So much for the Secret Ballot

I’m throwing my lot in with Tenth to the Fraser here, and am supporting Fin Donnelly this election.

To many people who know me only from this Blog, that is probably not a surprise. I come across as a soft leftie big-government tax-and-spend environmental whack job (or so I am told). However, it is a surprise to most people who know me, including myself.

I have never voted NDP in my life, and I have voted in every federal election since 1988 (When I voted for the PCs, who with the benefit of hindsight, were the most progressive Government on the environment in my lifetime). With elections in 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008, along with one Federal by-election (that I can recall voting in) and 4 Provincial Elections (I didn’t vote in 2001 as I was living in the States), that is 11 chances, and I have never taken the Orange pill.
Part of the reason for this is that I was raised in a Big C Conservative household. My Dad, especially, was never too comfortable with the “Progressive” tag in the PC name, and proudly lined up to vote for Robert Stanfield against Trudeau three times. The ironic part of this is that every time I suggest perhaps Stephen Harper is not the best thing ever to happen to Canada, my Father’s reflex false dichotomy argument is to accuse me of “loving Jack”. So telling my Dad, in his 70th year, that I voted for Jack is going to hurt. This picture will no doubt disappoint:
Sorry Dad. I guess the Canucks playoff beard doesn’t help, eh? 
Another reason is that the last Party of which I was a member was the Green Party of Canada. I joined after meeting Marshall Smith, who ran for New Westminster-Coquitlam, and have helped Rebecca Helps in the subsequent by-election. My membership is now lapsed (which hasn’t stopped the relentless flow of spam), although I still think the Greens may have the best platform on balance. There is a lot more there that I agree with than things I don’t (although there is still much of the latter). This election, however, the Greens have decided to put all of their effort into one and a half ridings, and have essentially abandoned the idea of being a national party. I also have concerns that the “Green” brand has taken that party as far as it is going to go, and they have to do some serious soul-searching about how they plan to break past the 7% ceiling they have hit. Locally, Rebecca was a great candidate during the by-election, and has her heart in the right place, but has herself moved on to Victoria to work for the Provincial Greens, and has had a pretty lacklustre campaign locally.
That said, the biggest challenge the New Westminster-Coquitlam Greens have is Fin Donnelly. The NDP have a hit-and-miss record on the environment, partly (in my uninformed opinion) because of their traditional labour support (so Union Jobs will always come before environmental stewardship), and partly because their response to Climate Change (the “Cap and Trade” method) is simply wrong. Nonetheless, Fin rises above the balance of the party on the Environment file. His unrelenting advocacy for the protection of the Fraser River and wild Pacific Salmon is approaching legend status. He is as “green” as any NDP candidate gets.
In his short 16-months as MP, he has demonstrated an exceptional work ethic. For a new MP in a third-place party, his record is substantial: he has brought 6 private members bills forward, two on environmental issues, and has worked across parties to advance these initiatives. He has held town hall meetings here at home to connect his constituents to Ottawa. He is the only local senior-government politician who is impolite enough to mention that Evergreen has not really been built yet.
I can personally vouch for his constituent support. A couple of friends and I were working on a difficult local environment issue, and were able to arrange a meeting with Fin to discuss the issue. He took the time to listen to our concerns, gave us some insight into the politics of the issue, and provided some really useful suggestions. He also took the time to provide useful insight into the UBE issue that has a Federal component (as that is where some of the money comes from). He has worked in Ottawa, and he has worked in the community. That is what I want from an MP.

So today I decided to attend the Jack Layton rally in Burnaby. Notably, I am not and NDP member, nor have I ever supported the NDP, but I had not problem joining the crowd at this rally (hear that Stephen?). And it was as pumped up a crowd as I have seen since I saw the Tragically Hip play at the House of Blues in Vegas. Following the tried-and-true campaign tactic of ordering a room about 10% too small for the crowd you anticipate, the NDP missed the goal here, as there were more people outside rallying than there were inside. It was so packed inside that even Adrian Dix couldn’t get a front-row seat. Jack was on message, and full of energy, and made sure to point out, in English and in French, that the Quebec breakthrough makes this an election like no other.

Jack was so full of energy, I would have needed a faster camaera to catch him…
The Rally was so crowded, even those who should have had some pull
seemed to have a hard time getting close to the stage.
So I guess I am on the Orange Wave. The polls, if they are to be trusted, are suggesting that the NDP may beat the Liberals. I’m not sure the popular vote surge is going to result in enough seats to make Jack Prime Minister in our first-past-the-post system, but predictions are not worth much this year. Monday Night’s Vote Party will be fun, and it will be a nail biter.

What a dick.

I try to stay non-partisan. I have voted for many different parties in the past, and now that I have zeroed in on “the environment” as the main issue I vote around, I am pretty confident that any party can take a leadership role on that topic (although none of them choose to talk about it this election). Generally, I vote for the best local candidate, and that is how I am going to vote this year. I feel pretty good about my vote this year, having had the chance to chat with all 4 of my local “main party” candidates last week. So this vote is a character vote, not a party vote.

That said, I have nothing against my local Conservative candidate. She works hard in her community and has some “envrionmental cred”, but I am going to be voting against her party for one simple reason: Stephen Harper is a dick.

I try to run a family program here, but the word “dick” just describes Harper so perfectly, I can’t think of a less profane way to encapsulate his personality. His history is defined by a long serious of serious dick moves, and he pretty much owns 100% of the dick moves this election campaign.

His latest dick move was standing up yesterday and talking up his unqualified support for profiteering from third world deaths.

Background: The sale of asbestos is illegal in Canada, as it is in most of Europe, Japan, and the rest of the industrialized world. In the US it is not strictly illegal due to strong industry throttling of the EPA, but it is effectively impossible to use, as the costs related to safety and clean-up have priced asbestos out of the market compared to safer alternatives. This is because asbestos causes cancer and other deadly diseases. Of course, in developing countries, they don’t have the governance levels required to institute strict controls on asbestos use. Therefore, in much of the world, Canadian asbestos is used in the same way now as it was in North America 50 years ago, with the same resultant cancer deaths.

