by Andru McCracken

Kinder Morgan is in hot water this week after the company laid snow fencing in local creeks to prepare the way for the Trans Mountain pipeline twinning project.

The aim of the snow fencing is to prevent salmon from spawning in construction areas, to make sure the pipeline construction does not disturb the nests.

However, according to the National Energy Board (NEB), the snow fence is considered construction, which Trans Mountain has not yet been authorized to do.

The NEB asked Transmountain to cease deploying the snow fence in other creeks, but it did not order the removal of the fences in the meantime which are still visible at one spot in Swift Creek near the Yellowhead Campground in Valemount.

Campers saw it first

Campground manager Charlene Simpson says many campers had questions about the bright orange fencing they saw in the creek during spawning season.

She says many people stay at the campground specifically to see the spawning salmon and some were disappointed and concerned about the deterrent.

She wasn’t aware of the reason for the fencing until local Swift Creek Watershed Society president Bruce Wilkinson came to the campground to have a look.

There’s now a sign near the creek explaining the plastic fencing held down with heavy rocks in the creek and why it’s there.

Why Snow Fences?

In a news release dated September 28, the NEB said they were aware that Trans Mountain had proposed using the snow fence to “mitigate environmental harm to fish and fish habitat in some locations.”

“…all applicable condition authorizations are required before construction can commence,” said the release from the NEB.

Seven snow fences were deployed in the Valemount & Blue River areas and one in Hinton.

In a release on their website, Trans Mountain fisheries biologist Calum Bonnington said the fencing prevents fish from spawning in “specific areas of a stream” within their proposed construction footprint.

“… we then know we will not be disturbing redds or incubating eggs at the time of construction, if our construction timing will overlap with incubating eggs,” Bonnington explained.

A redd is a salmon nest formed in the gravel of a stream.

Watershed Society Reacts

Bruce Wilkinson, president of the Swift Creek Watershed Society was incensed about the fencing when he first heard about it. He said sent an email to Kinder Morgan to find out what was going on.

Wilkinson has been a key part of ongoing work to protect salmon and their nests from visitors, natural and unnatural hazards.

Over the last five years the Swift Creek Watershed Society has leveraged $700,000 worth of grants for fencing, viewing platforms and rehabilitation of riparian areas along the creek to improve the chances for the salmon. The Chinook salmon make a 1300 km journey to the Pacific and back.

When he found out about the snow fence in the creek, Wilkinson was worried about whether the salmon would dare to cross the snow fence, which is held flat to the bottom of the stream bed with rocks, rebar and other materials.

He also saw the potential for the snow fence to be washed downstream during spring floods doing all sorts of damage on the way down.

“I asked for the scientific data that they salmon would actually cross it,” he said. “They were on the phone like no tomorrow.”

He said the fencing is laid as an extra deterrent, but he’s happy to report that those areas covered by the fencing in Swift Creek are not good habitat anyway.

“They need finer substrates,” said Wilkinson. “It’s a secondary safety measure.”

Trans Mountain fisheries biologist Bonnington said the snow fence will be removed when the spawn is over, so they will not pose a threat of being washed downstream during the spring floods.

Poor communication by Trans Mountain

Wilkinson is upset the company made changes to the stream without letting locals know.

He will be watching to ensure that Kinder Morgan obeys the four-five week window they have to upgrade the river crossing.

Kinder Morgan has since erected a sign explaining the purpose of the snow fence at the crossing.

As for the salmon of Swift Creek, the outlook for the next few years isn’t great, but that’s independent of pipeline crossings according to Wilkinson.

“The numbers coming back had been dropping. They are still going to drop for a few more years because of all the people walking in the river and destroying nests,” said Wilkinson.

NEB working for a resolution

James Stevenson a communications officer for the National Energy Board said that Trans Mountain still has work to do before it can begin construction.

“We knew about their plans to lay these mats, but we see this as construction activity,” said Stevenson. He said that some regulatory approvals, conditions, and even the determination of the final detailed route is yet to be done.

“The only area where it is approved is the Westridge terminal, but not the line,” he said. “It is extremely time sensitive, but the process is there for a reason.”

“We are working hard for a resolution here,” said Stevenson, and mentioned that there was another meeting with Trans Mountain on Oct. 3rd.