Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross on the dilemma of climate change and development

Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor spoke at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre on June 9, 2015, introducing David Suzuki who was on a speaking tour. This is a lightly edited report on his remarks that outline some of the dilemmas facing the Haisla and the Kitimat valley in an age that needs development but faces climate change.

Good evening.

Among chiefs, I am elected, not hereditary, you are born into that position, I wasn’t born into it.

I am basically a regular commoner just like you guys with a high school education and one year of college and a lot of experience outside my community that I bring back.

These topics about climate change locally, provincially, nationally and worldwide, they’re complicated topics.

Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross speaks at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre,  June 9, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross speaks at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre, June 9, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

There’s no one true fix for all of it. The problem is that the Haisla have been thrust into the middle of it and we have to answer it, which is very unfair.

So when we’re talking about what really is a Haisla value, a west coast, a British Columbia value. I must tell you I value the Haisla people, my people, that land, the territory, I think about the Haisla people because I don’t think anyone has given the Haisla people a priority in the last 40 to 50 years.

All the decisions that were made about Haisla territory, that affected out people, were made without us.

The result was that we ended up with 80 per cent unemployment, historically over the last 40 years we have ended up with cancer and we can’t get rid of it.

Poverty, people couldn’t get enough money to fix their bathrooms when the floor was rotting out.

The saying is that you can always tell when the reserve starts is when the pavement ends is true. Unless there’s a political agenda to actually pave the road to the village. The environmental questions that have been raised over the past ten years are not new to the Haisla.

In the 70s it was the Haisla alone who tried to battle emissions when nobody even knew what emissions meant. They tried to stop the effluent dumping into the river that killed off the river they tried to stop the diking of the river so parts of the land could be protected, parks.

When the Haisla knew that the oolichan that was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of tons, were dying off quickly in the span of five years. Nobody listened.
Now the DFO and Canada is realizing that the demise of the oolichan is a signal that something is wrong with the ecosystem.

I would love that someone would come around to the idea of thanking the Haisla people for all the work that they did and went and unheard even in meetings like this today.

And we’re not even talking about salmon.
In all this time, I’ve read all the documents, all the speeches and listened to all the promises of a better tomorrow for all the people but nobody delivered it.

Countless academic papers have been written about Indian poverty.

Nothing was done.

Non-profit organizations used the Haisla to further their cause and left town when they had achieved what they had achieved.

At the same time all the decisions continued to be made without us. And everybody benefited except us.

What happened in the end and the corporations made their billions and made enough money to pay off the mortgage and move down south, the Haisla were left with the mess to clean up. Today we’re still battling to get some of these sites cleaned up and we’re still not getting help.

I don’t blame anyone for this. Whether you’re am environmental organization, a government or a corporation or a non-profit organization, I don’t blame you for this because you have a mandate, you have a special interest. That’s what you’re trying to achieve.

I have a mandate. I do have an organization now that is fully equipped to look at every single permit that comes from the provincial government and the federal government and try to mitigate it given our capacity and our lack of funding.

But some of that benefit has to flow to the Haisla people. It’s our territory.

When you think about what has happened to us, the Haisla, we think about residential schools and I’ve been reading the debate on whether or not it’s genocide or not and I think people are missing the point.

Residential schools were only 10 per cent of a larger program to get rid of the Indian.

The ninety per cent was what was stolen from us as well. The land was taken away and we were put on a chunk of land across the Channel, that was described by the Indian Agent as worthless, it’s not even good for agriculture so give it to the Indians. We had to get permission from the federal government to leave that reserve. We had to get a piece of paper that said he’s allowed to leave the reserve and go pick berries.

We also have had no help other than some academic programs and some sort of study to deal with our suicides. I’m not just talking Haisla here. I really thought that one suicide every five years was really a bad thing. But finding out that my neighbors down the road from here to Prince George are dealing with ten suicides in the first quarter of this year.

It breaks my heart.

Who is responsible for that? If it’s not the government, if it’s not the non-profits, if it’s not corporations, who is it?

I stepped up and said I’ll take full responsibility for this but that means I have a hard message to deliver and I will deliver it on behalf of the Haisla people.

When it comes to climate change, we are living at a very unfortunate time, because finally we’re accepted at the provincial table, at the federal table, the corporate table.

We’re being included but unfortunately, we have to look at climate change as well. It’s a very tough position to be in when you’ve got a Grade 12 education from 1984 and one year of college education in 1985.

It’s a very tough topic, I can tell you. I’ve been to China, I’ve been to Korea and no matter what you say about the emissions there, Canada and BC have no problems with emissions here until you visit China.

They’re not going to get off crude oil, they’re not going to get off diesel fuel, they’re not going to give up coal because a billion people there want the same standard of living that you have in Canada. And I’m talking about India as well. They want the same standard. They want good houses; they want to own a car. They are not going to stop their thirst for energy.

I don’t have the answers.

I still believe that natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal and even if you put a small dent in it, it’s not enough to get these guys off nuclear power.

And the solar power you’re talking about, they do it for show but that’s not going to meet the energy needs of China. We’re not even talking about India; we’re not even talking about Korea.

You say can you help get China off dirty fuel, but all their pollution keeps getting dumped on South Korea.

I represent 1700 people, how am I going to do that?

We’re being asked to do a near impossible task while I’m trying to dig my people out of poverty. At the same time, when we get this opportunity we’re giving our members very mixed messages, including our young people which is heart breaking for me.

Because we’re telling them get an education, don’t be a burden on society, get a job, but by the way there are no jobs here, there’s no way to get into existing industries so you better go to the oil fields of Alberta to get a job. A lot of our people head over there or to Vancouver.

I’ve been following this debate on climate change for quite a while now, for over six years. I’ve been listening to everybody, I’ve been listening to corporations, being listening to governments, been listening to non-profits, but on behalf of the Haisla Nation Council, I’m here to tell you, that when it comes to the future of the Haisla I have very little patience with this. I don’t want to see another essay about what to do about Indian suicides.

I believe that our people are being sick and tired of being left out and left behind, while everyone else is moving on with their lives. I do want to what’s best for the region I do want to do what’s best for the province and Canada and the world. But I will not do it at the expense of the Haisla people. We’ve been at the dirty end of the tick for the last 40 years. It’s going to stop. Thank you very much and enjoy your evening.

Kitimat Council urges heavy turnout for North Coast Draft Marine Plan meeting

Marine planning map
Zone maps for the North Coast marine draft plan. (MAPP)

District of Kitimat Council  has urged residents to turn out in large numbers for consideration of the North Coast Draft Marine Plan at the Kitimat Valley Institute Tuesday, May 13, from 5:30 to 8:30.

In introducing the motion, Mayor Joanne Monaghan said she was worried that not enough Kitimatians, especially charter operators, boaters and fishers were aware of the meeting.

Another council member privately said he was worried that the Open House and Forum weren’t publicized enough so that the town could be checked off as having “been consulted.”

Residents can download the plan from the Mappocean website at http://mappocean.org/north-coast/draft-plan-for-input/.

MAPP stands for Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Ocean.

According to the documents the purpose of the North Coast Marine Plan “is to provide recommendations for achieving a sustainable balance between ecosystem health, social and cultural well-­‐being and economic development through an ecosystem-­‐based approach to planning and management.”

The plan is all about managing “common First Nation and provincial interests related to marine areas.”