Selling a known cancer-causing agent to countries that cannot effectively regulate their use is not illegal, it is just deeply, deeply unethical. Especially as Canada itself will not allow its use because of the unacceptable human health impact. Yet Canada is in the exclusive company of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe and Columbia as the last countries that mine and sell asbestos.

Why? Well, he is interested in protecting jobs! However, the few remaining asbestos mines in Canada are all in Quebec, and employ less than 1000 people. To put that in perspective, that is about 5% of the total mining employment in Quebec, and way less than 1% of the mining employment in Canada. Ten times as many people work for the City of Vancouver than work in all the asbestos mines in Canada combined. These few mines operate only due to government subsidies, and create markets in the poorer parts of the world through a government-funded marketing and PR firm. Standing up for this losing industry that kills more people annually than it employs is a big-time dick move.

Another campaign example of a dick move is to continue to assert that his pet jet planes are going to cost $75 million each. This despite the guys selling the planes saying that is not true; industry experts from Washington saying it is not true; his own Department of Defence saying it is not true; his own Parlimentary Budget Office saying it is not true. What do any of these guys know? Steve is sticking to his story. What a dick.

There was even a loca ldick move last week. Apparently, The right honrourable dick was going to meet the press and give a few words here in New Westminster. The press and supporters were told to expect him some time around noon on Easter Sunday, at Royal Square. A few people I know well showed up, hoping to spy the PM. However, only invited guests and press were loaded on to a bus, with a driver who apparently didn’t know (or couldn’t say) where he was going. At noon, they drove over to the Burnaby Alliance Church, and arrived just in time to see (and film, for the afternoon broadcast) the dick walk out of a church and into his motorcade. No press conference, no interaction with the public. Compare this to Ignatieff’s visit to West Vancouver last week, a public stop at a small business, an open-to-the-public town hall, addressing questions from people off the street. Or compare it to the time last year that Jack came into the Brooklyn on Columbia and shook every hand in the room, with Fin Donnelly the only “security” around. These are not dick moves.

Firing his “Integrity Commissioner” and paying her to shut her up? Firing the Nuclear Safety Regulator for not agreeing to approve the unsafe operation of a nuclear reactor? Giving a speech to his American pals describing Canada as a “Northern European Welfare State in the worst sense of the term”? All dick moves.

How about throwing Helena Guergis under the bus? Keeping mum for more than a year about shadowy “allegations” that made her too hot to keep around caucus, and eventually lead to her being turfed. Then when she is running in a tight election race as a Independent, Harper releases a bunch of salacious allegations, painting her as a drug addicted whore, then saying in effect “well, we have no proof, but boy, look at them allegations!”. This is eerily similar to the “ancient and honourable story” Hunter S. Thompson told about how Lyndon Johnson first got elected to Congress in 1948:

“…Lyndon was running about 10 points behind, with only nine days to go… He was sunk in despair. He was desperate. And it was just before noon on a Monday, they say, when he called his equally depressed campaign manager and instructed him to call a press conference at two or two-thirty (just after lunch on a slow news day) and accuse his high-riding opponent (the [wealthy and politically favoured] pig farmer) of having routine carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows, despite the pleas of his wife and children… His campaign manager was shocked. ‘We can’t say that, Lyndon,’ he said. ‘It’s not true.’ ‘Of course it’s not,’ Johnson barked at him, ‘but let’s make the bastard deny it.’

That is the type and scale of dick Stephen Harper is.

Pier Park ad nauseum.

Chris Bell’s ongoing criticism of the Pier Park has suffered a bit of a backlash in the local media, which has in turn resulted in Mr. Bell striking back with allegations of a personal vendetta. The drama…

Mr. Bell’s analysis of ad hominem was interesting, if slightly flawed. However, he may have a point. Little in Mrs. Jepser’s letter addressed the specific claims made by Mr. Bell. These are claims I am painfully familiar with, and have addressed specifically in the past. Mr. Bell has even offered to retort to my criticism of his specific claims, but so far, he has failed to do so.

So I will avoid ad hominem, and address Mr. Bell’s specific claims, as he presented them in his recent letter, and since he raised the spectre of Logical Fallacy, I will return the favour:

“I have claimed that the railroad lands north of the Westminster Pier Park are themselves a brownfield site…”

This is a factual error. For a piece of land to be a “brownfield”, it must be abandoned, or have lost its useful value due to actual or perceived contamination. The rail lines are far from abandoned, but are being used to move trains. They are an active contaminated site. To the best of my knowledge, there are no plans for them to be abandoned any time in the near future. (Logical Fallacy: incorrect use of terminology)

“…heavily contaminated…”

This phrase is kind of subjective, and judgmental in this setting. There is inferred contamination in the groundwater (and potentially the soil) under the tracks, but by what measure is contamination “heavy”? (Logical Fallacy: use of Weasel Words)

“…with hazardous levels of tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene and cichloroethylene,”(sic)

This assertion is not supported by the facts. There is some concentration of these three solvents (common in drycleaning solutions and things like brake cleaners or carburettor treatments you can buy at Canadian Tire) in the groundwater at the park. No-where in the reports is it suggested that these solvents are present in concentrations regulated under the Hazardous Waste Regulations. Therefore the use of “hazardous” in the strict sense of the Environmental Management Act is wrong, and (as we will see next) incorrect in the informal sense (Logical Fallacy: incorrect use of terminology).

“…and therefore must be avoided”.

This is a complete non-sequitor. I have explained this to Mr. Bell several times, but he continuously fails to acknowledge the fact. The identified contamination under the rails area is in groundwater 40 feet below the surface. It does not now, nor will conceivably ever, pose a health risk to people standing on the tracks. No matter how hard or how often he bangs this drum, it ain’t the truth (Logical Fallacy: Non-Sequitor).

“I have questioned why the City of New Westminster, having known about the toxic railway right-of-way (which it owns) for many months, has not posted signs alerting citizens to the toxic soils.”

And I suspect the answer he received was: there is no risk to people using the tracks from the soils, and the railway already has signs saying “Private Property: keep off”. Not because of the risk from soils, but because of the risk caused by onrushing trains!

