Viewpoint: Environmental study findings a concern

City of Powell River will soon begin construction of the $75 million, 10-acre sewage plant on the Townsite waterfront at First Beach.

A wastewater treatment plant environmental impact study (Associated Engineering) was prepared in April 2018 as part of the approval process. The study considered the biophysical constraints on the receiving environment within the planned outfall area that will cross intertidal marine habitats. Effluent plume traps and sewage dilution/dispersion levels were determined, noting there will be a four-fold increase in effluent flows, all designed to meet ministerial requirements. 

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The study found there are no sensitive aquatic habitats or biota identified in the local study area within a two-kilometre radius surrounding the planned outfall location. This scientific finding is concerning.

In review of definitions: biota is the animal and plant life of a particular region, habitat, or geological period; aquatic habitat is the physical environment in which a plant or animal (or community of species) is usually found. The report is not accurate and lacks important information. Even our motto “Coastal by Nature” challenges the report findings.  

During this past winter, the area where construction will take place and the new outfall will be built, was home to the entire population of Steller sea lions that reside on the BC coast.  Many of these animals are usually located near the mouth of the Fraser River, but instead, all of the sea lions in BC, including the California sea lions, were situated in and around First Beach, the jetty and on the log booms, areas all located within the local study area.

Steller Sea Lions are listed as a species at risk. The location near First Beach in Townsite is recognized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) as a major haul-out area for these animals.

Haul-out areas are important as they can provide a rest area close to food sources, and provide protection from predators, such as transient killer whales.

The haul out in Townsite is now home for sea lions from October until beginning of June. According to DFO, the sea lions have increasingly moved to this location in large numbers during the past two years. During 2020, the seasonal peak numbered close to 400 animals.

DFO’s management plan for Steller sea lions has recognized various threats to the species such as disruption of gathering places by repeated disturbances from aircraft, boats, pedestrians and construction activities. Disturbance at haul-out sites can displace animals into the water and make them more vulnerable to predation. Acute acoustic noise disturbances, such as blasting or demolition near haul outs may result in stampeding, and pollutants such as PCBs and other chemicals originating from sewage sludge can affect their endocrine system.  

The city has stated the four-fold increase in effluent at this location will be an improvement, reducing four outfalls into one, however, effluent will receive only secondary treatment as compared to tertiary at Westview and a four-fold increase means effluent volumes will be heavily concentrated at this location, regardless.

Does the city know what the impacts are from increased effluent on the sea lion population at this location? What measures will the city take to ensure the sea lions are protected and where is that written?  

The study was limited in its environmental review and did not discuss potential impacts of construction on either marine or terrestrial habitats, during bird nesting seasons, when the population of sea lions is present, or when animal migration is in effect. There needs to be more study done in the pre-planning stage to identify potential impacts during construction, and how to properly plan for and mitigate negative impacts and potential destruction of animal habitat areas.

Our governing pillars of sustainability and environmental protection mean for more to be done.

Diana Collicutt is vice president of Townsite Ratepayers Society.

Copyright © Powell River Peak


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