Council votes to create “working group” on riverbank issues, tables plan to gate access

District of Kitimat Council voted Monday five to two to create a “working group” of “concerned citizens and community groups” to consider the future of riverbank camping along the Kitimat river. The working group will consider issues such as access to the river, pollution and how to control extended camping along the river.

That vote came after council split five to two  again to defeat a motion by Councillor Mary Murphy to stop riverside camping altogether.

A proposal from District staff to put access gates at three locations, the Giant Spruce Road, the Sewage Plant and the Pump House was tabled for the time being. However, the councilors and staff marked the pump house gate as a priority for study by the engineering staff due to concerns that “the risk of fuel, oil and other contaminants (i.e. Illegal dumping ) occurring. This is the source water area for the city’s water supply, reducing access reduces contamination risks.” Staff said that unlike other portions of the riverbank, the District does “have authority under drinking water protection act to protect this area.”

Council also voted to close Hirsh Creek park immediately because the roads at the camping area were washed out by the flood last week.

Councillors noted that many people still go to Hirsch Creek after the gates are closed at the end of the season to walk dogs or hike. This results in a parking jam at the front of the gate and on busy times, cars park on Highway 37 which could endanger pedestrians.

District staff will study moving the park gate down further to a point that the road narrows near the first campsite to allow safe access for dog walkers and hikers.

The main problem facing the District of Kitimat is that most popular sites along the riverbank for campers are on provincially owned Crown land. In 2014, the former BC Liberal government passed a regulation that says people can camp on Crown land for up to 14 days. As some councillors pointed out this restriction regularly abused by some campers who stay on the riverbank for weeks, some apparently camping from Victoria Day to Labour Day.

A detail from the DoK map of who owns the riverbank shows that many of the popular camping sports along the Kitimat River are on provincial Crown land (dark green) while the municipality controls the land away from the riverbank including the access roads (brown). (District of Kitimat)

During the debate it was pointed out that often those camp on the riverbank like to “claim” a camping/fishing spot and try to prevent others from using it. “I know of a couple of fistfights,” Murphy told Council.

As Councillor Rob Goffinet pointed out, whether or not the District could place gates on municipal land to stop access to provincial Crown land would require a legal opinion.

Murphy told Council that she had received emails, blaming Kitimat for “almost drowning” some of the campers. She said that her views may be unpopular among some residents, but added, “I don’t care if I’m unpopular, I want to keep people safe.”

Councillor Larry Walker, who pointed out that he likes of fish along the river, who supported Murphy’s motion told his colleagues to get their act together and “do something about the riverbank.” He later proposed that if council does nothing, perhaps Kitimat should hold a referendum on the future use of the river bank.

The majority on Council were more cautious, while acknowledging problems. They pointed out that the many of the campers both on the east bank and on the west bank at Radley Park patronize local businesses during the summer months.

While there was wide discussion on social media before the council meeting, only three people showed up to give their opinions, mostly concerned about permitting access to the river for people with mobility issues or small children.

There were many comments and questions about how other areas police provincial Crown Land, with some saying that some places restrict access to only a couple of days. However, no one either on Council or staff had any idea of what exactly other locations are doing, if anything.

There were no details of how the working group would operate and who would participate. During the debate it was pointed out that as well as the province, participants would have to include Rio Tinto, LNG Canada and DFO. As well, Council did not set a deadline for the working group to report back.

As Murphy pointed out back in 2014, Fisheries and Oceans refused to attend a Council meeting or make a public presentations on its views of the river bank situation. (DFO snubs District of Kitimat Council for a second time )  while offering to meet with staff “they will continue to meet at an operational level to provide information on DFO’s regulatory role.”  That, of course came during the Stephen Harper administration which severely restricted any public participation by the civil service on environmental issues. Whether the Justin Trudeau government has changed that policy remains to be seen.

The campsite road at Hirsch Creek park was washed out in the flood. (District of Kitimat)

Was the rain storm an anomoly?

During the debate, Mayor Phil Germuth, pointed to the sudden onslaught of rain during Sunday and Monday September 10 and 11 and called it “an anomaly” which means that Kitimat should not overreact to the storm.

Environment Canada chart of the spike in the Kitimat River levels, as presented to District Council. (Environment Canada)

However, as The New York Times pointed out after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, scientists have been warning for years that

Climate science has repeatedly shown that global warming is increasing the odds of extreme precipitation and storm surge flooding. Refusing to acknowledge this impairs our ability to prepare for future extreme weather and endangers American lives and property.

And another opinion article in the Times during Hurricane Harvey noted:

Scientists can now even evaluate how much climate change has increased the odds of individual extreme events, including rainfall and flooding.

As the 2015 American Meteorological Society report quoted by The Times indicates, those  unpredictable and extreme events don’t just include floods but the widespread forest fires in Alaska in 2014 and we all know how bad the fire season has been in British Columbia this year.

Report on extreme weather events

As Noah Diffenbaugh  of Standford University pointed out in The Times

Being smart about managing exposure and vulnerability is critical to reducing risks. But doing so requires acknowledging that global warming is happening, that humans are the primary cause and that the odds of catastrophes like Hurricane Harvey are increasing.

District clarifies who owns the riverbank, will debate shutting off vehicular access at Monday’s meeting

The District of Kitimat has issued a map clarifying just who owns the banks of the Kitimat River, a subject that has been debated for years, as campers have come and gone as they please.