“This claim is not in dispute…”

Yes it is, and I have disputed it with Mr. Bell repeatedly. (Logical Fallacy: this is a form of Begging the Question)

“as the City of New Westminster sent a report to the Ministry of Environment eight months ago outlining how the railway land soils are high risk for contamination.”

And, as has been explained to Mr. Bell several times, the “High Risk” designation under the Contaminated Sites Regulations has no relation whatsoever to actual hazard caused to people walking on the tracks or using the park (Logical Fallacy: incorrect use of terminology).

“ That same report outlines how the railway lands are more contaminated than the park soils were”

There is an interesting use of the phrase “more contaminated”. The Park soils had metals contamination in the surface soils (now removed), and small patches of near-surface light hydrocarbon contamination (now removed or treated), and low concentrations of the chlorinated solvents in groundwater at one location at great depth. The concentrations of the solvents at depth are likely higher under the tracks, but there is no indication the metals of light hydrocarbon contamination is present on the tracks.

“(that’s saying something considering how toxic the soils of the park were)”

No it isn’t. It isn’t saying anything, since the bulk of contamination in the Park lands was addressed and was in no way related to the contamination under the tracks. (Logical Fallacy: the Association Fallacy).

Another interesting Logical Fallacy has come up recently in the media discussion about the Pier Park. First the main argument was that there was something underhanded about how the park was purchased (secret deals, etc.), and those were well refuted. This was followed by the suggestion that there was a lack of environmental due diligence in the purchase (also refuted). Then the argument was that the contamination on the site was going to be a danger to park users (yes, refuted), which shifted slightly to an argument that the tracks adjacent to the Park were dangerous to trespassers (now, hopefully, completely refuted). Now the argument is arouynd a preceived inadequacy in the number of piles being used to stabilise the pier, as if the structural engineers, geotechnical engineers, and the City are conspiring together the endanger park users…

This technique is known as the “Gish Gallop”.

Meeting Candidates

Notice, this is one of those few posts I will do where I am essentially writing as President of the New Westminster Environmental Partners. I have not passed this by the membership, so the opinions expressed below are not necessarily those of the NWEP, but the event I am talking about is clearly an NWEP-led initiative. So: Facts theirs, opinions mine. Capice?

Last week, the New Westminster Environmental Partners did what they do best: partnered with other groups to bring people together and get them talking about solutions to problems. The only thing different this week was the people who got together: Members of Parliament and people seeking to become members of Parliament.

Partnering with NEXT New West (a group so secretive, they have meetings in public places every month, and commonly post video of them on YouTube), and Tenth to the Fraser (you know who they are…), we held a unique all-candidates event.

Now, the NWEP do not, as a general rule, shout and protest. More commonly, we try to educate ourselves about sustainability topics, seek to inform the public about issues, and engage the decision makers to try to find common interest towards positive outcomes. Most of the time, we find conversation much more productive if neither side is shouting. There may be a time and an issue that calls for protest, but in a community like New Westminster you can usually bend the ear of the people you need to reach without the need to yell.

With this in mind, we wanted to hold an event for the Federal Election, as we have organized traditional debate-style “all candidates meetings” in previous elections. But just another debate-style meeting, where candidates read the party script to an audience of already-decided people, with microphones and media all waiting for the gotcha-moment, that doesn’t seem like engaging conversation anymore. Maybe all we need to do is bring the local candidates into a room and let them have normal conversations with each other and their constituents.

It just so happens NWEP had a format in our back pocket: Green Drinks. Once a month for the last few years, NWEP types and others interested in environment and sustainability issues have gathered on the first Wednesday of the month to socialize and network for a few hours. No themes, no speeches, just a chance to get together and share ideas. We didn’t invent the idea: Green Drinks have happened for years around the world.

Of course “Green Drinks” is a pretty loaded idea, and although the environmental focus is an attractive idea to some parties, it may not appeal to a few others (remaining non-partisan, I’ll let you fill those categories yourself). So we asked NEXT – a group comprised of young business leaders and entrepreneurs in New Westminster, if they wanted to meet the candidates and they agreed it was a good idea. We hoped this would broaden the appeal somewhat. The good folks at Tenth to the Fraser also piped in to offer logistical and advertising support, and we now had everything…except a date or a location.

The original Green Drinks time and place did not work out for a variety of reasons, mostly conflicting schedules, and not enough lead time to get any Candidates. Long story short, Robert Tang from LaRustica stepped up and offered to host us in the Roma Room. We had little certainty to offer him: we didn’t know how many people would show up, nor did we know how much people would buy… so it must have been a challenge for him to organize staffing… but he was accommodating and in the end it worked out.

Of course, timing was also important: we had to compete with the all-candidates meetings being scheduled in other locations in both ridings (notably, none in New Westminster), with the Easter Long Weekend, with the short election cycle, and with Canucks Playoff games. Once a likely date was found, we sent invitations to all 8 candidates in the “main” parties for the two New West ridings, and were frankly shocked when 7 of the 8 agreed to show up.

To keep this from being just another debate, we decided to give each candidate a few minutes on a soap box to introduce themselves. Briana from Tenth to the Fraser took video of each speech (and mercifully avoided showing my ham-fisted announcements), so you can see they were short and the crowd was (for the most part) receptive. But outside of the 15 minutes or so of “soap box time” the rest of the evening was lively, with lots of conversation. The crowd was smaller than I expected, but we mostly filled the room, and there was unprecedented access to the candidates for those who did show up.

It was great to see such a mixed crowd: along with the usual NWEP rabble rousers, there was a popular former coffee-shop owner, to a local trucker well known for being politically outspoken, several young local proprietors, a young local realtor, a City councillor, and a well-known Quayside president, along with several people I met for the first time. Since there was little time wasted on speeches, I got to bend Diana Dilworth’s ear about the Fraser Basin Council, talk to Ken Beck Lee about his work on scrutinizing international GHG auditors, and chat with Paul Forseth about a common friend (a former Reform MP from my home town) and the adventure of flying into Castlegar airport. It was great to be able to chat with these “candidates” as people. Of course, I also discussed my vision of environmental responsibility with a couple of candidates, asked some questions about their vision, and made sure they knew what topics I thought were important this election.