The parners include the province and the Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society (NCSFNSS), representing the Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Haisla, Gitga’at, and Gitxaala Nations.
According to the doucments the North Coast plan area covers 27,000 kilometres of coastline;

that is indented with deep fjords and dotted with thousands of islands. It is a region of profound beauty, significant ecological diversity and remarkable cultural richness. Prince Rupert, Terrace and Kitimat are the largest communities in the North Coast plan area, which supports an overall population of approximately 42,000.

According to the summary of the plan:

The physical complexity of the North Coast includes a range of ecosystem types, including important estuaries that support distinct marine ecosystems and species. A diverse range of economic and community activities occur within the North Coast plan area. Commercial fisheries and associated processing facilities and logging have supported communities along the coast since the early 1900s. These activities continue to be important to the well-­‐being of coastal communities. Port activities centered around the communities of Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Stewart, and active recreational fishing and tourism sectors, continue to be strong economic drivers in the area. North Coast First Nations living in the region have distinct cultural and spiritual heritages that are intricately linked to the marine environment and the long-­‐standing sustainable use and management of marine resources.

The plan appears to overlap some areas where there have been environmental assessments of the Northern Gateway and the numerous liquified natural gas proposals.

The plan summary goes on to say:

The draft plan brings together science and Aboriginal knowledge, input from the technical staff of NCSFNSS (representing the Gitga’at, Gitxaała, Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and Haisla Nations) and the Province. Key information and direction was provided by First Nations strategic marine use plans and existing provincial planning and policy documents.
Ecological, cultural and social and economic data sources were compiled and analysed by the joint technical team and contract support. Relevant background scientific reports and technical documents from the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) process were also used, along with the BC Marine Conservation Analysis. Additional information was drawn from government reports and publications, academic literature, industry or sector publications, discussions with experts and local knowledge. Advice was also incorporated from the North Coast Marine Plan Advisory Committee and public and stakeholder engagement.

The Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area process was killed by the Harper government in the fall of 2011 . The decision to kill the PNCIMA was officially for budget reasons, but general speculation at the time was that Harper and then Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver wanted to kill PNCIMA as one way of ensuring the government could push through the Northern Gateway project. The MAPP program was set up by the province and First Nations as a reaction to Harper’s decision.

 

Draft Marine Plan Summary (pdf)

New Fisheries Regulations further gut habitat protection in Canada, study says

Population density
Blacked out fishery. A new study says that fisheries protection in Canada is now tied to economics, meaning areas with lower populations, like the BC northwest, get less fisheries protection. (Fisheries magazine)

 

New regulations under the Fisheries Act that was revised by the Harper government’s omnibus bills go even further in gutting protection for fish habitat in Canada, according to an analysis by scientists released Friday.

The changes to Canada’s fisheries legislation “have eviscerated” the ability to protect habitat for most of the country’s fish species, the scientists, John Post, at the University of Calgary and Jeffrey Hutchings of Dalhousie University say their new study.

The study says with the Conservative government’s emphasis on prioritizing economic importance over the habitat ecology is “contrary to responsible management practices for the protection of native fishes, the act now inadvertently prioritizes habitat protection for some nonnative species—even hatchery-produced hybrids.” The study says as long as those introduced or other species are part of what the new act and regulations define as “part of a fishery,” those fish are protected, while nearby native species, not part of a fishery, have no protection.

The same economic emphasis downgrades protection for sparsely inhabitated regions (which make up most of Canada) through what the scientists call:

NO HUMANS . NO FISHERY; NO FISHERY . NO PROTECTION; NO PROTECTION . NO STEWARDSHIP

The stipulation that fish be part of, or support, a fishery will have particularly egregious consequences for species that inhabit pristine or near-pristine habitat in Canada’s vast wilderness.

Under the revised FA, fish that inhabit lakes, rivers, and streams that are not regularly visited by humans do not warrant protection. Humans are necessary to render a fish part of a fishery. No humans, no fishery, and no fish habitat protection. This can only be interpreted as meaning that the vast majority of Canada’s freshwater fishes will be deemed to not warrant habitat protection under the revised FA, even if those species are considered part of a fishery elsewhere in their range.

 

The changes were “politically motivated,” unsupported by scientific advice – contrary to the policy of previous governments – and are inconsistent with ecosystem-based management, fisheries biologists Post and Hutchings say.

Their comprehensive assessment, in a peer-reviewed paper titled “Gutting Canada’s Fisheries Act: No Fishery, No Fish Habitat Protection,” is published in the November edition of Fisheries, a journal of the 10,000-member American Fisheries Society.

The 2012 omnibus bill redefined fish habitat to a fishery in this clause:

No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.

The two authors interpret that as meaning, that while you may be forbidden from harming the fish, there are no barriers to harming fish habitat.

… it will no longer be illegal to harmfully alter or disrupt fish habitat. The revised act only renders it illegal to cause serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational, or Aboriginal fishery or to fish that support such a fishery. “Serious harm” is defined by the act as “the death of fish or any permanent alteration to, or destruction of, fish habitat” (Fisheries Act 2013). A legal opinion prepared for the Environmental Managers Association of British Columbia concluded that serious harm does not prohibit the disruption or temporary alteration of fish habitat, concluding that many situations prohibited under the previous legislation will no longer be covered by the revised act

The new regulations proclaimed in the Canada Gazette in April 2013.

“The biggest change is that habitat protection has been removed for all species other than those that have direct economic or cultural interests, through recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries,” Post says.

Before, “there used to be a blanket habitat protection for all fish species,” he says. “Now there’s a projection just for species of economic importance which, from an ecological standpoint, makes no sense.”

The study goes on to say:

The near elimination of fish habitat protection represents a clear signal that protection of habitat—the single greatest factor responsible for the decline and loss of commercial and noncommercial species on land and in water —no longer merits explicit protection under Canadian fisheries management law.

And later:

The multitude of aquatic systems that do not support a fishery, coupled with the extensive distributions of many Canadian fishes, will mean that habitat protection will not be provided for most fish species in most places.

By applying the “no humans, no fishery” criterion, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will have an easy time expediting applications for fish habitat destruction resulting from all manner of development. The lack of foresight inherent in the “no humans, no fishery” stipulation is also manifest by the likelihood that aquatic systems that do not support a fishery today (e.g., much of Arctic and northern Canada) might well do so in the future. But investment in future fisheries requires investment in appropriate habitat protection today. How is a fishery to develop down the road if the habitat is already gone?

Although it is well known that the Harper government muzzles scientists from speaking to the media, that apparently doesn’t mean that there isn’t “chatter” (to use the intelligence term) among fisheries scientists themselves. As the study authors report:

 based on personal communications with DFO scientists and divisional managers, it appears that scientists were not consulted at all. By all accounts, DFO scientists and managers were surprised by the degree and types of changes in the revised act. According to one very highly placed science director (in a confidential communication to one of the authors), he was unaware of the March 2012 provisions in the legislation until he heard of the government’s finalized revisions on a news broadcast.

 

The scientists also quote earlier studies that showed the old Fisheries Act was not unduly holding up development projects.

a key reason for revising the act—a perceived need to expedite or “streamline” environmental reviews (Canada Gazette 2013)—has been shown to lack an empirical basis. There was a perception among some politicians that the act needed to be changed because it was deemed unduly obtrusive and prevented any number of activities from occurring.

 

The analysis by the environmental group Ecojustice showed that between 2006 and 2011, only one proposal among thousands was denied by the DFO, and only 1.6% of 1,283 convictions under the FA between 2007 and 2011 pertained to the destruction of fish habitat.

