Surrey moves ahead with 84th Avenue road expansion through Bear Creek Park
The B.C. Supreme Court's decision was released to the public on Dec. 31, dismissing an environmental organization's petition
After months of weekly protests and a B.C. Supreme Court hearing, the nonprofit group Force of Nature Society lost its fight to prevent the City of Surrey from extending 84th Avenue through Bear Creek Park.
The court’s decision confirms Surrey is “well within its rights to proceed,” Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said in a press release after the court’s ruling. On Jan. 10, phase one of construction began, which included installing safety fencing and environmental protection measures, constructing temporary site accesses, and site clearing, according to the City of Surrey’s website.
On Oct. 14 and 15, the Force of Nature Society and Friends of Bear Creek Park sued the city in an attempt to stop the project due to environmental concerns such as pollution, drainage problems, and risk to wildlife in the park.
Justice Sheila Tucker dismissed the petition brought forward by Sebastian Sajda, president of the Force of Nature Society, and Surrey resident Annie Kaps, after deciding not to grant the petitioners public interest standing when bringing their allegations to court.
Sajda, who plans on running for council this year under the Surrey Connect slate and is a member of Friends of Bear Creek Park, says he and others in the organization are disappointed by the ruling.
“We did know going into it that it was going to be an uphill battle,” he says, adding that the decision of the court was on the basis of the legal status of specific plots of land.
“It wasn’t about the wisdom of the road going through or not. We thought it was bad policy, so we challenged it,” says Sajda. “We’re going to continue trying to challenge it however we can.”
As construction proceeds, Sajda says he has concerns for wildlife habitats in the park, including the salmon-bearing streams in the area.
Sajda says the salmon in Bear Creek Park currently live in a temporary culvert, making it unnatural for them.
“Salmon aren’t really used to going through metal tubes in the dark at high velocity,” he says. “It’s not really a natural place for a salmon to be.”
“Many municipalities are dealing with creeks, moving culverts and using ClearSpan bridges,” says Sajda. “This is something that is the most immediate concern we have right now.”
In addition to the salmon habitats, Sajda is also concerned about bird habitats being at risk in the park.
“Coming up in February is birding season. In Burnaby, we saw TMX stopped by a hummingbird nest,” he says. “We might see something similar this time.”
The City of Surrey says the road expansions will help reduce traffic and car accidents on 88th Avenue and King George Boulevard as it is the most dangerous intersection, according to the city. However, crashes at the intersection have been decreasing in recent years, with 232 crashes in 2018 compared to 131 in 2020.
The city’s information page about the $18-million project says their priority is protecting the park and minimizing environmental impacts, and had organizations complete five environmental reports regarding the potential effects of construction.
Envirochem, a consulting firm that prepared the Soil, Groundwater, and Methane Gas Characterization report for the project, took 28 soil samples and reported on the quality of the park’s soil, groundwater, and if there is measurable methane gas to detect. The report gives suggestions of a plan based on their research and concludes that some soil is good for re-use while other areas of the park are not.
Environmental reports about the Bear Creek Park road construction project were prepared by Envriochem, Hemmera Envirochem Inc., and Braun Geotechnical, however, company representatives were unable to respond to The Runner’s request for comment in time before publication.
In addition to Sadja’s concerns about the construction, he says the intervention of Attorney General David Eby may have affected the final court ruling.
During the trial, lawyers representing Eby argued he had the authority to enforce charitable trusts and that this was beyond the petitioner’s legal power, according to the Georgia Straight.
“We do think that the Attorney General’s intervention was quite negative,” says Sadja. “It’s been really disappointing that the Attorney General’s office, as well as the provincial and federal authorities, really haven’t been there for us.”
However, despite losing in court, Sadja says his group will continue protesting weekly and bring the issue into the next municipal election at the end of the year.
“I’m going to be hoping to fix this problem in council,” says Sadja.
“It might be the case that not much of the road is built when the next election comes,” he says. “It would be up for the next council to dispose of the project as they will either remediate the land or to finish it.”