By Meg Olson
When Vicki Huntington came to speak at the Point Roberts Taxpayers’ Association annual general meeting, she came with a plea.
“The Cross Border Coalition to Stop the Towers was an amazing exercise in citizen power,” Huntington, Member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly for South Delta told guests at the July 27 meeting, and she said citizen power is needed for another, larger issue. “This whole area is under threat, big threat right now and we are at a crossroads as citizens. Either we are going to try and protect and save what’s left of the migratory bird flyway or we’re going to watch it disappear.”
Huntington’s presentation, “The Great Migration: Love it or Lose it,” was a sobering catalog of the increasing industrialization and development in South Delta and in the Fraser River Estuary in general, which is eliminating critical habitat for migratory birds.
“The estuary is an ecosystem of its own and it is the primary stop for the migratory flyway on the west coast of North America,” she said. “It is an ecosystem that supports millions of birds.”
Snow geese, swans, widgeons, mallards and other waterfowl winter in our region and summer in the high arctic, she said. Flocks of dunlins and other shorebirds, including the world’s entire population of the western sandpiper, rely on the habitat of the Fraser estuary. “Delta has the highest concentration of raptors in Canada,” she said, including snowy owls.
The area has been recognized as critical habitat, with almost 21,000 hectares designated as a wetland of international significance under the Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 under UNESCO. The Fraser River Estuary, specifically Boundary Bay, Roberts Bank and Sturgeon Bank, are designated an Important Bird Area under a global initiative of BirdLife International in partnership with the Audubon Society.
Huntington said in the last 20 years development has steadily encroached on critical habitat and if the trend isn’t changed, that habitat loss could spell the collapse of the migratory flyway.
The Boundary Bay Airport, previously designated for light aircraft industrial uses has become “fully industrialized” with large distribution facilities either built or planned. Greenhouses continue to proliferate, now covering 150 acres in South Delta. “What we see here is a component of East Delta that 15 years ago was vital habitat and is now essentially gone,” Huntington said.
A proposed second terminal at Delta Port, which would add another terminal on a rock foundation at Roberts Bank, would double the capacity of the container port. Open land owned by B.C. Rail would be converted to an intermodal yard to serve the expanded port. Huntington described plans for the area as the development of an “industrial triangle on what are now primarily agricultural lands.”
Rapid development on Tsawwassen First Nations land is adding to the disappearance of habitat. “Tsawwassen First Nation is putting 4,000 homes on that land in addition to what I think will be a casino and the mall,” Huntington said.
The threat to the migratory flyway is an international issue, Huntington said, and she hopes residents south of the border call on their members of congress to look at an international migratory bird treaty. A second terminal at Delta Port would directly impact Point Roberts. “I don’t know if you’ve seen a change in your beach on the west side, because the hydrology of the area has changed,” she said, which would be exacerbated by an expansion of port facilities. “I don’t understand why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. haven’t been more interested.”
Audience member Arthur Reber said the open public forum with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, to be held Wednesday, August 17 from 3:30 to 4:30 at the community center, would provide an opportunity for Point Roberts residents to bring up their concerns, specifically about the proposed port expansion. “The impact on the Point is significant,” he said. “Our shoreline is changing.” Other audience members voiced concerns about the impact additional vessel traffic would have on air quality.
Huntington said reining in development in the Fraser estuary to find a balance between economic growth and environmental health was a cross-border issue. “We’re up against forces that are very real, very large and have all the money and influence,” she said. “It’s like starting on the tower battle, only some of us have been at this battle for a long time.”