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Pacific Gateway highway expansion hits two roadblocks

The Lower Mainland's controversial Pacific Gateway project, long the target for environmentalists, First Nations and other critics, ran into two significant obstacles in May.

On May 19, Sany Zain,Translink's director of roads, announced to an enthusiastic crowd of project opponents at a Sapperton Pensioners Hall meeting that the proposed United Boulevard extension of the massive highway project was being cancelled because of public opposition, including that of the New Westminister City Council.

On May 25, a lawsuit was filed alleging that the $1.2 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road section of Gateway threatens aboriginal burial sites and BC's oldest archeological site. The plaintiffs in the B.C. Supreme Court action, Bertha Williams of the Tsawwassen First Nation and William Burnstick, a member of the Cree nation, say that the B.C. government knew of the harm the road would do to a stretch of the Fraser River, which includes the Glenrose Cannery and St. Mungo archaeological sites, but "did not consider the conservation, protection, preservation of social, cultural, economic and archeological values" of the land.

The plaintiffs say the government has ignored a study that documents the threat the highway project poses to sacred and archeologically important sites along its 40 kilometre length.

"I am quite sure that the province of British Columbia, if this was a Jewish or Protestant or Catholic cemetery, would make appropriate arrangements because doing this kind of thing is prohibited under the Cemetery and Cremations Act," Jay Straith, Williams and Burnstick's lawyer, told The Surrey Leader on May 25. Straith is also acting for the Burns Bog Preservation Society in an earlier court action filed against the Gateway project.

The mega-project -- which includes widening existing roads, doubling the Port Mann Bridge and the construction of an expressway in Delta -- is part of a plan to link the Deltaport with the Trans Canada Highway and "tap into trade opportunities with the Asia-Pacific," said former premier Gordon Campbell last winter.

In addition to the issues of aboriginal concern raised by the most recent court action, Gateway opponents argue that the highway expansion will increase BC's use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions, thus contributing to global warming/climate change. (On May 29 the Guardian reported that 2010 saw history's highest levels of CO2 emissions, and with them the threat of a catastrophic shift in global heat and climate patterns.)

As recently reported in The Hook, opponents of the Gateway project established a protest camp on the right of way for the freeway extension on Earth Day, April 22. The camp was sustained for several weeks, organizers told The Hook, and only lifted in anticipation of the new legal action taken by Burnstick and Williams.

As the tents went up on the right-of-way beside the Fraser, one of the organizers, Eric Doherty told The Hook, "We are trying to build a movement to turn up the heat on politicians so we can turn down the heat in the planet's climate."

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