The map issued by the District staff shows that the District of Kitimat has jurisdiction over much of the land on the east side of the river while Rio Tinto owns much of the western bank–but also does own some of the eastern bank in the lower levels.

District staff are recommending that gates be installed in three areas along the eastern bank on municipally owned land, at the Giant Spruce Road, at the Pump House and at the Sewage plant. That could cut off vehicular traffic while still allowing access for pedestrians and those who wish to fish on the river bank by getting access on foot.

The proposed locations of the gates are marked in red on the map.

 

Map showing who owns the riverbank lands with the proposed gates marked by red dots. (District of Kitimat)

You’ll find a larger version of the map, and staffs’ recommendations to District Council in the report.

DistrictofKitimatriverbankreport (pdf)

 

RCMP, Fire warn of continuing hazards after “unique” Kitimat River flood

Both the RCMP and Kitimat Fire and Rescue are warning residents to stay away from the Kitimat River until the high water recedes. As well there are likely new hazards from a possible change in the river’s path due to the high water and as well as from debris in Douglas Channel.

Both detachment commander Staff Sergeant James McLaren and Fire Chief Trent Bossance made a special presentation to District of Kitimat Council Monday night to bring council up to date on the events that began early Monday morning.

The riverbanks are still hazardous, McLaren told Council and he urged that everyone stay away for at least the next two days. Anyone going out to fish in the Kitimat Arm of Douglas Channel, may also face hazards from snags, logs and debris such as floating propane cans. Bossance told Council in reply to a question from Councillor Larry Walker.

As well, Bossance told Council that the sudden deluge that began on Sunday afternoon is “not typical at all like the regular October flooding” that may be seen on the river.

Environment Canada chart of the spike in the Kitimat River levels, as presented to District Council. (Environment Canada)

Bossance warned that due to the volume and speed of the water it is likely that some parts of the river bed and river course have changed, and that the sandbars and snag areas that people may be familiar with may have shifted.

The effects of the flood are being monitored by RCMP, Fire and Rescue, Conservation officers, Fisheries and Oceans and provincial environmental officials.

Bossance said that the consensus of those officials is that the flood situation is unique in the history of Kitimat. Environment Canada issued a severe rainfall warning at noon on Sunday.

Bossance told Council  that people who were able to leave the riverbank said that they were able to walk out at about one a.m.  By 2:30 am, the river had risen so rapidly—about four metres—that by then people were trapped and calling 911 for help. McLaren said the RCMP immediately asked for the assistance of Kitimat Search and Rescue, who then requested assistance from Terrace Swift Water Rescue. Those units rescued twelve people from the riverbank.

A helicopter was called in and rescued two people.  The helicopter then made a sweep of the river bank but found no one else in danger.

McLaren told Council that as of 7 pm Monday no one had been reported missing or overdue.

The number of flooded vehicles or vehicles swept into the river is not certain, McLaren said,  but the number is estimated between twelve and fourteen ranging from large recreational vehicles to cars.   A preliminary assessment by ICBC indicates that the damage or loss of  vehicles will be covered but that will have to be confirmed by the vehicle owners.

Bossance said that high tide was not that much of a factor since it occurred at 5:30 am. Most of the high water was runoff from the upper Kitimat River.

Of the fourteen people rescued two were Kitimat residents, the rest from out of town.  Emergency social services has assisted those needed to find housing.

The RCMP will continue increased patrols in the river area until the danger has passed.

Campers rescued from Kitimat River bank after heavy rain storm

Heavy rain and strong winds combined with high tide overnight Sunday, September 11 flooded out fishers and campers along the Kitimat River.

The RCMP say  twelve people were rescued via boat and two by helicopter, mostly along the Big Spruce bank.  The RCMP say all are currently accounted for, although police say they will have to check the riverbanks once the water levels drop in about 48 hours.

Another view of the RV that was swept into the river. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Kitimat Search and Rescue, Kitimat Fire and Rescue, RCMP and Terrace Swift Water Rescue participated in the operation.

The RCMP is asking the public to contact them about concerns about people who may be overdue or possibly missing at 205-632-7111.

A large recreational vehicle is surrounded by swift water on the Kitimat River, Sept. 11, 2017. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

It is estimated that the river quickly rose about four metres. The rising water made it impossible for some people to retreat to the Dyke Road.

The first calls for help came to RCMP about 2 am Monday, with more around 3:30 am and the rescue began at first light about five hours later.

Environment Canada issued a heavy rainfall warning at noon on Sunday, calling for at least 66 millimetres of rain. It appears that some of the campers were either not aware of the warning or thought they could ride out the storm.

Perhaps as many as a dozen recreational vehicles were flooded or swept into the river, along with a pickup truck and a small car.

Some of those who were evacuated from the riverbanks were sheltered at the Riverlodge Recreation Centre.

Environmental and fisheries officials will be checking for any pollution in the river once conditions are safe.

The District of Kitimat is warning people to stay away from the riverbanks since the swift water can quickly destablize the soil along the river. The District has closed Radley Park and Hirsh Creek parks for the remainder of the season. The Dyke Road and Big Spruce roads are also closed.

Petronas “will not proceed” with Prince Rupert LNG project

Petronas Tuesday issued the following news release:

PETRONAS AND PARTNERS WILL NOT PROCEED WITH PACIFIC NORTHWEST LNG PROJECT

Malaysia’s energy company remains committed to developing its gas assets in Canada

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 July 2017 – PETRONAS and its partners have decided not to proceed with the Pacific NorthWest LNG project at Port Edward in British Columbia, Canada.