I think it was a good event. The candidates seemed happy, and the crowd there had great access to the candidates. I think this is a model the NWEP will return to in future elections, now that we know it actually works. If nothing else, I now know who I am going to vote for, and feel good about the person I am giving my vote to.

In contrast, I attended the “traditional” all-candidates meeting put on the Burquitlam Community Association at Banting Middle School the following evening. This was very well attended, there were several hundred people, and there were 5 candidates there from the New Westminster-Coquitlam riding. And quite honestly, it was painful. In an echo-laden gym, the candidates sat behind a table with their policy books in front of them, and answered vapid or loaded questions as close to the party line as possible, with the same group of family and supporters cheering or jeering on cue. 

There were a few interesting moments (some NDP supporter asked Diana Dilworth about abortion, Fin Donnelly asked who we were going to attack with our F-35 Attack planes), but for the most part, the responses were dull, and varied little from the rhetoric of campaign-speak. When a question about voter apathy came up about an hour in, we had to leave for fear of narcolepsy.

With all required modesty, I think the NWEP/NEXT/TttF did it better.

Spring time is Garden Time

The Gardening season is pretty late this year. Although some early plants (lettuce, radishes, carrots) have been in the ground for almost a month, nothing is showing at the surface yet. The only green I have in my garden is last fall’s onions and garlic, and a heck of a lot of chickweed (where does that stuff come from?). But this last weekend was warm and sunny, so much untended garden was now tended to.

We had a lot of well-digested compost, so I spent much of Sunday hauling it out, spreading it, then cutting and raking it in. Fun stuff, but working with well-worn compost is much more pleasant than working with manure, and there is some satisfaction in using the free fertilizer that might have otherwise gone to the curb, not to mention giving the few remaining worms their freedom.
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? This year we are starting our Cukes, Tomatoes, Zucchini and Peppers inside, instead of buying young plants. Many of the tomatoes are last year’s seeds. We also collected carrot seeds last year, along with fennel and coriander, although we have actually eaten most of the last two…

The spring is also weeding time, as we slowly wage war against the creeping buttercup and blue bells. There are places in our back yard where you turn over the soil and hit a layer about 8” down of solid bulbs. I’m sure the flowers were beautiful at one point, but now they are just voracious, crowd everything else out, and create this non-permeable layer that hurts the yard’s drainage, leading to moss in what is generally really sandy, well-drained storage. Here is The iCandy using an oversized tool for an oversized job.

Some of the weeds are going in the Green Cone. The weather is starting to warm up, and the sun is getting longer in the day, so the cone is getting warm and the digestion has noticeable sped up. The water glass here was hardly boiling, but the fact the Breadwinner would rest her drinking glass on it is proof that the digester doesn’t smell.

A look inside, and you can see the Cone Salad is a not-unhealthy mix of bones, breads, and weeds.

I’m not ready to declare the Green Cone a success or a failure: it seems to me that the material did not digest at the rate I would expect over the winter, we will see if the summer heat helps before I make a decision on this thing. Regardless, all of the bones and breads we have tossed in the last 5 months have gone into this thing, along with quite a few weeds, and we are no-where near full yet, or even over the top of the “basket” level, which is what I would consider functionally full. Jury’s out on the Green Cone, more to come.

I am clearly an amateur at gardening, and I really need to start reading up on it to improve my yields, but the learn-as-you go thing has some appeal. The only part of my garden that I really understand are the rocks in it. Most of them are samples from my Masters thesis, where I mapped some Cretaceous sedimentary rocks on the Gulf Islands. Others are rocks I just picked up in my travels, because they were nice looking, or they had some significance.

Click to Geologic-size

This pic from my front yard has (A) a big hunk of clearly fully-marine upper Comox Formation sandstone with a big oyster fossil in it, from the vicinity of Sidney Island; (B) a smaller piece of Comox where it is it more estuarine or marginal marine, with a well-preserved fern impression, probably 95-odd million years old, from Brethour Island; (D) a big piece of Eocene Cedar Formation basalt or andesite, from Merritt BC, where there were large shield volcanoes around 50 million years ago; and (D) a hunk of ugly Extension formation fosiliferous pebble conglomerate from Piers Island.

But I like this rock even more. It is a piece of sandstone from Sidney Island, Comox Formation, probably 95 Million years old or so. But notice the funny weathering pattern on the surface? Is isn’t only on the surface but runs through the entire rock, and it is a “trace fossil”, referred to as Macaronichnus segregatis. Yes, “segregated macaroni-tubes”. But it isn’t just the fossil name I like, I like this trace because it is diagnostic.

M. segregatis is made by polychete worms, colloquially “bloodworms”, as they sift through the sand on the wet part of the beach, sucking biofilm sustenance off of the quartz and feldspar grains while preferentially avoiding the micas and other dark grains, leaving very faint “tubes” of quartz and feldspar surrounded by micas, which differentially weather and stick out like a sore thumb. Or like a bowl of spaghetti. We can see modern polychetes doing this on beaches today. What is cool about this is that these animals are specialists; they are one of the few animals happy to be living in the high-energy “swash zone” of the beach. So when you find M. segregatis, you always know you have found the fossil beach deposits. That means the rocks conformably above it are always fully marine in a transgressive regime (rising sea levels) or are terrestrial in a regressive regime (falling sea levels). When someone asks a sedimentologist how he knows where the beach was 95 million years ago, he can say “Macaronichnus segregatis, my friend”. If he finds some handy cross-beds nearby, he can even point at which direction the sea was. Presuming, of course, some jerk in the intervening 95 million years hasn’t picked the rock up and used it as a corner piece in his rock garden.

Spring has sprung, and a middle-aged man’s mind turns to geology…

UBE – Phase 2 consultation, and the skill of listening.

Again, there is so much going on right now that I am slow to Blog about it all. This week’s event included the TransLink workshop on Wednesday night – The beginning of Phase 2 of their revamped consultation process for the proposed United Boulevard Extension.

