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SLRD invites B.C. Rail to settle spray dispute without legal appeal

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District expects the Environmental Appeal Board to rule on its appeal of a B.C.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District expects the Environmental Appeal Board to rule on its appeal of a B.C. Rail permit to spray herbicide along rail lines within a few weeks, and says it will use that decision to determine a course of action for a second appeal.

"We may not have to appeal the second permit (if the SLRD wins) because we can negotiate," says SLRD administrator Rick Beauchamp. If the SLRD loses its first appeal "then the board has indicated that they want to proceed with (the second appeal), so unless they tell us otherwise we’re going ahead with it."

The first appeal concerns a B.C. Rail permit to spray the herbicide RoundUp along a section of track from Pemberton to D’Arcy. The second appeal, which was postponed until the Environmental Appeal Board can set a date in April, applied to a B.C. Rail permit to spray from North Vancouver to Pemberton.

The first appeal has cost the SLRD about $30,000 to date, and Beauchamp expects the cost of second appeal to be about the same. "It certainly is draining," he says. "We’ve spent considerable dollars already and it poses a strain on the budget process."

If there is any chance of resolving the issue of the second permit to their satisfaction without going to the EAP, the SLRD would prefer to deal with B.C. Rail directly.

At a recent budgetary meeting the SLRD reaffirmed that it would go ahead with the appeal, but also authorized sending a letter to B.C. Rail "setting out some terms and conditions that the SLRD would consider as far as negotiations with B.C. Rail, if they would give consideration to withdrawing the permit before the appeal process," says Beauchamp.

"The letter has been sent out and we’re still waiting for a reply."

Both the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the SLRD opposed B.C. Rail’s plans to spray herbicide within their political boundaries, concerned that it could make its way into the water supply and affect wildlife.

For visibility and safety, B.C. Rail is permitted to maintain vegetation for up to 10 metres on either side of the track – more if there is any risk of falling trees or interference from vegetation.

Other methods for clearing the track, including manually cutting vegetation, steam and the use of ultraviolet lights, are more expensive, less effective, and typically don’t last as long as herbicide.

B.C. Rail says RoundUp is inert, and that the herbicide is diluted substantially before it is applied. They do not spray within 30 metres of water, and have yet to find any evidence that RoundUp, which breaks down into natural components, poses any risk to people or wildlife.