The decision was made after a careful and total review of the project amid changes in market conditions.

PETRONAS’ Executive Vice President & Chief Executive Officer Upstream, Anuar Taib said, “We are disappointed that the extremely challenging environment brought about by the prolonged depressed prices and shifts in the energy industry have led us to this decision.”

“We, along with our North Montney Joint Venture partners, remain committed to developing our significant natural gas assets in Canada and will continue to explore all options as part of our long-term investment strategy moving forward,” added Anuar.

PETRONAS’ commitment in Canada continues through Progress Energy Canada Ltd and its world-class inventory of natural gas resources where the subsidiary plays a key role in supporting PETRONAS’ growth strategy in North America.

PETRONAS and the project’s partners are thankful for the support received from everyone involved, especially the area First Nations, the District of Port Edward, the City of Prince Rupert and their communities for their invaluable involvement and efforts in the project.

 

Missing Indigenous Women inquiry staff in Smithers on July 17 for preliminary meetings

The staff of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls will be in Smithers beginning on Monday, July 17 to consult with First Nations and other members of the Highway 16 communities.

The full Truth Gathering Process  community hearings will begin in Smithers on September 25 for one week.

Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen commented, “The announcement that the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) will soon stop in Smithers is good news for families along the Highway of Tears who have lost loved ones to violence.

“It is absolutely essential for inquiry commissioners to travel to Northwest BC to hear directly from families along the Highway of Tears, Cullen said.  “Reading statements and stories online or by letter does not have the same impact nor impart the very real dangers that First Nations women and girls face when travelling between remote, rural Highway 16 communities.”

In a news release July 6, (pdf)  Chief Commissioner Marion Buller announced  that “the National Inquiry is moving forward on the advice and guidance heard from families, survivors and grassroots organizations about how best to hear their stories of violence against Indigenous women and girls, including LGBTQ2S people. This next step is rooted in the knowledge gained from meetings that took place across Canada, with the latest being from the hearings in Whitehorse in May/June 2017.”

Complete schedule of MMIWG hearings (pdf)

At Smithers and other locations the preliminary meetings will allow staff  to participate in community visits to lay the groundwork for the hearings as part of the National Inquiry’s Truth Gathering Process.

Community visits allow:

  • the health team and legal counsel to meet with family members and survivors to prepare them for the community
    hearings;
  • the community relations team to meet with local organizations, Indigenous groups and women’s groups to learn more
    about local issues regarding violence against Indigenous women and girls, including LGBTQ2S people
  • the logistics team to conduct site visits for the upcoming hearings;
  • National Inquiry staff to seek the advice and guidance from Elders and knowledge keepers so that when we return to the
    community hearings we may respect and include local protocols and ceremonies.

For individuals and families who wish to participate in the hearings, the inquiry has set up a six step process that is outlined on their website.
How to participate in the MMIWG hearings (pdf)
Cullen says he hopes last Thursday’s announcement of the second round of community visits and hearings by commissioners opens the door to a more productive and collaborative process.

“There have been many challenges to getting the work of the inquiry off the ground, directly including families in the work, and developing a sufficiently broad mandate to allow real understanding of the deeper issues of violence against Indigenous women and girls,” he said.

“The inquiry’s recognition of the need to hold hearings in Smithers is very positive.

Did Neanderthals honour the raven?

A new discovery by archaeologists in Crimea is providing evidence that ancient Neanderthals had a high cognitive and artistic ability. That evidence is the carved leg bone of a raven also raising the question (not actually included in the archaeologist’s paper) does the relationship between human and raven go back to a period between 38,000 and 43,000 years ago?

For more than a century, archaeologists have debated the question of just how smart the Neanderthals, the species that preceded what archaeologists now call “Modern Humans” into Europe and west Asia and there is increasing evidence of Neanderthal intelligence.

The raven bone fragment  which has been dated between 38,000 and 43,000 years ago, was found at the Zaskalnaya VI site in Crimea. It is described in to a study by Ana Majkic at the Universite de Bordeaux and colleagues, A decorated raven bone from the Zaskalnaya VI (Kolosovskaya) Neanderthal site, Crimea. published in the open access journal, PLOS ONE on March 29, 2017. 

The site in the Crimea was once a campsite in a river gully.

Location of Neanderthal campsite in a river gully in what is now Crimea. (PLOS1)

The radius bone fragment has seven notches. Microscopic analysis of the notches indicate that they were produced by the to-and-fro movement of a lithic (stone) cutting edge and that two notches were added to fill in the gap left between previously cut notches, probably to increase the visual consistency of the pattern.

The study worked to duplicate and test the work of the Neanderthal crafts person by examining sets of notches cut by nine modern experimenters on the leg bones domestic turkeys shows that the variations recorded on the Zaskalnaya set are comparable to experimental sets made with the aim of producing similar, parallel, equidistant notches.

A raven on the dock at Masset, Haida Gwaii, June 2016. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The object represents the first instance of a bird bone from a Neanderthal site bearing modifications that cannot be explained as the result of butchery activities.

That means the argument that bone notches are symbolic argument can be built on direct evidence.

The respect that British Columbia and Alaska First Nations have for the raven is found in countless legends and stories. Other cultures have honoured the raven including the Celtics who believed the raven was symbol of war, the Vikings and Greeks where the raven was a messenger of the gods, to name just a few.

