his removal from the committee in order to silence him.

As the result of this muzzling of the MOE scientist, there is now the very real chance of the undertaking of the largest single-site river-gravel mine in the history of western Canada. This project, should it go ahead, will cause extensive ecological damage at a location in lower Herrling Island channel on the Fraser River. The impacts of this project will be expansive to this location’s habitat complexity and biodiversity, and, what is equally important to note, the removal of which will provide trivial or no known significant benefits for flood protection.

While it is not known how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will still respond to this issue (the decision is to be made prior to January 1, 2008), this project is now back on the table as an option for winter 2008 subsequent to Mr Neuman’s removal from the Gravel Technical Committee.

I point out that this interference of its scientists and technicians by the MOE executive has been a common theme in recent years, particularly in respect to Fraser River Gravel Removal, but certainly not confined to gravel issues.


Project Extent

At issue is a proposal for an extremely large gravel extraction (420,000 cubic meters) from the Fraser River in the Gravel Reach at a single location in the lower Herrling Island channel near Rosedale at Chilliwack, and this work is expected to be initiated starting January 2008. This proposal follows from the multi-agency 2004 LRMB and DFO agreement to remove ~0.5 million cubic metres of gravel from the Fraser River each year for several years ostensibly for flood protection. Following from the very large fish kill (c.a. 2-3 million fish) in 2006, which was directly vetted by DFO when a large causeway was authorized and built at Big Bar near Rosedale, and largely dewatered a substantial spawning bed, the 2007 removals were limited. Regardless, the agencies are back with a vengeance for this upcoming year attempting to remove any or all gravel that is “economic” to local interests regardless of habitat values. It is important to note again that the lower Herrling Island project appears to constitute the largest single-site removal of aggregate from a stream ever in British Columbia. And it is important to note that we do not object to grave removel fro flood protection per se, there is little scientific or engineering information justifying the lower Herrling project from either a flood control or gravel removal perspective, or providing the protection, mitigation or compensation for damaged and destroyed fish habitat under Section 35 of the Canada Fisheries Act, its policies (no-net-loss) or the requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The rationale for these statement are below and follow from the provision by the outgoing Gravel Technical Chair, Trish Sterloff, who provided access to all of the available relevant documents for this and other proposed sites on the Fraser for 2008 .


Fluvial Geomorphology (River Form)

The siting of this location at lower Herrling Island has no scientific justification from a river geography perspective. The available information provided to the Technical Gravel Committee was minimal, to say the least. The fluvial geomorphology (river geography) report, specific to gravel removal options in the Gravel Reach, for the lower Herrling Island site has a sum total of three and one-half paragraphs of analysis. Furthermore, the fluvial geomorphological report provides absolutely no evidence that the channel itself is a zone of significant recruitment, or erosion, of gravel in addition to the fact that the general sub-reach of the Fraser River at the head of this channel and immediately downstream is already a zone of substantial erosion based on earlier UBC work.


Hydraulic Modelling

Hydraulic modelling by the engineering profession is the basis for determining if the removal of gravel from a river is warranted from a flood-profile perspective. However, the hydraulic modelling at this site provides an even more absurd picture; that is, the benefits to taking out this large amount are trivial in reducing the flood elevation. Remarkably the hydraulic engineers recommend twice the volume of gravel as suggested by the fluvial geomorphs, a significant conflict in opinion. Even more astonishing is the fact that in 2004 the same hydraulic engineering company that was hired to design the 2008 lower Herrling removal was adamant that this site not be mined due to erosion and stabiltiy concerns. Added to this, the 2004 engineering report by the same company explicitly stated that side channels were poor locations for mining given that the hydraulic benefits resulting from side-channel extratinos are almost negligible.

It is important to recognize what the change in flood profile will be as a result of this extraction. The maximum modelled water surface reduction will only be 10-15 cm (i.e., 4-6 inches) and only in conjunction with a series of other extremely large removals, which the engineers did not adequately clarify when recommending this site. This small amount of flood profile reduction must be taken into context when one realizes that the normal range in discharge from low winter flows to peak-design flood (17,000 cubic meters per second) at lower Herrling Island is 7 to 8 meters.

I will point out as well, and very importantly, there has never been a definitive demonstration that this area of the river has had an historic increase or decrease in flood profile over the last 50 years as a function of erosion or deposition at this sub reach.