The turn out was pretty good, and it looks like about the numbers TransLink (or their facilitator) anticipated. They had 8 tables set up, and there were about 10 people per table, with a lot of TransLink and City staff milling about as observers (just to be clear- this was a TransLink-run show, and I didn’t hear City Staff or elected folks advocate for anything other than having the conversation. Well, except for when Councillor Harper very astutely asked no-one to talk about the Hockey Game, as many in the crowd were likely recording it).

The evening started out with a presentation from the facilitator, with input from the design consultants from Delcan. The presentation is available here.

They opened up by making it clear that none of these concepts would be compared to the “unspoken option”: doing nothing. TransLink wants to build this project, so they are going to try to come up with a satisfactory project. If none of the concepts they come up with are ultimately satisfactory to the City, then TransLink will take their ball and go home. But none of these projects will be compared to “no project”, they will only be compared to each other. I suppose this leaves the “no project” open for discussion in the community once they have honed down the TransLink options to one. And that might be an interesting topic. (Is anyone thinking about what would happen if TransLink walked away and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways takes over this project? You think they will be interested in community consultation?).

They then outlined the Objectives of the project, which can also be read into by the cynic:
1:Improve safety and reliability of people and goods movement (they have slipped “people” in there, as an admission that it will be a commuting short cut, not just a truck route. I would suggest removing all traffic would make it reliable and safe, but I think they are going the other direction); 2: Reduce Excessive GHGs caused by idling (again, hedging their bets, they are not reducing GHGs, only the excessive ones caused by idling. More vehicles will undoubtedly resulti n more GHGs overall); 3: Support Alternative Modes (Great, I like this one, although this seems a little more like tolerating alternative modes than building with them in mind); 4: Removal of at-grade crossing at Braid Street ($170 million will buy you a lot of Jersey Barriers); and 5: Meets Partner’s Objectives (which are less well defined, but making New West Council happy is definitely under this category).

After this they rolled out 5 basic concepts that came out of the earlier consultation meetings. There is no doubt there is a bit of a sales job going on. That isn’t a criticism; part of the facilitator’s job is to sell the merits of the project on the audience. Walking into a potentially hostile crowd like this, some sales savvy is needed just to get the conversation going. One common sales technique they used is to make us own the project. They kept reinforcing that “these plans are your plans, made by the community during phase 1 consultation, not our plans”. This gives the audience a sense of ownership – we are likely to be less critical of our own ideas than someone else’s… this is why an shrewd salesman has you list your desires before giving them back to you, often adjusted to fit the product he has in front of him.

So let us review:

Concept A – Click to grow

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Concept A had a new road paralleling Brunette on the other side of the tracks, then somehow connecting to Columbia further west, or even to Front Street directly. This plan is basically dead in the water. It would nuke an unacceptable amount of New West industrial land; it would no doubt trigger an Federal or Provincial Environmental Assessment process that TransLink does not have the time, money, or community support to go through; it just moves the overpass to another neighbourhood (and would need a bigger overpass), would end any plans to develop our waterfront east of the bridges for park or industrial use, and it would be prohibitively expensive. Really, this plan was not further reviewed, for good reason.

Concept B – Click to grow

Concept B is little more than the previous overpass plan of 2010, warmed over a bit. It lacked detail on how lanes would be distributed, but it connects United Boulevard directly to Brunette over the Sky Train Dip, and reduces Brunette to a lesser road (or even dead-ends Brunette at the overpass). Although this was one of the Concepts discussed at length, it seems no more satisfactory than the original plan: we are still talking a 15-foot high overpass with trucks on it, so the liveability impacts on Sapperton are still there. It also presents some problems for transit connectivity to Braid Station. Finally, it seems to direct all of the trucks moving along Brunette to United, when most of them are trying to get to Highway 1. This is about a polished as the original UBE concept could be, but all the polish in TransLink’s arsenal isn’t enough to make this anything but a turd.

Concept C – Click to grow

Concept C might be the best for New West, but was not considered further as it did not hit TransLink’s objectives (very little support for this bold assertion was made, it just didn’t meet their objectives, end of story). This concept was to simply close the rail crossing (those Jersey barriers I mentioned) and replace the Bailey with a bigger bridge. This would allow the industrial traffic to access Highways 1 and 7 via the Bailey Bridge and the new King Edward Overpass (the City could get involved in improving the Spruce Street situation to better serve their industrial customers, but we can talk about that later), it will effectively stop rat-runners through the industrial area, will make the rail crossing safe, will make the Bailey Bridge friendly for peds and bikes, will be cheap to build… but I guess Coquitlam would take New West to court of this was suggested.

Concept D – Click to grow

Concept D involved numerous bowl-of-spaghetti options for an interchange connecting United to a re-vamped Brunette interchange. Don’t let the petroglyph-turtle design wow you too much, this is a really costly and impractical option and would require significant contributions from MoT (who are already a little over committed these days) and building over a big hunk of railyard that ain’t going anywhere for anyone. For all sorts of reasons, this concept is also dead in the water.

Concept E – Click to grow

Concept “E” was the idea of connecting United Boulevard to Brunette between Highway 1 and Braid. This was, by far, the most popular option in the room ) seemed the most popular. It was even suggested that losses of New West industrial land could be reduced by running the road though the Landfill adjacent to the Golf course on the Coquitlam side of the Brunette. Coquitlam wants this damn road, why don’t they sacrifice some tax property instead of New West losing limited industrial space. The Bailey Bridge could remain, and the Braid industrial area connect to the new connector by crossing the Bailey and getting onto the existing United. Of course, this concept looked better and better the more the route is pushed towards Highway 1, raising the question: why not just put the traffic on Highway 1, put the $170 Million into busses and Evergreen, and end this painful process?

In the end, we won’t know what the real concept is until they come back on the 30th with some useful plans. The concepts shown were very high-level, and the implications for traffic planning, GHG, costs, were not there to evaluate the options. That said, there are a lot of people in the room who think this consultation process is a sham, and it was often hard at my table to have a meaningful discussion with the facilitators and the Translink staff when people are calling them liars and doubting their professional expertise. The transportation engineer at my table was very patient to the abuse hurled at her (much calmer than I would have been). It is too bad that the one loud guy at my table was constantly complaining that TransLink was not listening and their minds are already made up, when the complainer clearly had already made up his mind and was not listening.