Post and Hutchings go on to say:

These scientific analyses run counter to the political discourse, which argues that environmental reviews are unduly lengthy and are bad for economic growth. In fact, review times in Canada were found to be faster, under the previous Fisheries Act, than they were in the United States. The absence of a scientific basis for statutory change in this case is a telling example of how scientific advice can constructively assist decision makers before they revise legislation.

 

Proponent gets to gather the data

John Post
University of Calgary fisheries biologist John Post.
(Riley Brandt, University of Calgary)

Under the new regulations proclaimed in April, when an individual or company applies for an “application to undertake an activity that requires authorization by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans” …”the primary—if not sole—responsibility for providing accurate information and data rests with the applicant, rather than with DFO habitat scientists and biologists.”

The proponent of a project has to identify whether or not “fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery,” or “fish that support such a fishery,” at the location of the proposed work, will be the responsibility of the proponent/applicant to identify.

The two scientists say there is no way to ask what scientific standards, DFO’s or others will be applied in identifying fish that support a fishery.

There are also questions about who “will determine the scientific validity and appropriateness  of each proponent’s assessment.” It could be, the paper says, the proponent themselves determining the validity of their own studies because:

There does not appear to be a requirement for the DFO to undertake an on-site inspection by DFO scientific staff to verify information provided by an applicant. This change in responsibility explains the 33% reduction in DFO staff responsible for habitat protection reported by various Canadian media in 2012. This reduction in staff can only diminish the scientific integrity and scientific credibility of DFO’s assessments of applications for the authorization of activities under 35(2)(b) of the FA that will result in the destruction of fish and fish habitat.

 

The study goes on to say:

The regulations confirm that the revised FA will not protect any particular species of fish. Rather, protection will be provided only to “fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery” or “fish that support such a fishery.” This means, to take one of many examples, that Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) will be protected at a particular location if, and only if, those Largemouth Bass are considered to be part of a fishery at that location. Otherwise, Largemouth Bass will not be protected.

The scientists do acknowledge that:

It can be argued that there are positive elements to the FA revisions, such as (1) statutory recognition of the importance of recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, (2) provision for the establishment of regulations to control aquatic invasive species and prohibit their import, and (3) increased penalties and fines for contravention of the act.

 

They then add:

 But, in our opinion, the negative consequences to Canada’s aquatic ecosystems generated by the revisions to the act outweigh these benefits, none of which actually required changes to the existing habitat protection provisions of the FA.

The scientists conclude the article by saying

 Being the second largest country in the world, Canada is responsible for 20% of the globe’s fresh water, one third of its boreal forests and associated aquatic environment, and the world’s longest coastline. However, this geographical wealth comes with a responsibility to be internationally respected stewards of this vast environment. Politically motivated abrogation of the country’s national and international responsibilities to protect fish and fish habitat suggests to us that Canada might no longer be up to the task.

Clio Bay: Clay capping “relatively new technique”: DFO statement

Carrie Mishima, a communications advisor for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sent this statement in response to questions from Northwest Coast Energy News:

· The proposal by the Kitimat LNG project uses a relatively new technique that is expected to improve aquatic habitat in Clio Bay. The bay has been used as a log handling site for decades, resulting in areas of degraded habitat from woody debris on the seafloor. The project will cap impacted areas with inert material to restore the seafloor.

· Capping at smaller-scale sites in Canada has shown that the technique has successfully restored low-value aquatic habitat.

· The project will implement standard and project-specific measures to protect fish and aquatic habitat and will conduct a five-year monitoring program to determine how well the habitat is recovering.

· Data from the monitoring program will be used to guide future habitat reclamation at impacted habitat sites. Reference sites are being established as benchmarks against which the capped sites can be measured.

· Site-specific standards for dissolved oxygen levels will be developed for the enhanced site by sampling a control site having similar habitat parameters.

· Detailed mapping has been done to identify the best areas for the soil placement and to protect sensitive habitat such as intertidal areas, rocky substrates and eelgrass beds.
· Other required mitigation measures will include analyzing the cap material to confirm it is free of contaminants and placing this material during appropriate tidal conditions to ensure accurate placement of the cap in accordance with design plans.

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Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

Log booming at Clio Bay
Log booming operations at Clio Bay, August 21, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Chevron, the company operating the KM LNG project at Bish Cove and the Haisla Nation have proposed that marine clay from the Bish Cove construction site be used to cap more than 10,000 sunken and rotting logs in Clio Bay. Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says he hopes that using clay to cover the logs will help remediate the environmentally degrading sections of the Bay. The proposal has brought heated controversy over the plan, both among residents of Kitimat and some members of the Haisla Nation, who say that Clio Bay is full of life and that the capping will cause irreparable damage.

An investigation by Northwest Coast Energy News shows that capping thousands of sunken logs is a lot more complicated and possibly costly than anyone has considered. It is also clear that many of the comments both supporting and opposing the Clio Bay project are based on guesses rather than the extensive scientific literature available on the subject.

Northwest Coast Energy News findings include:

  • In 1997, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans surveyed sunken log sites in Douglas Channel. The results, published in 2000, identified 52 sites just on Douglas Channel and the Gardner Canal that had various levels of enviromental degradation due to sunken logs. Clio Bay was not the list. The DFO scientists recomended followup studies that never happened.
  • Scientific studies show that degradation from sunken logs can vary greatly, even within one body of water, due to depth, currents, number of logs, and other factors. So one part of a bay can be vibrant and another part environmentally degraded due to low levels of dissolved oxygen and decaying organic material.
  • If  KM LNG wasn’t paying for the remediation of Clio Bay, it could be very expensive. Capping sunken logs at a cove near Ketchikan, Alaska, that is the same size and shape as Clio Bay cost the US and Alaska governments and the companies involved $2,563,506 in 2000 US dollars. The total cost of the cleanup of the site which was also contaminated with pulp mill effluent was $3,964,000. The estimated cost of capping the logs in the Alaska project was $110 per cubic yard.
  • The Alaska project shows that a remediation project means while most of the logs in a bay or cove can be capped, in some parts of a water body, depending on currents, contamination and planned future use, the logs have to be removed and the area dredged.
  • Agencies such as the State of Alaska, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers all recommend using “clean sand” for capping operations. Although “clay balls” have been used for capping in some cases, the US officials contacted say they had no record of large amounts of marine clay ever being used for capping. They also noted that every log capping project they were aware of happened in sites that had other forms of contamination such as pulp mill effluent.
  • Chevron only recently retained the environmental consulting firm Stantec to study Clio Bay. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has told District of Kitimat Council it recently completed mapping of the seafloor at Clio Bay. The Alaska project was preceded by five years of monitoring and studies before capping and cleanup began.
  • A letter from Fisheries and Oceans to the District of Kitimat says that Clio Bay has been mapped and the department is planning to monitor any capping operations. However, it appears from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website that the department has no current policies on remediation since the Conservative government passed two omnibus which weakened the country’s environmental laws. According to the website, new remediation policies are now being drafted. That means that although DFO will be monitoring the Clio Bay operation, it is uncertain what standards DFO will be using to supervise whatever happens in Clio Bay.

Northwest Coast Energy News is continuing its investigation of the sunken logs problem.  Expect more stories in the days to come.

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Clio Bay: Haisla desire to clean up bay led to proposal to cap Clio with marine clay, Ross says

Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

Clio Bay
Clio Bay, looking toward Douglas Channel, September 14, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

Haisla First Nation Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says the Haisla made the proposal to the KM LNG project, a partnership of Chevron and Apache, to use the marine clay to cover the thousands of logs at the bottom of Clio Bay after years frustration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the BC provincial government, which for decades ignored requests for help in restoring almost fifty sunken log sites in Haisla traditional territory.