The discovery of the raven bone in a Neanderthal cave may mean that the relationship with the raven is much more ancient than previously believed.

The paper says evidence of burials, collection of rare items, production of engraved and perforated objects, personal ornaments, pigment use, and the extraction of bird  feathers and claws support the notion that Neanderthals engaged in symbolical behavior, independently from the influence of anatomically modern humans.

Neanderthal burials of infants, children, and adults have been reported at several sites throughout Europe and the Near East, some of which are associated with grave goods. Pigment use among Neanderthals dates back as far as between 200,000 to 250,000 years ago. Pigment use became a more widespread practice about 60,000 years ago.

A string of new discoveries have shown that Neanderthals regularly exploited birds. The activities conducted by Neanderthals that may reflect their involvement in symbolic activities have been found in Italy, in caves in Gibraltar, nine sites in France and one Croatia.

Those discoveries indicate that cut-marks and scraping marks on upper limb bones mean that feathers were purposely detached from the wings of seven different bird species, including the common raven and the red-billed chough (a red beaked and red legged crow that is sacred in Wales and Cornwall). Others were the white-tailed and golden eagles, two species of vulture, and an unidentified raptor.

The study says that removal of feathers and claws is interpreted as proof that these objects were used as personal ornaments by Neanderthalsm the study says.  Feathers and claws do not survive archaeologically. So far, no clear modifications for suspending or threading the claws were found so far on bird talons, so up until now this was considered circumstantial evidence.

On the left is the notched raven bone from Zaskalnaya VI Neanderthal site, Crimea. center: experimental notching of a turkey bone; right: sequences of experimentally made notches compared to those from Zaskalnaya VI. (Francesco d’Errico)

As for the raven bone found in Crimea, the scientists say it is more probable that the Neanderthal took the decision of adding notches two and six, after completing the first set and realizing that its production left two gaps.

Two reasons may account for this action. The craftsman may have considered that, if made for functional reasons, i.e. to facilitate the grip of the object, the notches of the first set were not frequent and numerous enough to fulfill that function. Alternatively, he/she may have considered, irrespective of the possible functional reason behind the production of the
notches, that it was important to add two notches in order to create a visually more regular and consistent pattern.

The archaeologists conclude the artistic hypothesis more probable because adding the two very small and superficial notches added virtually nothing to the gripping power of the object`s surface.

The results of the study pinpoint that a clear effort has been put to reach the goal of producing not just random but instead equidistant notches, that would have been perceived as regularly spaced. This implies that the resulting pattern could have conveyed an information, not directly linked to the object function, communicating to the user, and likely other members of the Neanderthal group. In this respect the sequential notches on the ZSK raven bone represent the first case of bird bone use by Neanderthal for which a symbolic function can be argued on direct rather than circumstantial evidence.

Genes that protected coastal First Nations from ancient pathogens brought “catastrophic” vulnerability to European diseases

The immune system genes that protected north coast First Nations from possibly dangerous local pathogens thousands of years ago likely increased their vulnerability to European diseases in the nineteenth century, resulting in the disastrous population crash, a new genetic study has discovered.

The study which included members of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations at Prince Rupert “opens a new window on the catastrophic consequences of European colonization for indigenous peoples in that part of the world,” the study authors said in a news release.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, looked at the genomes of 25 individuals who lived 1,000 to 6,000 years ago in what the study calls PRH—the Prince Rupert Harbour region– and 25 of their descendants who still live in the region today.

The study is a follow up to one published in 2013 that used DNA to prove that the remains of a woman from 5,500 years ago was tied directly through the maternal line to members of today’s Metlakatla Nation.

“This is the first genome-wide study – where we have population-level data, not just a few individuals – that spans 6,000 years,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, who co-led the new research with former graduate student John Lindo (now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago) and Pennsylvania State University biology professor Michael DeGiorgio. Both studies were carried out with the consent and cooperation of the Coastal Tsimshian people.

The new study analyzes the “exome,” the entire collection of genes that contribute to a person’s traits.

The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Oral traditions and archaeological evidence to date have shown that there has been continuous aboriginal occupation of this region for more than 9,000 years. This study adds another layer of scientific data linking the actual ancestral human remains to their modern descendants through their DNA over a span of 6,000 years,” said Barbara Petzelt, a co-author of the study and a liaison to the Metlakatla community. “It’s exciting to see how this tool of DNA science adds to the larger picture of Coast Tsimshian pre- and post-contact history – without the taint of historic European observer bias.”

In the new study, the team found that variants of an immune-related gene that were beneficial to many of those living in the region before European contact proved disadvantageous once the Europeans arrived.

The genes, the human leukocyte antigen gene family, known as HLA, helps the body recognize and respond to pathogens, or disease causing bacteria and viruses.

The authors say the “the immunological history of the indigenous people of the Americas is undoubtedly complex.”

As people came to the American continents about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago “indigenous people adapted to local pathogens.”

Statistical analyses revealed that the ancient genes were under “positive selection” before European contact. Natural selection meant that those ancient people with genetic resistance to those local diseases had an advantage that resulted in the genes becoming part of the population.

But the study indicates “those adaptations would have proven useful in ancient times but not necessarily after European colonialists altered the environment with their pathogens, some of which may have been novel. Existing genetic variation as a result of adaptation before European contact could thus have contributed to the indigenous population decline after European contact.”