Overall, I think the consultation process is working, but I have not yet been convinced that they have come up with a plan that suits our needs as a City (although “Option E” might be getting close). Mark me as “cautiously optimistic”, but that is pretty much my nominal status…

What was strangely missing was any acknowledgement of the requirements the City Council made for this project: a realistic plan to manage the traffic west of the UBE in such a way that we are not just moving the pinch point closer to downtown New Westminster. All this talk of “community concerns” is kind of empty without addressing the one Concern that New Westminster Council has repeatedly raised: what about Front Street?

As an aside, you want to talk about community? There were 100+ people in the room, several of whom were watching Game 1 on their portable devices, or at least checking in on the score. At not time did anyone cheer or boo, and at not time did anyone announce the score, recognizing that many of the crowd recorded the game. The rest rushed home to catch the third, and were rewarded for their efforts.

Back to the Blob… ugh

There is an ongoing dialogue about the Pier Park going on in the comments section of the News Leader. I have hit this topic several times, have blogged about this topic before, and have actually met Chris Bell to discuss his concerns. But since I opened my fat gob once again to comment online on some comments I see as scare-mongering in Mr. Bell’s letter to the leader, I am now stuck here, blogging on what I see as a non-topic again, just to correct some facts on what I said, and in what Mr. Bell read into it.

The standard caveat: this project is close enough to my professional area that I should probably start by making some sort of declaration of my lack of knowledge. I cannot give a “Professional Opinion” on this topic, mostly because I am not privy to all the information. Everything I know about this project is from the public reports released through City Council and the media. So although I have significant training and experience managing contaminated sites across BC, and a pretty solid understanding of the Contaminated Sites Regulation and the Environmental Management Act, what follows is a personal opinion worth exactly what you paid for it: nothing.

I will go through Mr. Bell’s last comment to me, topic by topic.

“Patrick, you argue that the city showed due diligence before they purchased the pier land.”

The term “due diligence” does not mean you do everything humanly possible to find all available information about a piece of land. The “Due” part means that you do everything that should be reasonably expected to be done, that the effort and resources used coincide with what would typically be done in the industry.

When taking milk out of the fridge, good “due diligence” before handing it to your child to drink would be to check the expiry date, or maybe sniff the open bottle to see if it is rank, and to inspect for signs of curdle as you pour it in the glass. Running a mass spectroscopy analysis or doing an LD50 test on rabbits would probably provide ever further reassurance that the milk was not rotten or tainted with botulism, and is safe to drink, but that would be costly and time consuming, and would exceed “due diligence”.

In a real estate purchase, what is too costly or too time consuming? There is no upper limit to the amount of time and money you could spend investigating a site. You can drill holes and install monitoring wells across every meter of the ground, and still miss a 90cm-across block of uranium. A good rule of thumb for costing out these exercises is that every single monitoring well you install, including drilling costs, sampling, analytical costs for soil and groundwater samples, and all the accessory costs of doing the investigation, costs $5,000. Sometimes you can drill 10 for $30,000, sometimes only 5 cost you $50,000. But $5,000 per hole is a good order-of magnitude back-of-the-envelope guess for investigation costs. So what constitutes “due diligence” at $5,000 a hole?

In reality, we don’t in the industry machine-gun a site with $5000 holes, as potentially profitable as that would be for consultants. Instead, we look at the site history and make some educated guesses about the likelihood of contamination in certain areas, and dedicate our resources to those areas. Prior to the purchase in 2009, the City’s consultant took existing reports on the site (back to 2005), and used those as a basis for further investigation. This launched what is called a Supplementary Phase 2 investigation. They probably could have relied on those existing reports, but instead, they did a little extra diligence and went back to the previously identified “hot spots” and installed more monitoring wells. This, in my personal opinion, represents a level of due diligence consummate with the purchase of former industrial land that would become a park. I might have saved some money and dug some test pits instead of so much drilling, and relied on the existing wells more, but I’m a cheap bastard. I work for government.

Again, in my personal opinion as a taxpayer in New Westminster, this report demonstrates due diligence was performed on the environmental risk prior to the purchase. The City knew, as best as they could with reasonable efforts, what was there, and could make an informed decision about the purchase. You can disagree about the decision they made, that is your right as a voter, but you cannot say they did not exercise due diligence.

“The City has stated that the land purchase cost was reduced by the expected costs of remediation ”about 1.5 million dollars” and yet they ignored their own experts observations that vapour and off-site investigation of the lands to the north of the park must occur before the investigations could be considered complete.”

Let’s look at what the Supplemental Phase 2 report said. They confirmed the soil metals contamination previously identified on site, and that there was no groundwater metals problem. They identified some PAHs that exceeded standards in groundwater. PAH is a catch-all term for a group of petroleum hydrocarbon substances that contain benzene rings (hence the “aromatic” in Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). These are generally trace constituents or break-down products of oils or fuels, and are common in gas station-type contaminated sites. They are all LNAPLs, so they tend to float on top of (or concentrate towards the top of if dissolved) water. Again, no surprises here, they know they were there from the earlier reports, they were just confirming their concentrations and how things may have changed since the previous reporting time. These substances are also regulated as vapours, but assuming their remediation plan was scooping them up and trucking them away, there was no need to worry too much about the vapour concentrations: if you remove the PAHs, the vapours also go away.

Finally, they confirmed the presence of some DNAPL compounds: the dreaded “Toxic Blob” of Chris Bell’s nightmares. They found them because they knew they were there from the earlier reports. The news here looks good, though. The sampling indicated they were much lower concentration that the previous (2005) sampling, and in fact, they did not exceed the allowable standards. The concentrations were so low, that they did not constitute “contamination”.