The problem is that remediation of the hundreds of sites on Canada’s  west coast most containing tens of thousands of sunken logs has been so low on DFO’s priority list that even before the omnibus bills that gutted environmental protection in Canada, remediation of sunken log sites by DFO could be called no priority.

Now that the KM LNG has to depose of a total of about 3.5 million cubic metres of marine clay and possibly other materials from the Bish Cove site, suddenly log remediation went to high priority at DFO.

The controversy is rooted in the fact that although the leaders of the Haisla and the executives at Chevron knew about the idea of capping Clio Bay, people in the region, both many residents of Kitimat and some members of the Haisla were surprised when the project was announced in the latest KM LNG newsletter distributed to homes in the valley.

Chevron statement

In a statement sent to Northwest Coast Energy News Chevron spokesperson Gillian Robinson Ridell said:

The Clio Bay Restoration Project  proposed by Chevron, is planned to get underway sometime in early 2014. The proposal is fully supported by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Haisla First Nation Council.  The project has been put forward as the best option for removal of the marine clay that is being excavated from the Kitimat LNG site at Bish Cove. Chevron hired Stantec, an independent engineering and environmental consulting firm with extensive experience in many major habitat restoration projects that involve public safety and environmental conservation.  The Haisla, along with Stantec’s local marine biologists, identified Clio Bay as a site that has undergone significant environmental degradation over years of accumulation of underwater  wood debris caused by historic log-booming operations. The proposal put forward by the marine biologists was that restoration of the marine ecosystem in the Bay could be achieved  if marine clay from Chevron’s facility site, was used to cover the woody debris at the bottom of the Bay. The process outlined by the project proposal is designed to restore the Clio Bay seafloor to its original soft substrate that could sustain a recovery of biological diversity.

Kitimat worried

Non-aboriginal residents of Kitimat are increasingly worried about being cut off from both Douglas Channel and the terrestrial back country by industrial development. These fears have been heightened by reports that say that Clio Bay could be closed to the public for “safety reasons” for as much as 16 months during the restoration project.

The fact that Clio is known both as a safe anchorage during bad weather and an easy to get to location for day trips from Kitimat has made those worries even more critical.

There is also a strong feeling in Kitimat that the residents were kept out of the loop when it came to the Clio Bay proposal.

In a letter to the District of Kitimat, DFO said:

Clio Bay has been used as a log handling site for decades which has resulted in areas of degraded habitat from accumulations of woody debris materials on the sea floor. The project intends to cap impacted areas with inert materials and restore soft substrate seafloor. The remediation of the seafloor is predicted to enhance natural biodiversity and improve the productivity of the local fishery for Dungeness crab. The project area does support a variety of life that will be impact and therefore the project will require authorization from Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction (HADD) of fish and fish habitat.

The letter avoids the controversy over the use of marine clay but saying “inert material” will be used. That can only increase the worries from residents who say that not only clay but sand, gravel and other overburden from Bish Cove and the upgrade of the Forest Service Road may be used in Clio Bay. (The use of “inert material” also gives DFO an out if it turns out the department concludes the usual practice of using sand is better. That, of course, leaves the question of what to do with the clay).

Although Ellis Ross has said he wants to see large numbers of halibut and cod return to Clio Bay, the DFO letter only mentions the Dungeness Crab.

DFO website cites pending changes after the passage of the omnibus bills.
DFO website cites pending changes after the passage of the omnibus bills.

Try to search “remediation” on the DFO site and the viewer is redirected to a page that cites the omnibus bills passed by the Conservative government and says

On June 29, 2012, the Fisheries Act was amended. Policy and regulations are now being developed to support the new fisheries protection provisions of the Act (which are not yet in force). The existing guidance and policies continue to apply. For more information, see Changes to the Fisheries Act.

On April 2nd, 2013 the Habitat Management Program’s name was changed to the Fisheries Protection Program.

So, despite what communications officers for DFO and the Harper government may say, there was no policy then and there is no policy now on remediation of log sites. Given Harper’s attitude that LNG and possibly bitumen export must proceed quickly with no environmental barriers, it is likely that environmental remediation will continue to be no priority—unless remediation becomes a problem that the energy giants have to solve and pay for.

Alaska studies

On the other hand, the State of Alaska and the United States Environmental Protection Agency spent a decade at a site near Ketchikan studying the environmental problems related to sunken logs at transfer sites

Those studies led Alaska to issue guidelines in 2002 with recommended practices for rehabilitating ocean log dump sites and for the studies that should precede any remediation project.

The Alaska studies also show that in Pacific northwest coast areas, the ecological effects of decades of log dumping, either accidental or deliberate, vary greatly depending on the topography of the region, the topography of the seabed, flow of rivers and currents as well as industrial uses along the shoreline.

The Alaska policy is based on studies and a remediation project at Ward Cove, which in many ways resembles Clio Bay, not far from Kitimat, near Ketchikan.

The Alaska policy follows guidelines from both the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers that recommend using thin layers of “clean sand” as the best practice method for capping contaminated sites. (The Army Corps of Engineers guidelines say that “clay balls” can be used to cap contaminated sites under some conditions. Both a spokesperson for the Corps of Engineers and officials at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told Northwest Coast Energy News that they have no records or research on using marine clay on a large scale to cap a site.)

The EPA actually chose Sechelt, BC, based Construction Aggregates to provide the fine sand for the Ward Cove remediation project. The sand was loaded onto 10,000 tonne deck barges, hauled up the coast to Ward Cove, offloaded and stockpiled then transferred to derrick barges and carefully deposited on the sea bottom using modified clam shell buckets.

The EPA says

Nearly 25,000 tons of sand were placed at the Ward Cove site to cap about 27 acres of contaminated sediments and 3 other acres. In addition, about 3 acres of contaminated sediments were dredged in front of the main dock facility and 1 acre was dredged near the northeast corner of the cove. An additional 50 acres of contaminated sediments have been left to recover naturally.

A report by Integral Consulting, one of the firms involved at the project estimated that 17,800 cubic metres of sand were used at Ward Cove.

In contrast, to 17,800 cubic metres of sand used at Ward Cove, the Bish Cove project must dispose of about 1.2 million cubic metres of marine clay at sea (with another 1.2 million cubic metres slated for deposit in old quarries near Bees Creek).

Studies at Ward Cove began as far back as 1975. In 1990 Alaska placed Ward Cove on a list of “water-quality limited sites.” The studies intensified in 1995 after the main polluter of Ward Cove, the Ketchikan Paper Company, agreed in a consent degree on a remediation plan with the Environmental Protection Agency in 1995. After almost five years of intensive studies of the cove, the sand-capping and other remediation operations were conducted from November 2000 to March 2001. A major post-remediation study was carried out at Ward Cove in 2004 and again in 2009. The next one is slated for 2015.

Deaf ears at DFO

“We need to put pressure on the province or Canada to cleanup these sites. We’ve been trying to do this for the last 30 years. We got nowhere,” Ellis Ross says. “Before when we talked [to DFO] about getting those logs and cables cleaned up, it fell on deaf ears. They had no policy and no authority to hold these companies accountable. So we’re stuck, we’re stuck between a rock and hard place. How do we fix it?”

Ross says there has been one small pilot project using marine clay for capping which the Haisla’s advisers and Chevron believe can be scaled up for Clio Bay.