The “positive selection” genes found in the remains of ancient members of the Coast Tsimshian people, has been replaced by another gene among the modern descendants that “has been associated with a variety of colonization-era infectious diseases, including measles and tuberculosis, and with the adaptive immune response to the vaccinia virus, which is an attenuated form of smallpox,” the authors wrote.

One of the genes is “64 percent less common today among the Coast Tsimshian people than it was before original European contact, which is a dramatic decline,” Lindo said.

The modern Coast Tsimshian show a “reduction in ‘effective population size’ of 57 per cent,” the researchers reported.

“’Effective population size’ is a population genetic concept that is different from what we normally think of with census population size,” Malhi said in an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News. “It basically means that there was a large drop in genetic diversity after European contact that could have been due to disease, warfare or other things that would result in this large population decline.”

The dramatic die-off occurred roughly 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were sweeping through the First Nations of British Columbia.

While some members of the Coast Tsimshian community have intermarried with people of European descent over the past 175 years, the genetic changes cannot be solely attributed to what geneticists call “admixture.” The timing coincides with the documented smallpox epidemics of the 19th Century and historical reports of large-scale population declines. A majority of the “European admixture in the population likely occurred after the epidemics,” the study says.

To guard against what the study called “false positives” the genomes were also compared to individuals in the 1,000 Genome Project including 25 Han Chinese from Beijing as well as other indigenous peoples in the Americas including the Maya, the Suruí do Pará people of Brazil and a sample of Anzick DNA from the 12,000 year old remains of a child found buried in Montana.

“First Nations history mainly consists of oral stories passed from generation to generation. Our oral history tells of the deaths of a large percentage of our population by diseases from the European settlers.
“Smallpox, for our area, was particularly catastrophic,” said Jocelynn Mitchell, a Metlakatla co-author on the study. “We are pleased to have scientific evidence that corroborates our oral history. As technology continues to advance, we expect that science will continue to agree with the stories of our ancestors.”

The same vulnerability for smallpox, measles and tuberculous likely also contributed to the vulnerability to influenza, Malhi told Northwest Coast Energy News “It is important to note that any of these infectious diseases (measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, flu) could have resulted in the patterns that we are seeing. We just provided a few possibilities but not all possibilities.”

The study says the project was made possible through the active collaboration of the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams First Nations.
The first collaborative DNA study began in 2007 and 2008. The scientists visited the communities each year “to report the most recent DNA results and obtain feedback on the results.”

“The two communities agreed to allow DNA analysis of ancestral individuals recovered from archaeological sites in the region and currently housed at the Canadian Museum of History. During and after community visits and extensive consultation, a research protocol and informed consent documents—agreed on by the indigenous communities and researchers—was approved by the University of Illinois Institutional Review Board. All individuals signed an informed consent document.”

These results were reported to the community and the scientists continue to visit the First Nations to report on this and related studies.

The study is titled “A time transect of exomes from a Native American population before and after European contact” and appeared in the Nov. 15, 2016, edition of Nature Communications.

Special Report: New study identifies earthquake hazards for Hartley Bay, Bella Bella, Kitimat and Terrace

UPDATED with comments from District of Kitimat, Terrace and the Gitga’at Nation

A preliminary seismic hazard assessment by Natural Resources Canada has identified possible earthquake scenarios for the Douglas Channel near Hartley Bay, Terrace and Bella Bella.

The same studies indicate that while Kitimat may not be directly in a seismic zone prolonged earthquakes cause some damage in Kitimat depending on the earthquake and the condition of the soil in certain parts of the District. One model scenario says that in the event of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, given certain soil conditions, there might actually be more damage in Kitimat than on the islands.

Susceptibility to landslides

That assessment, part of the overall the study by the Geological Survey of Canada indicates that the north coast of British Columbia from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella is likely face to “seismically induced ground failure”– mostly landslides.

Overall, the report says that on a scale of 1 to 6 (6 representing the highest
susceptibility), the majority of the west coast of BC “exhibits landslide susceptibility values of 5 to 6, which is significantly higher than the rest of Canada.”

Geological Survey of Canada map showing parts of Canada that are prone to landslides. The BC North Coast study area is outlined by the rectangle. (Geological Survey of Canada)
Geological Survey of Canada map showing parts of Canada that are prone to landslides. The BC North Coast study area is outlined by the rectangle. (Geological Survey of Canada)

In British Columbia the landslides are most likely to be triggered by delayed melting of the annual snow pack, heavy rains, bank erosion and site loading and caused long-lasting damning of the river causing “damage to pipelines, rail, and forestry, as well as fish habitats.”

So far no recent landslides along the northern British Columbia coast are known to be caused by earthquakes, the reports say “the existence of numerous landslides strengthens the likelihood of seismically induced ground failures… due to the high levels of seismicity….it is expected that the increased likelihood of strong ground shaking (with long durations) will increase the landslide susceptibility.”

New studies

It was only after the 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake and with what the Geological Survey of Canada calls “a growing number of on-going and planned infrastructure projects, BC’s north coast is emerging as a region of high strategic importance to Canada’s economy,” that studies began in area where “there has been minimal research to understand earthquake hazards.”

Now that studies have begun the Geological Survey has given the region its own new acronym BCNC (BC North Coast). Haida Gwaii is not part of BCNC, although earthquakes on those islands would likely impact the coast.