The report did indeed say that new (in 2009) Ministry standards would mean that vapours would need to be investigated. However it was not noted as a flaw or a gap in the report, as Mr. Bell suggests, but as a heads-up. The consultant is saying “you had better plan to manage these vapours when you are planning to manage your soil and groundwater”. Removing the PAHs physically would constitute managing the vapours as I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago. As far as the DNAPL solvents, the concentrations are so low in this report, that it is extremely unlikely that vapours will exceed any standards, But they still have to sample them by the regulations. Take a few samples, find acceptable concentrations, apply for a CofC, Bob’s your uncle. I suspect the main reason they threw that warning was that vapour sampling was new at the time, and is both expensive and was technically challenging in 2009 when the new standards had just been adopted (and there was little technical guidance from Ministry), so they had better budget time and money for collecting the samples. There is no suggestion from this report that active remediation or risk management on those DNAPLs would be required. The data just didn’t suggest that.

No-where does that report state that offsite investigation would be required or recommended. Here Mr. Bell is completely wrong. To do intrusive investigations like drilling and digging holes on a site you don’t own, but are considering buying, is a difficult enough legal process to go through (who owns the data? What are the rights and responsibilities of the parties in relation to the data? Who has liability for accidents or property damage? Who has responsibility for the monitoring wells if you decide not to buy?) But to try to secure access to a third-party piece of adjacent land, in which you have no commercial interest, only to prove they might be damaging a piece of land you do not own? That is a ridiculous request, unlikely to be agreed to by the best of neighbours (as they can only lose by allowing it), and I am afraid the Railways are not always the best of neighbours. Any attempt to collect data without their permission would constitute criminal trespass.

“It is the cost of these investigations that added another two to three million dollars to the remediation costs. ”

I don’t know where Mr. Bell’s numbers are coming from, so I cannot comment on them. The “investigations” certainly did not cost millions of dollars, but probably several hundred thousand. Apparently (based on Jim Lowrie’s recent comments) the overall remediation budget has gone over $2 million, and I imagine (but cannot confirm, as I do not have the information) that the engineering, hydrogeology and installation of the bentonite/concrete barrier wall is the majority of that cost. Considering that they had a $1.5 Million reduction on the purchase price because of the environmental concerns, it sounds like they are $500,000 down overall (within contingency according to Lowrie).

But let’s be clear, the DNAPL presence was known, it was investigated, and in 2005 and 2009 the best evidence was that the DNAPL was at a concentration that did not constitute “contamination”, and at the time, the idea that they would need to install a barrier wall was simply not on the table. Something changed in the nature of the contamination between 2009 and 2010, and along with this the standards and requirements for remediation changed. It is safe to say that those changes could not reasonably have been anticipated in 2009 when the due diligence was performed.

“How did ignoring the requirements for off-site and vapour testing show due diligence?”

Already discussed. There were no requirements ignored.

“ The environmental cleanup is over budget… by millions. The City advertised, “…a worst case scenario, all in cost of 1.5 million dollars on environmental cleanup” Millions not spent on cleanup could have been used to build more park infrastructure. “

No, the environmental cleanup is within the contingency budget. Remember, that $1.5 Million is the cost reduction that the City got on the purchase based on the known contamination. If the City did not have to spend that money on clean-up, they would have had to pay that much extra for the land purchase. Because the City did due diligence, it got that reduction in the purchase cost which covered most of the cost for remediation.

It’s your declaration Patrick that, “To make the more strident claim that the City is risking the health and well being of its Citizens and is somehow in cahoots with the Province to expose children and joggers to dangerous chemicals is absurd scare mongering.”
I’ll leave the attack on my character alone…”

And I stand by the statement that claims that the City is risking people’s health in their management of the chlorinated solvents are not only false, they represent fear-mongering. This is not a character attack, it is my assessment of the facts on the ground.

“… and stick to the known threats from the chlorinated solvents along the city owned land along the northern border of the park site. City reports to the Ministry Of Environment state the railway corridor soils are High Risk for chlorinated solvents.”

Here is where Mr. Bell is simply confusing his terms. There is an area of the park designated “High Risk”. That term is very strictly defined by the Ministry of Environment, and there are strict prootcols about how it is used and what it means. The money quote from that propocol is this:
“If mobile NAPL is present at a site, the site is considered a high risk site.”

The presence of mobile DNAPL at the pier park is what makes the site “High Risk”. Because it is “High Risk”, the City is under more strict reporting guidelines with the Ministry, and the Ministry will ultimately have final sing-off on the cleanup. This is the highest level of Provincial oversight one could hope for.

“People walk/run this corridor as a pathway across New Westminster thus exposing themselves to the toxic soils. “

This is simply untrue. “High Risk” in this case does not mean is that there is any immediate danger to anyone or to anything. It does not mean that the soils are emitting toxic fumes into the air, it does not mean that people are being harmed by the DNAPL.

In risk assessment, the term “pathway” refers to any route through which a contaminant can get to a receptor, be that a person or the environment. Hydrocarbon vapours coming off of soil and being breathed by joggers is a “pathway”. Arsenic in soil getting on your fingers then onto your lunch is a “pathway”. PCBs leaching through the ground and into grass, then being eaten by a cow is a “pathway”. For there to be any threat to a person, there has to be an “open pathway” from the contamination to the person. In the case of the Pier Park, there is no evidence that there is an open pathway. DNAPL dissolved in water 40 feet below the ground simply cannot get into the system of a jogger on the tracks. There is no pathway.

The “risk” here is not a threat to human health, it is the uncertainty related to mobility of the contaminants. Therefore there is now a positive onus on the City to stop that migration and keep track of the contamination, so that they and the Ministry will know if there is ever an “open pathway” and an actual threat posed by this stuff.

In my humble opinion, DNAPL 40 feet down will never be a threat to humans, unless they sink a drinking water well at the park (an unlikely scenario). If allowed to migrate, it is possible the contamination will migrate to the bottom of the river (well away from the shore) and impact marine invertebrates, potentially causing a “dead zone” in the river, but unlikely to be harmful to even salmon, as these DNAPLs will be pretty diluted by the river and are not bio-accumulators. I’m not saying this would happen, I’m just trying to imagine a scenario where these things can cause harm to anything.

