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Burns Bog Conservation Society president, Eliza Olson in the bog at Delta, B.C. last week. (Lyle Stafford)
Burns Bog Conservation Society president, Eliza Olson in the bog at Delta, B.C. last week. (Lyle Stafford)

River of discontent runs through Delta South Add to ...

When Wally Oppal spoke to supporters on election night, he acknowledged the controversies that had roiled Delta South over the preceding four years.

"I recognize that in the past, there have been mistakes made," he said at Delta's Town and Country Inn on May 12, when preliminary polling results showed him ahead of independent candidate Vicki Huntington by a mere two votes.

"I recognize that in the past, there hasn't been the level of consultation that there ought to have been. And I can tell you that I will consult, I will meet with the community and work with everyone in the community."

With a recount pending - the gap is now three votes - Mr. Oppal has to wait and see if he can mend rifts in Delta South.

Ms. Huntington hopes a recount will give her the edge.

No matter which candidate prevails, the toxic atmosphere in Delta South may linger. Residents still bitter over new power lines in Tsawwassen are bracing for construction of South Fraser Perimeter Road, a $1-billion, 40-kilometre highway between South Delta and the Fraser Valley.

The province says the road, part of British Columbia's Gateway program, will make it easier for goods and people to move around the Lower Mainland and improve air quality by reducing idling time in traffic. Opponents maintain the project caters to truck traffic at the expense of air quality, Burns Bog and agricultural land.

"The more people become aware of the impact, the angrier they are," says Eliza Olson, president of the Burns Bog Conservation Society.

Burns Bog is the largest domed peat bog - higher in the middle than at the edges - on the west coast of North America. Home to scores of species of birds, plants and animals, the bog has been threatened before. In 1988, local opposition killed a plan to dredge part of it for industrial development. A 1990s proposal to use some of it for a racetrack was also quashed.

In 2001, federal and provincial governments, along with the municipality of Delta and the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver), teamed up to buy the bog. They followed up in 2004 by signing a conservation covenant that covers an ecologically sensitive area.

Provincial governments have been thinking about a new highway in the region for about 20 years. The bog has been a perennial concern.

In submissions for an environmental review of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, Environment Canada said in a 2007 letter that the province "has not demonstrated that project impacts on wildlife, notably migratory birds and species-at-risk, and their habitats, can be satisfactorily mitigated or compensated."

The route was rejigged to skirt the bog. Last year, the South Fraser Perimeter Road obtained its environmental assessment certificate.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who initially opposed the project, says she's confident the bog will be protected and the conservation covenant upheld. "When big government decides to build things and it's heading your way, you have to find ways to mitigate it," she said yesterday. "The mitigation measures that have to be undertaken by the province will enhance the bog."But South Delta residents may not welcome a megaproject in their midst. Ms. Huntington campaigned on the theme that the Liberals had turned their backs on the community, which is also wrestling with the potential impacts of the Deltaport Third Berth Project - under construction - and the proposed Terminal 2, which would expand container terminal capacity at Roberts Bank.

The Tsawwassen First Nation, which signed a landmark treaty in 2007, also has port-related development plans.

And while Mr. Oppal and other politicians - including Ms. Jackson, who endorsed Mr. Oppal in the provincial election campaign - are preaching a gospel of forward-looking co-operation, some residents are still fighting mad.

Bernadette Kudzin is preparing to move this summer, after agreeing to sell her Tsawwassen home to the province as part of a deal reached with homeowners directly affected by new towers for the Vancouver Island Transmission Reinforcement Project.

Asked how she voted, Ms. Kudzin replied that she worked on Ms. Huntington's campaign.

"The government has made this assumption that it's in the past - they've bought people out and away they go," Ms. Kudzin said, referring to the new towers. "We still drive by them all the time and it's a very angry community."

*****

Controversial projects in Delta South

Tsawwassen residents are still bitter over new high-voltage power lines and towers that have been erected through the community to carry electricity to Vancouver Island.

Delta residents are bracing for construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, a $1-billion, 40-kilometre highway between South Delta and the Fraser Valley.

The route of the South Fraser Perimeter Road has been rejigged to skirt Burns Bog, the largest domed peat bog on the west coast of North America.

TONIA COWAN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

 

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