SLRD appeal of B.C. Rail spraying could take months 

Debate over use of herbicides to clear tracks pits government against government

One down and one to go.

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is waiting for the provincial Environmental Appeal Board to rule on its first application to overturn a B.C. Rail permit to spray chemical herbicides along the rail line. The first application concerns mile 100 to mile 133 of the tracks, and just the ballast – the gravel area of the railway.

The second application concerns mile zero to mile 100, and the "right of way" – a wider passage than can extend 10 metres to either side of the track, depending on the lay of the land and visibility.

"We’re watching the first case closely because we feel it might impact the decision on our second appeal," says SLRD chair Susan Gimse.

"It’s really hard to say which way the decision is going to go, but I thought our case went really well. It’s in the hands of the Environmental Appeal Board. I’m optimistic, but I’m not going to try and second guess the board."

B.C. Rail has applied to spray the herbicide "Roundup" along the rail line from North Vancouver to North of D’Arcy in order to discourage the growth of vegetation that can affect the engineer’s line of site.

Roundup is generally regarded to be environmentally safe, blocking photosynthesis in plants and weeds before breaking down into inert substances like carbon dioxide.

However, the SLRD opposed the use of Roundup for health and environmental reasons, concerned that it could find its way into drinking water, and damage sensitive wetlands and private property. They argued that not enough was known about the long-term effects of using the chemical, and that the application could cause irreparable harm.

The SLRD was also concerned that B.C. Rail missed some water sources on its map which shows where it will spray, and the spraying permits didn’t carry any seasonal restrictions (i.e. no spraying in rainy months or during the spring runoff).

According to the Environmental Appeal Board, however, the decision on the first appeal could take two months or more.

"It’s very frustrating," says Gimse. "Here’s a local government (SLRD), a Crown corporation (B.C. Rail), the Ministry of the Environment and the Environmental Appeal Board, all funded by the taxpayers, all sitting around a table debating a government-issued permit that the people don’t want.

"You have to wonder, are the taxpayers being well-served here?"

The SLRD did not have legal representation at the appeal, but other groups had retained council. Instead, they relied on the independent consultant that studied the SLRD’s situation to present their case.

"We looked into a lawyer, but we simply didn’t have the money in our budget," says Gimse, who feels that the whole appeal process, while necessary, was an unnecessary strain on the bank book.

The permits in question include pesticide applications in 2001 and 2002.

In the future, B.C. Rail will be able to submit five year plans, called Pest Management Plans, to the Ministry of Environment in accordance with changes introduced in the Pesticide Control Act. Rather than apply for separate spraying licenses for each section of track, they will be able to get approval for their provincial spraying and pest control plan as a whole.

While this will streamline and simplify the process, the SLRD, Whistler and North Vancouver governments are concerned that they won’t have a say in the implementation of the plan if it is approved over their objections. The outcome of this latest round of appeals could determine how much weight local governments have in that process.

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