A Department of Fisheries and Oceans report filed Wednesday, June 6, 2012, with Joint Review Panel says the department has identified streams on the Northern Gateway Pipeline route that Enbridge identified as “low risk” but which DFO considers “high risk.” However, in the filing, DFO says it can’t release a comprehensive list of the high risk streams, preferring instead to give two examples on the Kitimat River watershed.
The DFO report comes at a time when the Conservative government is about to pass Bill C-38, which will severely cut back DFO’s monitoring of the majority of streams. It appears that the anonymous DFO officials who wrote the report acknowledge that they may soon have much less monitoring power because the report says:
Under the current regulatory regime, DFO will ensure that prior to any regulatory approvals, the appropriate mitigation measures to protect fish and fish habitat will be based on the final risk assessment rating that will be determined by DFO.
Note the phrase “under the current regulatory regime.”
The report also identifies possible threats to humpback whales from tanker traffic.
In the report, DFO notes that Northern Gateway’s “risk management framework” is based on DFO’s own Habitat Risk Management Framework, and DFO, notes “the approach appears to be suitable for most pipeline crossings.”
However, DFO further remarks that it has identified
some examples where crossings of important anadromous fish habitat have received a lower risk rating using Northern Gateway’s framework than DFO would have assigned. In addition, DFO has identified some instances where the proposed crossing method could be reconsidered to better reflect the risk rating.
In bureaucratic language, the Department says “DFO reviews impacts to fish and fish habitat and proposed mitigation measures through the lens of its legislative and policy framework” again a strong hint that the legislative and policy framework is about to change.
It goes on to say:
The appropriate approach to managing risks to fish and fish habitat is based on the risk categorization. For example, where high risks are anticipated DFO may prefer that the Proponent use a method that avoids or reduces the risk such as directional drilling beneath a watercourse to install the pipeline. If low risks are anticipated other methods such as open-cut trenching across the watercourse may be appropriate.
While DFO is “generally satisfied” with Northern Gateway’s proposed approach, it says “DFO has identified some crossings where we may categorize the risk higher than Northern Gateway’s assessment.”
DFO then gives Enbridge the benefit of the doubt because:
Northern Gateway continues to refine the pipeline route and we anticipate that assessment of risk will be an iterative process and, if the project is approved and moves to the regulatory permitting phase, DFO will continue to work with Northern Gateway to determine the appropriate method and mitigation for each watercourse crossing. In DFO’s view, Northern Gateway’s approach is flexible enough to be updated if new information becomes available.
DFO then says it
has not conducted a complete review of all proposed crossings, we are unable to submit a comprehensive list as requested; however, this work will continue and, should the project be approved, our review will continue into the regulatory permitting phase. While there may be differences in opinion regarding the risk categorization for some proposed watercourse crossings, DFO will continue to work with Northern Gateway to determine the appropriate risk rating and level of mitigation required.
Here is where DFO points to current, not future policy, when it says:
DFO is of the view that the risk posed by the project to fish and fish habitat can be managed through appropriate mitigation and compensation measures. Under the current regulatory regime, DFO will ensure that prior to any regulatory approvals, the appropriate mitigation measures to protect fish and fish habitat will be based on the final risk assessment rating that will be determined by DFO.
The report then gives two examples of high risk streams both in the Kitimat River watershed
Example 1) Tributary to the Kitimat River, KP 1158.4 (Rev R), Site 1269
Northern Gateway Rating: RMF: Low Risk
DFO Rating: RMF: Medium to High Risk
Rationale: This is a coastal coho salmon spawning stream that is quite short in length. It has several historic culverts in poor repair which are already impacting the reported run of approximately 100 spawning salmon. Works can be completed in the dry as this stream dries up during the summer. DFO is of the opinion that the risk rating is higher than that proposed by Northern Gateway due to the sensitivity of incubating eggs and juveniles of coho salmon to sediment and the importance of riparian vegetation for this type of habitat.
Example 2) Tributary to the Kitimat River, KP 1111.795 (Rev R), Site 1207
Northern Gateway Rating: RMF: Medium Low Risk
DFO Rating: RMF: Medium to High Risk
Rationale: In DFO’s view the risk rating for this watercourse is higher than that proposed by Northern Gateway because this stream is high value off-river rearing habitat for juvenile salmon such as coho salmon. This type of fish habitat is vulnerable to effects of sedimentation and loss of riparian vegetation.
The Joint Review Panel also asked DFO for a comment on the status of the humpback whale, especially in the shipping area in the Confined Channel Assessment Area Between Wright Sound and Caamaño Sound.
Four areas of critical habitat were proposed for humpback whales in coastal British Columbia in the Draft Recovery Strategy released in 2010, including the Confined Channel Assessment Area from Wright Sound to Caamaño Sound. However, humpback whales have recently been re-assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and were redesignated ‘Special Concern’ but remain ‘Threatened’ under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). A draft recovery strategy for the humpback whale has been prepared.
It is unclear if humpback whales are still protected as a Schedule 1 status species under the SARA and whether a recovery strategy has been finalized.