A Geological Survey of Canada map showing the BC North Coast region with earthquakes identified prior to and during recent studies. (Geological Survey of Canada)
A Geological Survey of Canada map showing the BC North Coast region with earthquakes identified prior to and during recent studies. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The Geological Survey says that historically “the BCNC has been seismically quiescent.” As a result “seismic monitoring and research related to the BCNC has been minimal.” That meant while larger earthquakes were “felt and recorded,” the configuration of the Canadian National Seismograph Network did not allow earthquakes less than approximately magnitude 2.1 to be monitored in northern BC.

Now the Geological Survey is looking at “long-term, continuous monitoring of micro seismicity, combined with geodetic and paleo seismic techniques” that could be used to study at the possibility of large earthquakes, including a possible fault on the lower Douglas Channel.

Since the studies began in August 2014, the Geological Survey identified 145 earthquakes within the study area, many too small to be felt since they are less than magnitude 2.0. Those earthquakes, however, were picked up by the new and improved instrumentation used by the earthquake monitors.

The two reports one on “seismic hazards” and the second on “geohazards” says five “temporary seismonitors”  (download reports from links below) were installed within the BCNC while some older stations were upgraded, saying, “It is expected that these new stations will be aid in locating small earthquakes” that were not previously detected by the existing network. The Geological Survey also installed ground movement monitoring GPS units along the coast.

The use of the term “temporary” raises the question about how much ongoing monitoring is planned.

The study also notes that the current data is not included in the seismic standards in the current National Building Code of Canada, which in turn is based on the Natural Resources Canada Seismic Hazard Map. That may mean that municipalities in the BC North Coast region, in the future, as the seismic studies continue, may have to consider updating building codes, especially in areas of “softer soils” as opposed to harder rock.

“Fault-like structure” on Douglas Channel

Detail of a map from the Geological Survey of Canada where the red line shows the 60 kilometre possible (still unconfirmed) fault line running from Gribbell Island to Princess Royal Island (Geological Survey of Canada)
Detail of a map from the Geological Survey of Canada where the red line shows the 60 kilometre possible (still unconfirmed) fault line running from Gribbell Island to Princess Royal Island (Geological Survey of Canada)

Over the years some small earthquakes have also been recorded on what the Geological Survey calls the “recently mapped fault-like structure” on Douglas Channel which was discovered in 2012. The survey is still calling it “fault-like” because it has not yet been confirmed as an active fault. A new map in the study shows that the “fault” runs from the southern tip of Gribbell Island, down the centre of Whale Channel east of Gil Island and then along the western coast of Princess Royal Island.

The study identified “a small, unfelt swarm of earthquakes between magnitude 1.7 and 2.0 between September 13 and 14, 2010 near Gil Island.”

There is also the previously identified ancient Grenville Channel Fault (ancient and believed inactive because it dates from the Cretaceous, the age of the dinosaurs) that runs from along Grenville Channel from Porcher Island in the north to Klemtu in the south which has experienced small earthquakes.

The report says geological studies of the Douglas Channel “fault-like structure” are a priority because, “Should this structure be determined to be an active fault, it would pose significant risk of earthquake-triggered landslides (and subsequent tsunami) from the susceptible Douglas Channel hill slopes.”

Clay and sand in Kitimat

The report also calls for more studies the local geology and soil conditions in the Kitimat Valley. A study back in 1984 by John Clague of Simon Fraser University showed that as the glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age there were “periods of stagnation” resulting in sediments that are thicker than other regions of British Columbia, Clague reported that in parts of Kitimat, the glacial moraine is hundreds of metres thick.

After the glaciers were gone, the sea levels rose and glaciomarine sediments (clay, silt up to 60 metres thick) were deposited until the sea level fell to present-day levels. The report says that as these marine deposits were exposed to fresh water, salts were leached out resulting in saturated, porous sediments, including clay, which are prone to failure. Boreholes in the Kitimat area show that the clay and sediments above the bedrock can range from 17 metres to 106 metres.

The report notes the presence of clay soils “can amplify ground shaking and secondary effects” as happened in November 1988 when there was an earthquake in the Saguenay region of Quebec.

Originally reported as a 6.2 magnitude but later downgraded to 5.9, on Nov. 25, 1988, the major earthquake was centered near the Quebec cities of Chicoutimi and Jonquière, with aftershocks felt as far away as Toronto, Halifax and Boston. The quake lasted for two minutes, catching thousands of people off guard and leaving buildings damaged and power out for hundreds of thousands of Quebecers.

CBC Television reported the earthquake caused a leak of toxic gas at the Alcan Aluminum plant at Jonquière, which was quickly contained. “There was no wind, we were basically lucky,” Alcan spokesman Jacques Dubac told CBC News at the time. 

Terrace earthquake

The report says the most significant event within the BC North Coast study region (which as mentioned doesn’t include Haida Gwaii) was a magnitude 4.9 earthquake approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Terrace on November 5, 1973, which was felt as far as 120 kilometers away, with some minor damage (broken windows and cracked plaster) reported near the epicentre. The main shock at Terrace was preceded by a magnitude 2.5 foreshock four hours before, and followed by a felt magnitude 3.7 aftershock the next day.

Bella Bella at risk

Another area most at risk, according to the report, is southern part of the BC North Coast zone, near Bella Bella, which is close to the northern section  Cascadia Subduction Zone  a “1,000 kilometre long dipping fault that stretches from Northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino California” which one day will cause a major earthquake along the fault.