Habitat Impacts

Despite the limited amount of sampling that has taken place here at lower Herrling Island over the years, all indications are that it is an exceptionally bio-diverse and habitat- rich part of the Fraser River. Side channels in the Gravel Reach of the Fraser River are known to be nursery and rearing and spawning areas for fish during all stages of discharge when the stream is wetted, and the morphology of this site appears to have exceptional attributes based on the slope, sediment size, lateral diversity and accumulations of vegetation and large-woody debris. In particular, side channels like the lower Herrling Island channel are refugia for fish during the high-spring freshets. It is also highly likely that this channel is a sturgeon spawning habitat based on its configuration (sturgeon have only been found to use large side channels during freshet in the Gravel Reach below Laidlaw).

I have personally sampled the lower Herrling Channel over a limited number of times and always found it to be diverse with respect to the variety of species and quantum of fish at any given sampling session. A video demonstrating the rich biodiversity of the lower Herrling Channel was entered as expert witness evidence in the Cheam gravel court case in the early part of the decade, to demonstrate how important these habitats are. In particular, juvenile Chinook extensively use these habitats.

Thus, the proposed extraction of gravel from the lower Herrling Channel, given the site's exceptional habitat diversity, complexity and richness, is the biological equivalent, for the Fraser River Gravel Reach, of running a D9 Caterpillar tractor down the center of the spawning beds of the Adams River. That is, it is astonishingly and profoundly destructive.

However, the Environmental Plan, written by a biological consultant hired to provide design and protection relative to the habitat impacts of the 420,000 cubic metres, provides virtually no assessment of the habitat capacity, biodiversity, or species utilization over the flow regime. The two field sessions at this site reported in the Plan document assessed a minuscule portion of the habitats at a narrow range of discharges and the reporting of the assessment is largely incomplete; the whole exercise must have taken less than an hour of field time each for an impact that is expected to exceed 20 hectares. Furthermore, there is no indication that the Environmental Plan report was even written by a Registered Professional Biologist of the College of RPBios in British Columbia. The comic book-level of science and childish quality of the Environmental Plan report is a stunning testament to the refusal of the agencies to require a rigorous assessment of the impacts associated with these types of projects.


Agency Response – Technical Committee

The core group that has responsibility for assessing the impacts and benefits associated with gravel removal on the Fraser River is the Gravel Technical Committee. This committee is comprised of a number of individuals from a variety of different agencies including an engineer and a biologist each from the Fraser River Habitat Management Unit of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Environmental Stewardship Section of the Ministry of the Environment. This committee reports to a Gravel Management Committee comprised of various management staff of the various agencies. This committee, in turn, reports to the executive.

The MOE habitat person was represented by Mr. Ross Neuman, a long-time staff member of the ministry and a highly experienced biologist and scientist. I note as well that Mr. Neuman is not one to make statements of hyperbole, nor is considered to be radical within the ranks of the staff of the Environmental Stewardship Section of the Ministry.

Over the last several months the lower Herrling Island proposal had been repeatedly objected to by the two DFO staff and the MOE biologist on the Gravel Technical Committee based on the lack of biological information, lack of observable benefits for flood protection, and the very real potential for large-scale impacts to the aquatic environment. An adjacent site, at Popkum Channel, was largely eradicated of its habitat in 2005 and 2006 when it appears that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans deliberately ignored its own legislation and policies and allowed the proponent to destroy approximately 0.5 km of properly functioning channel, and there was the very real possibility of this happening again in the lower Herrling Channel.

Added to this was the fact that the Environmental Plan for lower Herrling Island channel, key to the agencies ensuring that Section 35 of the Canada Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the No-Net-Loss policies were met, did not arrive until mid-November 2008. On November 19, the penultimate Gravel Technical Committee meeting prior to decision making by the more senior gravel committees, both of the agency biologists walked into the boardroom having never read the report until that date due to other commitments. Nevertheless, despite the lack of opportunities for thorough review of the report, it was clear that the Environmental Plan was woefully lacking and the fisheries habitat biologists and engineer from the environmental agencies once again objected to this project.

While indications are that the project then fell into a state of hiatus, by late afternoon of November 20th the Deputy Minister for the British Columbia Ministry of Environment explicitly ordered the removal of Mr Neuman from the Gravel Technical Committee for “being obstructionist” despite the fact that the project failed miserably to meet the professional standards and legal requirements under Canadian law. However, by Friday December 7 the project was “back on the table” with the new chair of the Gravel Committees talking to prominent stewardship groups, presumably to help lobby for this project.

