Perimeter road to cover native sites

Construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road will pave over important ancient archaeological sites but Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon maintains much is being done to reduce the impacts.

“We are doing everything possible to mitigate them,” Falcon said in an interview Thursday.

The 40-kilometre truck route from Deltaport to Highway 1 at 176 Street is a key Gateway project to efficiently move incoming containers that are now hauled through Delta and Surrey on local roads.

But the near-complete environmental assessment of the $1.1-billion project has turned up warnings important First Nations sites may be disturbed.

Aboriginal people have used the banks of the Fraser River for millennia.

Thirty per cent of the route cuts across land found to have high archaelogical potential and it runs over at least two already known ancient sites below the Alex Fraser Bridge that have been heavily researched in the past.

The two known sites contain deposits that include human remains, according to the transportation ministry’s assessment, and are of “demonstrable scientific significance.”

Falcon said the ministry is working closely with the Musqueam and other aboriginal groups to find artifacts of importance.

“We have spent a lot of time working with the local First Nations on this,” he said.

The Gateway project is expected to trigger excavation of undisturbed deposits at points where the route can’t be changed or the road can’t be elevated.

Falcon admitted there will be some impacts from the perimeter road that can’t be mitigated.

Federal officials have also flagged potential health and air quality impacts attributed to the road’s construction or the traffic it will carry.

Environmental groups argue Burns Bog is at risk because the highway will change its hydrology.

And more than 100 homeowners are being forced to give up their homes or property to make way for the route.

“I don’t think we should ever pretend that you can build a $1-billion project and not impact anyone,” Falcon said.

Doing nothing also has consequences, he said, pointing to heavy truck traffic through residential neighbourhoods on River Road and other streets in Surrey.

“Think not just what’s happening today and how bad it is, which is very bad, but what’s it going to be like in 10 or 15 years with the growth of container traffic and the growth of the local economy?

Not doing anything also has significant impacts.”

The South Fraser Perimeter Road is in the final stages of its environmental assessment process.

Falcon says construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road will begin “immediately” once it gets environmental assessment approval, potentially in the next few weeks.

But he said his expectation it will proceed doesn’t mean the environmental review is a foregone conclusion, or a sham process as some critics argue.

“This is hardly a slam-dunk process,” he said, calling it difficult and challenging. “We are investing millions and millions of dollars to try to ameliorate environmental impacts.”

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority CEO Gordon Houston called the perimeter road a critical project for the port but said environmental concerns must be addressed.

“We will not put one stick of our business across it unless it gets environmental approval to proceed,” he told a conference in Surrey Thursday.

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