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Did Libs Shush Their Scientist?

Big real estate projects threaten Mission habitat.

By Rafe Mair 6 Oct 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair's column for The Tyee appears every Monday.

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Silvermere Lake, Mission, B.C. Photo by Kitaninik.

This story is an old one going back more than five years and involves Genstar, the huge construction company that gives us that monstrous view from the Port Mann Bridge of Mary Hill, a monument to ticky-tacky houses. This involves a proposed development up the road apiece at Silverdale -- in fact Genstar plans two environmental monstrosities, one on a hill and the other on an island in Silvermere Lake. You're not going to believe the next bit. They plan to drain the lake in order to build a bridge to the island then fill it up again! Who knows? Perhaps in "mitigation" (The weasel word of environment desecrators) they will scoop out the dead trout and replace them with goldfish.

The $2 billion housing development by Genstar would impact severely on precious salmon habitat and diverse fish and wildlife while producing major greenhouse gas emissions as up to 5,000 new car-dependent homes are added to the Fraser Valley. Close your eyes and see the last scene in Field of Dreams where, as predicted, Kevin Costner's baseball park, out on an Iowa farm next to nowhere, has hundreds of cars full of people coming to have a look see. Build it and they will come -- and they will come to Silverdale, doubling the population of Mission.

Silverdale citizens in revolt

Most of the present residents of Silverdale are up in arms. Lest you think that this is just a "last person on the life raft" response, understand that most of these people get their water from wells that are filled by aquifers on the hill to be destroyed. Now, that's silly, Rafe, the mountain isn't going to be destroyed -- just every living bit of fauna and flora that live on it will be affected.

The whole story is yet to come and starts with a public hearing which will no doubt be a big rally against the development on Oct. 21. But, as reported by CBC investigations, the issue has a history going back to 2003 when Dr. Marvin Rosenau, then a scientist with the provincial government, wrote a scathing report condemning this project.

Who's he? Rosenau earned a master's degree from the department of zoology, University of British Columbia, and a doctorate from the department of biological sciences of the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Here's what he says about what is known as Silvermere: "From California to southern British Columbia, it is the only ecosystem of its type [in an urban area], because of the large run of salmon." In his report of 2003, he said, "The scope of this project [Silvermere] is considerably out of line with the environmental and ecological values associated with this particular landscape and the extensive amount of damage it will cause,"

"This project constitutes one of the most environmentally damaging development projects that I have had occasion to review."

Somebody in the B.C. Liberal government didn't like this report -- in fact it is known that several Liberal backbenchers were livid -- and Rosenau was eased out of his office.

'Fraser Valley MLAs don't like you. You're gone'

Here's how it went according to the CBC report Tuesday, Oct. 30. "On Sept. 24, 2003, two weeks after Rosenau submitted his initial report, Scott Benton, executive director of the Environment Ministry's regional operations in Victoria, wrote an e-mail to the scientist's superiors, as follows: "Apparently, a memo has surfaced that was authored by Marvin... that Genstar claims damages their ability to proceed," the e-mail said. "They are meeting with the premier and the minister on this, this week. I need some background on this latest development."

In another part of the e-mail, Benton wrote, "Needless to say the angst levels are extremely high regarding this issue."

Rosenau was asked to tone down the report to which he replied, "This [Silvermere] was the hill to die on. This was the one that I was going to throw my body across the train tracks for, because it was worth saving."

The CBC story continued thusly "On Oct. 31, 2003, it was announced he would be reassigned to another branch in the ministry and would negotiate a secondment to the University of British Columbia. He didn't return to the ministry after his stint at UBC and currently works as a teacher".

Rosenau said he was later told that politicians in the Campbell government wanted him removed from the Genstar project.

"This is what the assistant deputy minister [of Environment] said when I got pushed out the door... 'Marvin, there's nothing wrong with your science. It's just that the eastern Fraser Valley MLAs don't like you. You're gone. We're going to give you what's called a time-out until the next election.'"

How's Campbell's memory?

As I mentioned, the story is just beginning to unfold. What should interest us at this time is the position of the premier. Here we have a huge development company, substantial donors to the Liberal war chest, planning the largest housing development in western Canada in a Liberal riding. Is Premier Campbell saying that this had never come to his attention?

Scott Benton says that after the Rosenau report was received that Genstar demanded a meeting with Premier Campbell the following day. The premier recently vehemently denied these allegations, going as far as to deny ever even having heard of the project, in spite of the e-mails that suggest otherwise.

So Gordon Campbell says that he had no plans to meet with Genstar executives and that he had never even heard of the enormous Silverdale development. Is this true, or is the premier having a lapse of memory? More digging by journalists is needed.

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