Douglas Channel studies

The one area around Kitimat that has been studied on a regular basis is Minette Bay. The first study occurred in 1951, before Alcan built the smelter and was used as a benchmark in future studies. In 1995 and 1996, DFO studied Minette Bay and came to the conclusion that because the water there was so stagnant, log dumping there had not contributed to low levels of dissolved oxygen although it said that it could not rule out “other deleterious effects on water quality and  habitat`from log dumping.”

That DFO report also says that there were complaints about log dumping at Minette Bay as far back as 1975, which would tend to confirm what Ross says, that the Haisla have been complaining about environmentally degrading practices for about 30 years.

Ross told Northwest Coast Energy News that if the Clio Bay remediation project is successful, the next place for remediation should be Minette Bay.

A year after the Minette Bay study, DFO did a preliminary study of log transfer sites in Douglas Channel, with an aerial survey in March 1997 and on water studies in 1998. The DFO survey identified 52 locations with sunken logs on Douglas Channel as “potential study sites.” That list does not include Clio Bay. On water studies were done at the Dala River dump site at the head of the inlet on Kildala Arm, Weewanie Hotsprings, at the southwest corner of the cove, the Ochwe Bay log dump where the Paril River estuary opens into the Gardner Canal and the Collins Bay log dump also on the Gardner Canal.

In the introduction to its report, published in 2000, the DFO authors noted “the cumulative effect of several hundred sites located on BC coast is currently unknown.”

DFO list of sunken log sites on Douglas Channel   (pdf)

Since there appears to have been no significant follow-up, that cumulative effect is still “unknown.”

In 2000 and 2001, Chris Picard, then with the University of Victoria, now Science Director for the Gitga’at First Nation did a comparison survey of Clio Bay and Eagle Bay under special funding for a “Coasts Under Stress” project funded by the federal government. Picard’s study found that Eagle Bay, where there had been no log dumping was in much better shape than Clio Bay. For example, Picard’s study says that “Dungeness crabs were observed five times more often in the unimpacted Clio Bay.”

Although low oxygen levels have been cited as a reason for capping Clio Bay, Picard’s study says that “near surface” oxygen levels “did not reliably distinguish Clio and Eagle Bay sediments.” While Clio Bay did show consistent low oxygen levels, Eagle Bay showed “considerable interseasonal variation” which is consistent with the much more intensive and ongoing studies of oxygen levels at Wards Cove.

Chevron’s surprise

It appears that Chevron was taken by surprise by the controversy over the Clio Bay restoration. Multiple sources at the District of the Kitimat have told Northwest Coast Energy News that in meetings with Chevron, the company officials seemed to be scrambling to find out more about Clio Bay.

This is borne out by the fact, in its communications with Northwest Coast Energy News, Chevron says its consulting firm, Stantec has cited just two studies, Chris Picard’s survey of Clio Bay and a 1991 overview of log-booming practices on the US and Canadian Pacfic coasts. So far, Chevron has not cited the more up-to-date and detailed studies of Ward Cove that were conducted from 1995 to 2005.

Chevron says that Stantec marine biologists are now conducting extensive field work using divers and Remote Operated Vehicle surveys to “observe and record all flora and fauna in the bay and its levels of abundance. Stantec’s observations echoed the previous studies which determined that the massive amount of wood has harmed Clio Bay’s habitat and ecosystem.”

In its statement to Northwest Coast Energy News, Chevron cited its work on Barrow Island,  in Western Australia, where the Chevron Gordon LNG project is on the same island as a highly sensitive ecological reserve. Chevron says the Australian site was chosen only after a thorough assessment of the viability of other potential locations, and after the implementation of extensive mitigation measures, including a vigorous quarantine program for all equipment and materials brought on to the Barrow island site to prevent the introduction of potentially harmful alien species.

Reports in the Australian media seem to bare out Chevron’s position on environmental responsibility. Things seem to be working at Barrow Island.

Robinson went on to say:

Those same high environmental standards are being applied to the Kitimat LNG project and the proposed Clio Bay Restoration project. The proposed work would be carried out with a stringent DFO approved  operational plan in place and would be overseen by qualified environmental specialists on-site.

The question that everyone in the Kitimat region must now ask is just how qualified are the environmental specialists hired by Chevron and given staff and budget cuts and pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to downgrade environmental monitoring just how stringent will DFO be monitoring the Clio Bay remediation?

Alaska standardsIn the absence of comprehensive Canadian studies, the only benchmark available is that set by Alaska which calls for:Capping material, typically a clean sand, or silty to gravelly sand, is placed on top of problem sediments. The type of capping material that is appropriate is usually determined during the design phase of the project after a remediation technology has been selected. Capping material is usually brought to the site by barge and put in place using a variety of methods, depending on the selected remedial action alternative.

Thick Capping

Thick capping usually requires the placement of 18 to 36 inches of sand over the area. The goal of thick capping is to isolate the bark and wood debris and recreate benthic habitat that diverse benthic infauna would inhabit.

Thin Capping

Thin capping requires the placement of approximately 6 – 12 inches of sand on the project area. It is intended to enhance the bottom environment by creating new mini-environments, not necessarily to isolate the bark and wood debris. With thin capping, surface coverage is expected to vary spatially, providing variable areas of capped surface and amended surface sediment (where mixing between capping material and problem sediment occurs) as well as limited areas where no cap is evident.

Mounding

Mounding places small piles of sand or gravel dispersed over the waste material to create habitat that can be colonized by organisms. Mounding can be used where the substrate will not support capping.

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Clio Bay: Dead or alive?

Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

Log booming at Clio Bay
Log booming operations at Clio Bay, August 21, 2013 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Updated October 3, 2013, with DFO statement

One of the major concerns about Clio Bay is the possible lack of oxygen to support sealife. While some people have called Clio Bay “dead,” others have pointed to catches of crab, cod and salmon to dispute that.

The experience at Ward Cove, Alaska, even though it was more polluted than Clio Bay, shows that oxygen levels are highly variable, depending on season, location and depth.

In 1995, the DFO`s Institute of Ocean Siences studied dissolved oxygen levels in Minette Bay, and concluded, according to a report posted on the DFO website, that because Minette Bay was stagnant from May to November” and those conditions existed even before industrial development in the Kitimat Valley:

Examination of all the dissolved oxygen  data showed that conditions before  or early in the industrial  development  of  the  region  were  not  significantly different from those observed in the 1995 to 1996  study.  On the basis  of these analyses we concluded that log storage and handling  activities in the bay do not appear to have exacerbated the naturally occurring low dissolved oxygen conditions.

Ward Cove

The US Enviromental Protection Agency studied disolved oxygen levels at Ward Cove during water quality monitoring from 1998 to 2002. The monitoring found that dissolved oxygen levels of less than 4 milligrams per litre commonly occurred in Ward Cove during the summer and early fall. “During this time, hypoxic  conditions (dissolved oxygen less than 2 milliggrams per litre) occurred occasionally at and near the bottom and less frequently in midwater areas. Hypoxia can be dangerous to both fish and bottom dwelling species.

The EPA study showed that water circulation is restricted within Ward cove. A counter-clockwise circulation brings ocean water from Tongass Narrow into the cove along the south shore. That water usually exits after 15 days.

The EPA studied dissolved oxygen in Ward Cove from November 1995 to October 2002, using 13 monitoring stations, nine inside the cove and four outside in Tongass Narrows.

Water monitoring stations at Ward Cove, Alaska
Map of water quality sampling stations in Ward Cove, Alaska (EPA)

This monitoring found that the water column is strongly stratified during the summer resulting in poor mixing of bottom water. The EPA says during the monitoring period:

dissolved oxygen levels between 2 and 4 mg/1 were commonly observed in Ward Cove. These conditions began at water depths greater than approximately 20 metres in mid to late July and continued until early October, but oxygen levels between 2 and 4 mg/1 may also occur in water as shallow as 15 metres.

