B.C. Rail and municipality reach agreement over herbicides 

After almost a year of negotiations and legalities, B.C. Rail has agreed to refrain from spraying herbicides along the rail line in environmentally sensitive areas of Whistler, from Function Junction to the top of Green Lake.

In exchange, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) sent a letter to the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) announcing their intention to drop both its appeal and stay proceedings against B.C. Rail’s spraying permit.

The municipality has also agreed to share the costs of exploring various environmentally-friendly vegetation management alternatives at railway crossings.

"We’re really pleased with B.C. Rail’s decision to agree with Whistler’s request," says Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works for the RMOW. "This is a significant step in maintaining our natural environment and protecting our drinking water supply."

The municipality no longer uses pesticides or herbicides in its landscaping program and is exploring several new environmentally sensitive technologies to control weeds, including steam, mechanical cutting, and planting vegatation that eliminates competition but won’t grow high enough to affect the train operator’s line of sight. Municipal staff are committed to working with B.C. Rail to find an effective and cost-efficient alternative to using pesticides, says Barnett.

The municipality won the stay on the B.C. Rail spraying permit last September when the EAB upheld their contention that the spraying posed a danger to Whistler’s wetlands and drinking water supply. Whistler was also pursuing an appeal to have the permit withdrawn.

Under the current system, B.C. Rail has to apply for a permit to spray pesticides (a catch-all term that includes herbicides and wood preservatives) from the Ministry of Environment. Once a spray permit is approved, other parties have 30 days to file an appeal. The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the District of North Vancouver filed appeals along with the RMOW.

Because B.C. Rail was free to spray until the appeal could be ruled on, the RMOW and SLRD had to petition the appeal board for a stay on the permit until their appeals could be heard. Both governments were caught off guard when farmers along the tracks north of Pemberton discovered that B.C. Rail was spraying the tracks, believing that the stay applications were enough to halt the spraying.

They then had to ask the EAB for a second interim stay that would prevent spraying until the board had a chance to hear their arguments for the stay.

The board granted both interim stays, and last fall approved Whistler’s application for a stay until the appeal could be heard on the grounds that there was potential for "irreparable harm" to the wildlife and tourism values of the community if the spraying proceeded.

The SLRD’s request for two stays was denied because the EAB "finds that the SLRD has not established that it will suffer irreparable harm if the requested stay is not granted."

Their appeal was based on the fact that the B.C. Rail permits, which stretch from Mile 100 to Mile 133 at the SLRD’s northern boundary, and from Mile 0 in North Vancouver to Mile 100, did not have seasonal restrictions. If spraying were to occur during or before a heavy rainfall the SLRD argued that it could harm surface and ground water. The SLRD was also concerned that the B.C. Rail map that accompanied the permit application did not identify every body of water along the rail lines – sprayers have to leave 30 metre buffer zones between spray applications and bodies of water.

The SLRD was frustrated with the EAB’s decision, and the fact they have spent more than $30,000 on an appeal against a Crown corporation. Their first appeal, on Mile 100 to Mile 133, was expected to have been wrapped up by now and the SLRD was hoping it could use a positive decision to get B.C. Rail to negotiate a settlement on the second appeal. As of May 30, the appeal was still ongoing.

The permits themselves will run out in 2002, at which point B.C. Rail will switch to a new system that is not as specific or limited as the current permit system. They will submit five-year Pest Management Plans (PMP) to the Ministry of Environment for approval, after which point they can make their own decisions on how to handle pests on a site-to-site basis.

The RMOW has already reviewed and commented on B.C. Rail’s plan, and Barnett believes that the recent arrangement reached between Whistler and B.C. Rail will apply to the PMP. "Whether this decision will impact the PMP, we’ll still have to see. We hope that B.C. Rail will recognize the sensitive areas in Whistler in the future."

The herbicide in question is RoundUp, a glyphosate that breaks down naturally and which is considered to be safe. B.C. Rail also dilutes the herbicide beyond what is recommended, and only uses it on patches of growth that could pose a problem.

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