Cascadia subduction zone (USGS)
Cascadia subduction zone (USGS)

The report says that a magnitude 9.0 or higher earthquake in the northern Cascadia Subduction zone close to Bella Bella would be similar to the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Alaska.

For the northern part of the BC North Coast region, hazards could come from either a major earthquake off Haida Gwaii or a similar earthquake in south-eastern Alaska.

The greatest hazard would come from “long period” earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.75 with an epicentre between 300 and 350 kilometers away where the shaking lasts longer than one second.

The Geological Survey modeled three possible scenarios for major earthquakes in the BC North Coast Region.

Model #1. A magnitude 8.0 Earthquake at Haida Gwaii

The Geological Survey Canada model for an 8.0 magnitude earthquake west of Haida Gwaii. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (Geological Survey of Canada)
The Geological Survey Canada model for an 8.0 magnitude earthquake west of Haida Gwaii. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.  The red polygon represents the area of possible rupture in the model with the star representing the epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The model looked at a “plausible maximum predicted” magnitude 8.0 thrust fault earthquake off the west coast of Haida Gwaii which would be twice as strong in the fault area as the 7.8 quake on October 28, 2012 (Remember Magnitudes are based on a logarithmic scale. That means for each whole number higher, the amplitude of the ground motion recorded by a seismograph goes up ten times so magnitude 8 earthquake would result in ten times the ground shaking as a magnitude 7 earthquake)

For a short period earthquake, the report estimates that there would be minimal damage on Haida Gwaii similar to the damage from the 2012 earthquake with little or no damage on the BC North Coast.

A long duration, long period earthquake that lasted longer than one second and up to three seconds or longer “may effect taller structures and trigger ground failure (that is liquefaction and lateral shaking).” Kitimat would feel that earthquake with the worst shaking in parts of the District with what the report calls “sensitive soils.” Coastal islands would feel double the amount of shaking as would occur in Kitimat.

Model #2. A magnitude 7.2 Earthquake in Douglas Channel

 The Geological Survey Canada model for a 7/2 magnitude earthquake in the lower Douglas Channel. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red star represents the possible epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The Geological Survey Canada model for a 7/2 magnitude earthquake in the lower Douglas Channel. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red star represents the possible epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The second model looked at an earthquake in Douglas Channel based on the “fault like structure” if a slip strike rupture occurred along the entire 60 kilometers of the so far unconfirmed fault, resulting in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. There would be very strong shaking within 20 kilometers radius of the epicentre, with moderate to heavy damage” in the relatively uninhabited islands, major shaking in Hartley Bay, resulting in very strong to strong damage at Hartley Bay and strong to moderate damage in Kitimat.

That earthquake, however, would be felt across the entire province of British Columbia. The report notes:

The expected effects and impacts of such an earthquake would mimic those of the 1946 magnitude 7.3 Vancouver Island earthquake, which occurred slightly west of Courtney and Campbell River. Shaking due to the 1946 earthquake was felt as far as Prince Rupert, BC to the north and Portland, Oregon to the south. In addition to knocking down 75 per cent of the chimneys in the local area, much of the earthquake-related damage was due to landslides, slumping and liquefaction

Model #3  A magnitude 6.3 Earthquake near Terrace

 The Geological Survey Canada model for an 6.3 magnitude earthquake southwest of Terrace. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red polygon represents the area of possible rupture in the model with the star representing the epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

The Geological Survey Canada model for an 6.3 magnitude earthquake southwest of Terrace. The possible damage is colour coded in the table below the map according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The red polygon represents the area of possible rupture in the model with the star representing the epicentre. (Geological Survey of Canada)

On May 11, 1973, a magnitude 4.7 shallow earthquake took place about 20 kilometers south west of Terrace, on the south side of the Skeena roughly across from the Shames mountain area. The earthquake was felt up to 120 kilometers away. The report says “The event has not been associated with any geologic features in the area and little is known about its rupture process.” The model estimated the results of a larger earthquake 6.3 magnitude in the same area. The model showed there would be strong to very strong shaking in Terrace, light to moderate shaking in Kitimat and light damage elsewhere in the BC North Coast. Most of the damage would be concentrated in a 20 kilometer zone around the epicentre.

Motivation for study

It was not just potential industrial development that motivated the new studies. The discovery of that possible fault line in the lower Douglas Channel was also a factor. Studies between 2007 and 2009 revealed there were two large submarine slides on Hawkesbury Island during the mid-Holocene sometime between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago 

The cause of the two failures is still unknown but the report says “their proximity to a nearby unmapped fault-like structure suggests that the slides could have been triggered by strong ground shaking from rupture along this structure.”

Another factor was the two well-known landslides occurred in the 1970’s in the Kitimat Arm which generated tsunamis but fortunately they occurred at low tide which decreased the impact. On October 17, 1974 a submarine slide generated a 2.8 metre tsunami. The following year on April 27, 1975, a slope failure on the northeast side of Kitimat Arm (which overlapped the 1974 failure area) displaced an estimated upper limit of 26,000,000 cubic metres of material.

“Watermark observations in Kitamaat Village estimated that the tsunami generated by this slide was up to 8.2 metres high.” The report says that while the trigger of the first event is unknown; the latter event coincided with nearby construction at that time. Modelling of the 1975 slide estimates that given the right conditions the generated tsunami waves could have been as high as 11 metres.

The report also notes that numerous landslides have also been mapped by the BC Department of Forestry in an attempt to improve safety measures for forestry workers.