The EPA says the normal oxygen level for the surface waters of Ward Cove is approximately 8 mg/1 at 10°C. Under natural conditions and vertical stratification, dissolved oxygen levels in deeper waters can vary considerably and be reduced significantly below 8 mg/1 by respiration and the decay of organic materials, including sunken logs.

Since Clio Bay is deeper than Ward Cove, that means dissolved oxygen levels could be decreased at the greater depths.

Map of oxygen levels in Ward Cove
Maps showing differing levels of dissolved oxygen during monitoring at Ward Cove. Alaska (EPA)

Salmon

The Ward Cove study also confirmed laboratory studies that showed that salmon can detect and avoid areas of low oxygen. Coho, pink, sockeye, chum, steelhead, Dolly Varden and Cutthroat trout are all native to the cove. Introduced Chinook are also found at Wards Cove.

A Ward Cove report says:

Depressed dissolved oxygen conditions are unlikely to significantly affect the growth of juvenile or adult salmonids migrating through or feeding in or near Ward Cove. Some minor indirect effects, however, may occur as a result of hypoxia-induced changes to food chain organisms inhabiting the cove and adjacent waters.
The growth cycles of the adult stage of all seven anadromous salmon and trout species native to Ward Creek should be completed prior to their arrival in the cove from the ocean. Some feeding by adult cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden may occur in or near the cove as they hold in preparation for entering Ward Creek. The growth of subadult chinook salmon, a fish species not native to Ward Creek, is also not likely affected by exposures to these conditions.
Returning adult salmonids may be present in the cove when the lowest dissolved oxygen and highest water temperatures occur in late summer and early fall. Adult salmonids will usually avoid hypoxic conditions, except when staging to enter freshwater during the latter part of their annual spawning migrations. Severe depressed DO levels at this time in combination with low flows and high water temperatures in Ward Creek can result in adult mortality. Fish kills have not been observed recently in the cove, likely because the depressed DO conditions have not extended into a greater portion of the water column in combination with low flows in Ward Creek.

As for other species, the report says reaction varies, with species that are able to swim often leaving areas of depressed oxygen. Previous studies have shown that bottom dwelling species may be able to tolerate low oxygen for a short time and become susceptible if they don’t swim out of the area. Those species who are are not mobile, have weak swimming abilities, or live within the sediment are more likely to be susceptible.

That means that changes in oxygen level could mean that deaths or migration of mobile bottom dwelling species at a location, leaving the impression that species are no longer around, even though the changes may be seasonal. Scientific studies show that low oxygen levels can also make all species in that area vulnerable to disease due to stress. Low oxygen also limits swimming ability and makes a species more prone to predation.

Minette Bay

Log boom at Minette Bay
Log boom at Minette Bay. April 14, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

From August 1995  until October 1996, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Institute of Ocean Sciences and the North Coast Division  of Habitat  Management)  with  the support local companies studied the water quality in Minette Bay.

A 1961 study of oceanography of the BC fjords and a second study of in 1968 had already reported finding low dissolved oxygen levels in Minette Bay.

As far back as 1975, the report says:

Concerns have been raised that the poor water quality of the bay is exacerbated if not caused directly by the log handling practices there.  Other habitat disruptions have been attributed to the industrial activities associated with log handling practices in this bay, e.g. bottom scouring, bark litter, and sinkers.

The DFO report says that the purpose of our study of Minette Bay was to determine if log handling in the bay “significantly contributed  to  low dissolved oxygen concentrations.”

The study of Minette Bay was similar to the one then starting at Ward Cove, but on a much smaller scale, checking salinity, temperature and levels of dissolved oxygen.

The report says:

The renewal of Minette Bay deep waters occurs annually during the winter and early spring months.  Renewal occurs in the form of multiple events, some of which penetrate to the bottom while others only affect the intermediate waters.  These events are caused by the outbreaks of the Arctic air mass over the region.   The cold air temperatures reduce run-off thereby increasing  surface salinity while at the same time the strong outflow winds push the surface layer away from the head of Kitimat Arm and bring denser water closer to the surface. The cold outflow winds also cool and mix the surface waters.  In the stagnant period from May to November, dissolved oxygen concentrations in the deep waters decline rapidly to near zero conditions by July and remain low until the late fall.

The 1995 study concluded, based on surveys and reports from the previous 45 years, that measurements of dissolved oxygen in 1951 before the Alcan smelter was built, through measurements in the 1960, were not different from the 1995 measurements in the deep waters.`and concluded  “that log handling practices in the bay have not exacerbated the naturally occurring low DO conditions in the bay.”
`
It goes on to say while log storage and handling at Minette Bay had no apparent effect on dissolved oxygen:

other deleterious effects on water quality and  habitat  are  possible.  These impacts might include: the disruption of animal and plant ‘life on and in the sediments by the grounding of log booms or scouring  of the bottom  sediments   by  the  movement  of  log  booms;  the  alteration  of  the  natural composition of the sediments and the benthic community by the accumulation of bark, whole logs and other wood debris on the sediments underneath the log storage areas and in the log dump zone; anoxia in sediments due to an increased organic load; and toxic concentrations of leachates from the logs and other wood debris.

It called for further studies of Minette Bay such as using an underwater camera, could provide  a cost effective  way to visually inspect and classify the bottom sediments. Those sediments could then be sampled

based on the preliminary  mapping  of  sediment  characteristics,  log  handling  impacts  and  visual ·surveys. At these locations the benthic community should be sampled for diversity and species composition.  This information by itself or in conjunction with historical surveys in the bay and Kitimat Arm may give a sense of the degree of impact that log handling operations are having on the ecology of Minette Bay.

It also called for studies for “two small inlets that have very shallow sills; Foch Lagoon which has a 4 metre deep sill at low water and the other is Kiskosh Inlet which has a 2 metre deep sill.”

It notes

Kiskosh Inlet has a maximum depth of about 53m and is more like Minette Bay than Foch Lagoon which has a much deeper basin (250m).  Their very shallow sills suggest that the deep basin waters in these two inlets may be oxygen depleted.  A comparison with Minette Bay may be instructive as there are no log storage or handling activities in either of these inlets.

In 1997, DFO created a list of 52 sites on Douglas Channel that were used as active, abandoned or potential log dump sites, as targets for studies. The east and west sides of Minette Bay were two items on the list. Clio Bay, Foch Lagoon and Kiskosh Inlet were not on that list.

Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross says that if the Clio Bay capping project works, Minette Bay should be next.

Dissolved oxygen standards

The state of Alaska has set standards for dissolved oxygen in marine water with a minimum of six milligrams per litre in the one metre surface layer for coastal water and 5 milligrams per litre in estuaries, “except where natural conditions cause this value to be depressed,” with an additional standard of a minimum of 4 milligrams per litre at any one point in both coastal waters and estuaries.

In a statement to Northwest Coast Energy News, DFO spokesperson Carrie Mishima said, “Site-specific standards for dissolved oxygen levels will be developed for the enhanced site by sampling a control site having similar habitat parameters.”

It appears from documents posted on the DFO website that dissolved oxygen monitoring has been dismissed by DFO as too expensive until the issue became important to fish farming.