I made a follow-up call to the Ministry of Environment’s Regional Director of Operations subsequent to Ross's dismissal to ask him about the reason for Mr Neuman’s re-assignment. His stated position was that Ross was being re-assigned because the Ministry had decided that it had other priorities for this employee and this was simply a staffing issue. This is in light of the fact that the lower Herrling Island channel project is the largest single-site river gravel mining project ever on the lower Fraser River, and the Ministry of Environment effectively is responsible for managing all of the non-salmon species in the Fraser River, or roughly 80% of the fishes therein excluding the five salmon species that DFO manages. When I asked him how was it that a Deputy Minister had time in her schedule [late on a Tuesday afternoon the day after the Gravel Technical meeting] to forthrightly re-assign a junior technical staff member’s work plan, the Regional Director had no answer. Mr Neuman, I might add, was not, also, being disciplined for inappropriate behaviour or professional incompetence.


BC Ministry of Environment’s Track Record in Muzzling Technical Staff on the Gravel Issue

I will point out that this is not the first time a provincial biologist has been muzzled over the Fraser River gravel issue, and I have some personal experience in this regards. Prior to my current position as an instructor of fisheries, I was an employee of the Ministry of Environment. One of the portfolios that I maintained was as a member of the Gravel Technical Committee. At some point it appears that the questions that I kept asking in regards to the impacts to habitat by various development projects, including Fraser River gravel issues, seems to have angered someone at a political level and I was removed from government on secondment for an extended period of time. I was advised that senior politicians wanted me fired for my conduct but the managers could not find any misconduct, or professional negligence, and told the executive that I was simply doing my job, hence a re-assignment rather than an outright dismissal.

As part of the muzzling, on what the Ministry of Environment (the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection) managers used to cavalierly call my "little time out", I was removed directly from my office of work explicitly “…until after the next election” and re-assigned on secondment. The Ministry was also not averse to lying about my re-assignment. For a little history I quote from the Chilliwack Progress Nov 11, 2003: "Provincial fisheries ministry spokesman Max Cleeveley confirmed Friday that Marvin Rosenau has started a year-long position at UBC last week, but he says the move has nothing to do with the gravel removal issue. "Its got no relation to gravel removal," he says. "It's strictly to work with UBC" on promoting fisheries studies. The ministry is backfilling Mr Rosenau's position as fisheries biologist, he adds, so "those responsibilities will still be covered…" which it did not for the Fraser River issues that I was dealing with.

As a little matter of interest, I was given my re-assignment via a direct meeting with the Assistant Deputy Minister. I will point out that at the meeting attended to by the ADM Nancy Wilkins on October 30, 2003, where I was given one day's notice that I was being re-assigned, she very clearly and explicitly indicated that my re-assignment was not of a disciplinary nature; her words were “…there is nothing wrong with your science, Marvin, its just that the eastern Fraser Valley MLAs don’t like you…” and you are being reassigned for your own good until after the next election.


Analysis of the Situation

From all accounts it appears that the Management Committee and the executive committees are prepared to ignore the recommendations of the Gravel Technical Committee. That this project should still be considered given the lack of adequate information or support in respect to hydraulics, river geomorphology and habitat effect reflects the refusal of the senior agencies to take their statutory responsibilities seriously. Further, in light of the fact that the technical staff responsible for environmental protection (DFO biologist, engineer; MOE biologist) have raised considerable concerns to the project going ahead, based on the failure to provide adequate scientific and engineering rationale, shows how deliberately deceptive the senior governments are in respect to protecting the public from flooding vis a vis gravel removal and local interests to obtain the aggregate. Again, I do not object to gravel removal for flood protection based on transparent decision making and rigorous science and engineering.

While it is well understood that the local development community has clear interests in obtaining river aggregate for the over-heated construction industry in the eastern Fraser Valley, that this massive gravel removal project is still under consideration by the senior government’s managers makes it clear that they are willing to compromise the environment at any cost. The 2008 gravel-removal season is now becoming a reiteration of the 2006 Big Bar fish kill, except the damages will be far worse and habitat that will not easily replaced over a long period of time will be destroyed.

In its own uniquely Canadian way, senior government managers, responsible for the protection of the lower Fraser River and its habitats, are able to turn a country of first world wealth into a country that has the environmental ethics and behaviour of a third world totalitarian regime. In other words, British Columbia has become as corrupted in regards to its environmental standards as a small third-world banana republic.

Dr Marvin Rosenau
9 December 2007"
 
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