The report says “The culmination of these studies brings awareness to the significant natural hazards present in the fragile coastal environment of the Coast Ranges.”

Another factor is the geology of the BC coast. The granitic mountains have rugged, steep slopes dissected by an intricate fjord system and dotted with islands of lower elevation. At lower elevations the land is covered by wet, coastal hemlock forests, which could be vulnerable to ground failures whereas higher elevations are characterized by barren rock or mountain hemlock subalpine.

Table of Seismic monitoring and GPS stations in northern BC from the Geological Survey of Canada (Geological Survey of Canada)
Table of Seismic monitoring and GPS stations in northern BC from the Geological Survey of Canada (Geological Survey of Canada)

The District of Kitimat said it has “not directly studied these issues but we are aware of potential hazards.” The development department has been advised of potential issues and site concerns.

A spokesperson for Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc told Northwest Coast Energy News in an e-mail. “I have reviewed it and distributed it to the relevant department heads. We are aware that historically Terrace has been at risk for experiencing seismic activity due to its location.”

The District of Kitimat did cooperate with National Resources in finding a location for their recently installed seismic equipment.

At Harley Bay, Gitga’at First Nation CEO Ellen Torng said the Gitga’at have been “ working with NRCan on their research in the Douglas Channel and in Hawksbury. NRC has been meeting with First Nations along the coast and have conducted community sessions on their research.

“We hosted one community session here in Hartley Bay and have regular updates from their technical team when they are in the area,” Torng said.

In addition, the District of Kitimat told Northwest Coast Energy News that Community Planning & Development department also provided local land information to geoscientists in the years leading up an international study called Batholiths on land in 2009.

Batholiths are large zones of molten rock that have solidified in the earth’s crust and are believed to play a key role in the formation and growth of continents. The Coast Mountain Range has a large concentration of batholiths, which means Kitimat was an excellent place to study the earth’s crust.

The project, which involved more than 50 scientists from nine Canadian and American universities, was set up to examine how mountain belts form and change over time and why continental mountain ranges are made of granite not basalt. Seismic imaging of the crust and mantle below the mountains required deploying thousands of seismic sensors and recorders, and recorded responses to several man-made detonations. Field work was completed in July 2009, and several scientific papers and dissertations have followed.

The Heiltsuk Nation was unable to respond to a request for comment due to the ongoing crisis from the sinking of the tug Nathan E. Stewart and the resulting spill of diesel fuel and other contaminants near Bella Bella.

Related Commentary: The earthshaking difference between Enbridge and LNG

Download the Geological Survey Studies (PDF)

Baseline Assessment of Seismic Hazards in British Columbia’s North Coast 2016

North Coast Geohazards 2016 Seismology Update

Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale

(from US Geological Survey )

Intensity Shaking Description/Damage
I Not felt Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions.
II Weak Felt only by a few persons at rest,especially on upper floors of buildings.
III Weak Felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings. Many people do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibrations similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.
IV Light Felt indoors by many, outdoors by few during the day. At night, some awakened. Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.
V Moderate Felt by nearly everyone; many awakened. Some dishes, windows broken. Unstable objects overturned. Pendulum clocks may stop.
VI Strong Felt by all, many frightened. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.
VII Very strong Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.
VIII Severe Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.
IX Violent Damage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.
X Extreme Some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundations. Rails bent.

LNG Canada looks at possible Final Investment Decision in 18 to 24 months

LNG Canada says the Kitimat liquified natural gas project “has been delayed and not cancelled” with a Final Investment Decision possible in the next 18 to 24 months, Director of External Relations Susannah Pierce  told a company sponsored community pizza party at Riverlodge on Tuesday October 18, 2016.

She paid tribute to the support for the project from Kitimat and the Haisla Nation, saying, “Thanks to you we were very close to have our shareholders take the Final Investment Decision in the New Year,” but she then added, “You also know there were some things we couldn’t control like the state of the marketplace.”

LNG Canada Director of External Relations Sussnnah Pierce updates Kitimat residents on the project at Riverlodge, Tuesday Oct. 18. 2016 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
LNG Canada Director of External Relations Susannah Pierce updates Kitimat residents on the project at Riverlodge, Tuesday Oct. 18. 2016 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Pierce used the analogy of someone saving up to buy a car and believing that they have enough money in the bank and then the conditions change. “That is what happened to us,” she said. “You still want the car, but you just have to wait a little longer.”

Pierce said that the current program of site preparation will pause for the winter and holidays in mid-December.  After that “work will begin to wind down over the next few months and then we will preserve the site until we are ready to make the Final Investment Decision.” She said LNG Canada is studying ways to make site preservation cost effective.

“We are doing everything we can to keep our pencils sharp and keep the community informed so that when the project is approved we are ready,” she added.

She pointed out that LNG Canada has already built a fisheries habitat offset in preparation for  full development of the site.

LNG Canada and its partner shareholders are keeping a close eye on the developments of the natural gas market in Asia and Pierce said, “We do expect to be sending LNG to the Asian market in the next decade, so 2023 and beyond is what we’re talking about.”

She said that the Final Investment Decision when it comes will bring opportunities for Kitimat, the province and the whole country.

“Everyone in this room and everyone at LNG Canada is working to make this project real,” Pierce said.

“For those who are staying with us, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to be available to the community for an number of events. Let’s make it happen. We do have a shot at making it real but it may not happen as soon as you’d like it.”