A 2005 DFO report on the Bay of Fundy noted

The time has therefore arrived for Canada to proceed seriously and rapidly toward the development and implementation of adequate dissolved oxygen standards and management protocols for the marine coastal zone and aquaculture. Such an effort will enable us to avoid the serious eco-socio-economic consequences associated with poor water quality. From a risk analyses perspective the dissolved oxygen issue might be classified as manageable. Aquaculture takes place in a relatively small proportion of the Canadian coastline and it is only within some of these areas that aquaculture is intense enough to pose potential problems. Hence, the likelihood of a major aquaculture induced depletion of dissolved oxygen is probably low to moderate and the impact of reductions is also probably low to moderate.

Another 2005 DFO report, again on aquaculture, based on meetings in Ottawa noted:

Dissolved oxygen is not yet an easily applied regulatory tool on a specific case-by-case basis, and views were mixed regarding its promise as a candidate for monitoring environmental quality in the coastal zone. However, it is one of the few options available for monitoring over hard bottoms. It is also a useful tool for predicting and assessing far-field effects in environments where oxygen levels may be a concern.

This despite the fact that Alaska and the EPA had been monitoring dissolved oxygen and setting standards for the previous decade.

Canada does not yet have national standards for dissolved oxygen levels in coastal waters. DFO says “site specific” standards will be applied at Clio Bay, but so far there are no details of what those standards will be.

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Clio Bay: What happens to sunken logs?

Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

Logs at Clio Bay
Floating logs at Clio Bay, September 14, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The forest industry has been operating on the Pacific coast from Oregon to Alaska for more than a century. Over that time, it is likely that millions of logs from booms and other operations have sunk to the bottom of bays, cove, estuaries and inlets along the coast.

During that century, scientists in both Canada and the United States have been studying the effects of the those sunken logs on the sea bottom. It is only in recent years that the cumulative effect of all those logs has become an environmental concern.

As well as logs on the sea bottom, ranging, depending on location, from a couple of hundred to the tens of thousands of logs, there are wood chips, wood fibre and discarded log parts and bark. Often metal cables, bolts, ropes, and other manufactured material either dropped accidentally or deliberately discarded are also found among the old logs, further contaminating the seabed. Compounding the problem of the sea bottom is organic material that would occur naturally on the seabed, including tree trunks, roots, branches, conifer needles, deciduous leaves and other material from terrestrial plants.

Anyone who sails Douglas Channel after a storm can see with all the floating tree trunks in the Channe. That means that storms and spring run off ads debris to the natural pile up of old logs and debris. At logging sites, this natural material, brought in by creeks and rivers, piles up on the already sunken logs.

Over the years, depending on the salinity, teredos, more popularly known as ship worms  eat the wood, often leaving a tube of bark that eventually collapses. The rotting wood, bark and other material is often, depending on conditions, pounded into fragments by the action of waves, currents and outflow from rivers. Some species of teredo can live in brackish water, but since teredos are not a fresh water species, that means that logs in fresh or mostly fresh water last longer.

A DFO report on sunken log sites on Douglas Channel, published in 2000, noted:

very few comprehensive, quantitative field studies describing the effects of wood and bark have been published and those that did focused on log handling and storage sites which handled high volumes of more than one million cubic metres.

The DFO report said that thick bark and wood debris deposits resulting from log handling can cause substantial, long-term negative impacts to benthic (sea bottom) ecosystems. Under the worst conditions, the cumulative debris can deprive an area of oxygen and, according to DFO, “virtually eliminate aerobic” sea bottom animal life.

The report noted that studies had shown that “negative biological impacts were localized,” but added that “the cumulative effect of several hundred sites located on the B.C. coast is currently unknown.”

Studying the problem has been a low priority for DFO and other agencies and that meant a limited budget and few studies. Other problems is that, according to the DFO, parts of BC fjords are steep and “much of the likely impacted habitat is beyond diver range.” There is also pressure to study the effect on “economically or socially important species.” Although the use of remotely operated vehicles has increased since the 2000 report, using an ROV can also be a budget buster for a low priority project.

As the ready timber supply in British Columbia particularly old growth forest declined in the last part of the twentieth century, the DFO report says “forest companies have harvested areas where access is more difficult and cut-blocks are smaller.” That meant many smaller dump sites were developed that were used for only one to five years. Plans for log handling at the time, DFO said, were evolving to ensure ensure that fisheries resources and overall fish production capability were not adversely affected by development of log handling facilities and planning was focused on ensuring that sites for log handling facilities did “not have sensitive fish habitats or fisheries resources (such as eel grass beds or shellfish resources) which may be affected by the log handling,”

One of the reasons for the disagreements over Clio Bay is that while some people call it “dead” saying there are no halibut and fewer cod, others say that Clio Bay is very much alive, pointing out that it is easy to catch crab and rock cod.

The studies that have looked at life on the bottom of log dumps sites have shown that it can be highly variable even within one bay or cove, with many factors creating small local ecosystems, including depth, nature of the sea bottom, for example sand, mud, clay or a mixture, whether or not the sea bottom sediment is “enriched,” the flow of currents, fresh water flow into the site, the percentage of wood on the bottom, the percentage of bark on the bottom, whether the wood and/or bark debris is “continuous’ or “discontinuous,” whether or not the seabed is contaminated as was the case with the cleanup of pulp mill sites at Ward Cove and Sitka, Alaska.

Ward Cove had been so polluted for decades by pulp mill effluent that it was eligible for US Superfund clean up funding and was estimated to hold 16,000 sunken logs. At the same time, an EPA report on Ward Cove noted that at the point Ward Creek emptied into Ward Cove was “a popular sport fishing location during salmon season, including commercially guided fishing. Some sport fishing and personal-use crab pot fishing has taken place in the past and may continue in the waters of the cove.” At the same time of the cleanup, the EPA identified that the degradation of Ward Cove put at risk eight species of salmon, 75 “non-salmonid esturine and marine fish species and benthic invertebrate fauna.”  (The EPA says Ward Cove is recovering after the reclamation and fishing is continuing)

In other words, those say Clio Bay is in danger and those who say Clio Bay is a rich source of life are likely both right.

For example, while Chris Picard’s (then with the University of Victoria, now with the Gitga’at First Nation) study of Clio Bay said: “Dungeness crabs were observed five times more often in the unimpacted Eagle Bay than in Clio Bay,” and tied that to log dumping and low oxygen.
Picard’s study noted that both Dungeness crabs and sunflower seastars, while more abundant in Eagle Bay, in Clio Bay “both species were several-fold less abundant in wood-dominated habitats in Clio Bay than in non-wood habitats in that bay.”

Several people have pointed out that since Clio Bay is one of the closest crabbing spots to both Kitimat and Kitamaat Village, while Eagle Bay is further down Douglas Channel, overfishing at Clio may be a factor in the reported species decline.

The DFO study noted

The dumping of logs into water down skids can result in the generation of a considerable amount of bark and wood debris. The abrasive action of boom boats and waves during the sorting and storage of bundles can also generate quantities of wood debris. Bark and wood lost during dumping often forms thick, continuous, anoxic fibre mats extended from the base of the dump skids. The debris mat tends to dissipate with distance from the entry point; however, wood debris can often be observed substantial.” distances from the dump skids as seen at all four of the sites sampled. Debris deposits can also be generated as logs resting on the sea floor decay. Wood boring organisms (e.g., Toredo) quickly reduce the wood fibre content of logs, but the bark of some species (e.g., western red cedar (Thuja plicata) which has a high lignin content) is left relatively untouched. The amount of wood debris generated during handling and storage can be different depending on tree species, tidal levels, and dumping methods. Debris accumulation, distribution, and the resulting biological impacts are affected by physical factors including depth, sea floor slope, dump site aspect, water currents, and wind or wave exposure.

One of the main problems with log dumping is that it has the potential to deplete vital oxygen, especially at deeper levels. Seasonal variations can mean that, even if there are thousands of logs at the bottom, the levels of dissolved oxygen can vary. Years of studies at the cleanup site at Ward Cove, Alaska showed how the oxygen levels can vary by season. In Minette Bay, near Kitimat, a DFO study showed that the Minette is somewhat stagnant and therefore has naturally occurring low oxygen levels, but also that the low levels usually last from May to November and are worst in July.

The DFO study went on to say that oxygen poor thick anoxic bark or wood fibre deposits are likely to cause damage to bottom dwelling species, although in the short term, logs may not cause any impacts. It says that some studies have indicated that large pieces of wood debris can, for a time, increase diversity by providing suitable base for some filter feeders as well as food and cover for epifauna and wood boring organisms. Several species not normally found in sand-bed have occasionally been found in log and rock debris.

(Studies have shown that salmon the ability to detect low oxygen areas and avoid them and some active  invertebrate species can migrate away from a low oxygen area.)

In the long term, logs do decay and the wood and bark left behind can contribute to the wood debris accumulation. One study cited by the DFO survey of Douglas Channel found found that crabs avoided bark deposits when given a choice but when they were forced to live among bark deposits, they were had fewer offspring, had lower feeding rates, and had a decreased survivorship.

One theory is that the decaying organic material produces hydrogen sulphide in combination with ammonia and other unmeasured toxicants. One study of Dungeness crabs, living at a log dump in southeast Alaska with elevated hydrogen sulphide and ammonia concentrations in the bark debris, shows the colony had less than half as many reproducing females as a control population.

The EPA and Alaska reports from Ward Cove show that sand capping does help restore the seabed environment.
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Clio Bay: DFO declines invitation to appear before Kitimat Council

Special report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

DFO logoThe Department of Fisheries and Oceans has declined an invitation from District of Kitimat Council to appear at a special meeting on Monday, September 30 to discuss the Clio Bay remediation project.  A representative of Chevron will be in the council chambers at the Kitimat branch of Northwest Community College to make a presentation and answer questions.

The letter from DFO to the council  from Dave Pehl works at DFO office in Kamloops says:

Thank you for the invitation to attend District of Kitimat Council meeting on September 30, 2013 to address plans by Chevron Canada and Apache Canada(Kitimat LNG) to remediate habitat conditions in Clio Bay. Regretfully, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is unable to attend the scheduled council meeting.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has reviewed a proposal to dispose of soil materials, generated at the Kitimat LNG plant, in Clio Bay, Clio Bay has been used as a log handling site for decades which has resulted in areas of degraded habitat from accumulations of woody debris materials on the sea floor. The project intends to cap impacted areas with inert materials and restore soft substrate seafloor. The remediation of the seafloor is predicted to enhance natural biodiverstiy and improve the productivity of the local fishery for Dungeness crab. The project area does support a variety of life that will be impact and therefore the project will require authorization from Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction (HADD) of fish and fish habitat.

Mapping of the seafloor in Clio Bay has been completed and the project plans prioritizes capping on areas of dense woody debris, followed by areas of soft substrate with woody debris distributed throughout. Mapped areas that are avoided include hard substrates and sensitive habitats such as freshwater streams and eelgrass beds. Buffers have been allocated around sensitive areas and no capping will be conducted in areas of less 10m in depth. Proposed mitigation to avoid potential impacts to areas outside Clio Bay includes avoiding deposition of material within 500m of the confluence of Clio Bay and kitimat Arm. Some areas of degraded or partially degraded habitat will not be capped to serve as reference areas.

Chevron will be required to conduct a pre-construction, construction and post construction monitoring program. Pre-construction monitoring will include collection of baseline information that will be used to assess effectiveness monitoring during and at the completion of the project. Water quality monitoring for turbidity and total suspended solids will be undertaken during construction to determine if established performance criteria are met. The monitoring plan for the project will evaluate

1. Water quality near the sea floor.
2. Fish habitat quality and quantity
3. Biodiversity of the seafloor ecosystem and
4. Distribution of a fishery resource (Dungeness crab)

Reference sites will be used to make comparison between capped and uncapped habitats. Monitoring will continue for a period of five years following the completion of the works. The proponent will be required to report the follow-up monitoring program to DFO in years 1,3 and 5 following construction.

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Clio Bay: Chevron statement

Chevron LogoSpecial report: Clio Bay cleanup: Controversial, complicated and costly

Here is the text of a statement Chevron spokesperson Gillian Robinson Riddell sent to Northwest Coast Energy News

The Clio Bay Restoration Project proposed by Chevron, is planned to get underway sometime in early 2014. The proposal is fully supported by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Haisla First Nation Council. The project has been put forward as the best option for removal of the marine clay that is being excavated from the Kitimat LNG site at Bish Cove. Chevron hired Stantec, an independent engineering and environmental consulting firm with extensive experience in many major habitat restoration projects that involve public safety and environmental conservation. The Haisla, along with Stantec’s local marine biologists, identified Clio Bay as a site that has undergone significant environmental degradation over years of accumulation of underwater wood debris caused by historic log-booming operations. The proposal put forward by the marine biologists was that restoration of the marine ecosystem in the Bay could be achieved if marine clay from Chevron’s facility site, was used to cover the woody debris at the bottom of the Bay. The process outlined by the project proposal is designed to restore the Clio Bay seafloor to its original soft substrate that could sustain a recovery of biological diversity.

In preparing this restoration project proposal for Chevron, Stantec conducted independent field studies carried out by their own marine biologists who are registered with BC College of Applied Biology. Two of the studies used in the development of the proposed project were previously published scientific studies on the effects of log-boom activity and log boom activity in Clio Bay that determined log boom and storage activity has had a negative impact on marine diversity. There are previous case studies where capping activity has been used in marine environments.

Stantec’s, and previous studies, have determined that Clio Bay has changed from a once highly productive marine bay characterized by plentiful predatory species such as Dungeness Crab and sunflower stars to a less productive environment hosting more opportunistic and resilient species such as squat lobster and sea anemones. One such study found that compared to Eagle Bay, which has not been affected by logging activity had five times the Dungeness Crab population of Clio Bay. Independent studies conducted before Chevron began working at Bish Cove found that if Clio Bay is left in its current degraded condition, the woody debris will continue to foster and abnormal, species-deficient habitat for several decades. Extensive fieldwork carried out by Stantec’s marine biologists used SCUBA and Remote Operated Vehicle surveys to observe and record all flora and fauna in the bay and its levels of abundance. Stantec’s observations echoed the previous studies which determined that the massive amount of wood has harmed Clio Bay’s habitat and ecosystem.

Most importantly, when considering the work Chevron is proposing to carry out in Clio Bay, it is important to note that a primary objective of all Chevron’s operations is to protect people and the environment. A good example of how we have done that on other projects can be seen in the construction of Chevron’s Gorgon LNG plant in Australia on Barrow Island, which is a Class A nature reserve. Although identified as one of the most important wildlife refuges in the world, and the site was chosen only after a thorough assessment of the viability of other potential locations, and after the implementation of extensive mitigation measures, including a vigorous quarantine program for all equipment and materials brought on to the Barrow island site to prevent the introduction of potentially harmful alien species. Those same high environmental standards are being applied to the Kitimat LNG project and the proposed Clio Bay Restoration project. The proposed work would be carried out with a stringent DFO approved operational plan in place and would be overseen by qualified environmental specialists on-site.

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