“The City is stating it has no plans to remediate the toxic railway corridor nor will it put up signs warning the public away from the High Risk contaminated lands. Are these non-actions not risking the health and well being of New Westminster citizens?”

Correct, these non-actions are not risking the health and well-being of New Westminster residents. See above.

The City not only has no responsibility to clean up the Railway lands, I suspect they would not legally be able to. It isn’t their land. Unless it could be demonstrated that the contamination migrated from City land to the railway land, then the Ministry might compel the City to clean up the Railway land, but it would be extremely unusual for the Ministry to do this when there is no human health risk. More likely, the railway would clean up its own land and take the City to court to make them pay for it. Which is exactly what I think the City should do to the railways.

“How you came to the conclusion that I think lowly of the Ministry Of Environment is truly puzzling to me. I praise the Lord for the MOE’S involvement and look forward to their scrutiny of the City’s cleanup efforts if, and when, the City ever sends the required documents to Victoria for review. Why did you state that I have a pitiful view of the MOE when the complete opposite is true?”

Chris, I suspect you misinterpreted my comments, or I gave you a false impression though bad wordsmithing. You stated clearly that you have more faith in MoE than you do the City, and I previously stated that you should therefore feel better about the High Risk determination, as that will result in a higher level of scrutiny from the Ministry.

“I agree with you, Patrick, that the current Mayor and council have invested a lot of political capital on this Pier Park and the Realpolitik negotiations (between the need for complete environmental investigation/remediation and opening the park before the November elections) must be brutal. “

Again, I am not privy to the negotiations going on, but they are going to have to hustle their asses to get a CofC from the Province before November. They may be able to get a release letter that limits how they use the Park and sets strict conditions on the management of soils on the park prior to getting a CofC, the Ministry is starting to get pretty proactive with those. That would essentially allow them to open and use the park without a CofC. But again, I don’t know much about their strategy with managing the site, and the High Risk designation may make that a non-starter.

“The City’s environmental management of the Westminster Pier Park Brownfield has been neither consistent, nor transparent, nor responsible. “

I have seen literally hundreds of these types of projects. In my humble experience, the City has been consistent and responsible, and have frankly been much more transparent about the process than any corporate client I ever had, and at least as transparent as any government client I ever had. Frankly, I was a little shocked about how much info on this site I could get with few hours on Google. Try that with a Port Metro Vancouver or Kinder Morgan contaminated site…. I do not share Mr. Bell’s criticism here.

“Thankfully, it will be up to the highly skilled Ministry of Environment to decide when the environmental investigations/cleanup are complete although I pray that political deadlines do not trump an in-depth remediation process.”

I’m not a praying type, but I have faith in the professionals doing the work.

Guys for whom I cannot vote (yet)

This just in: now there are 4.

 
Just watched the BC NDP leadership debate on the Environment and Sustainability, and I have made my decision about who I want to lead the NDP, and to lead the Province after Christy calls the snap election in June.

I have not seen them talk in the other debates, but they are all available here. I can’t sit through that much NDP bafflegab, so I decided to bet all my chips on the one subject where I have a lot of knowledge, Environmental Sustainability is right up my alley.

Not that I have a vote on the leader of the NDP, I’m not a member of the party. But I will have a vote in the election, and if John Horgan is leading the NDP, they will likely get my vote. This is my summary of how the candidates fared in this debate, and as unbiased as I was going in, I was pretty biased by the end.

First off, as far as battles of white guys in dark grey suits goes, they had the white guys and the dark suits, but it wasn’t much of a battle. This is a party that just eviscerated itself over the departure of the least leader, but it seems to all be peace and love here, no sign that any one of these guys disagrees with any other of these guys on any point whatsoever (although I don’t think any of them take Dana Larsen seriously). I would have liked to have heard “I respectfully disagree with my opponent on this point” just once, to make this seem like a battle of ideas, but that never happened.

Part of that was the nature of the format, but I guess being a third-place party in a two-party province begets a need for open unity. My only complaint overall with the format was having to hear Andrea Reimer’s voice scrape across the blackboard of my eardrums. Painful.

Mike Farnsworth is, apparently, the front runner. He has Jenny Kwan on his side, so what else could he want? Farnsworth hits all the right notes, and shows more nuance than you would expect from a n NDP front-runner, by alternately praising a good decision by WAC Bennett to build BC Hydro, and recognizing that the NDP missed the boat on the Carbon Tax. He also gets bonus points for mentioning the Evergreen Line and a Provincial approach to the control of cosmetic pesticide use (two issues that municipalities would like the Province to take more leadership on). however, in the end, he is a little too NDP, and will not sell well to the fence-sitters, as he may be a little too Mike Harcourt 2.0. If I am not voting NDP party line, I have no compelling reason to vote for him.

Dana Larsen is well-meaning, mentions one of my favourite ideas (fare-free transit), and makes a specific point to irritate AM radio fans and National Post readers by suggesting BC needs “Progressive, Visionary, Socialist” governance (the new right hates those three words the most). I give the former leader of the Marijuana Party kudos for waiting a full 40 minutes before the first mention of hemp as the solution to all of society’s problems. He also makes an interesting comparison between the Carbon Tax and Gambling which i will have to spend more time thinking about. Still, the lack of depth in his approach is reflected by the rather flaccid applause he receives from the audience. Is there any such thing as “former Pot activist”? I guess until we leagalize the stuff, we won’t know.

Nicolas Simons is quite likely the best possible choice, but – as he admits himself – he could never be elected. Although he has experience dealing with some of the most difficult parts of the civil service – children in need and First Nations consultation – he come across as a smarter Mr. Bean. The fact he is not a serious candidate for the leadership should be seen as a condemnation of 21st Century democracy, not of him. When I hear him talk about taking a science-based approach to policy; when he admits there are few “easy answers” and instead we need to understand the deep implications of our decisions; when he suggests the public have to have confidence that Government is working in good faith for the betterment of society; I nod my head in agreement, but at the same time recognize these are completely unreasonable requests in the politics of 2011. Kevin Falcon would cover this guy with a dressing of equal parts vinegar and bad ideas, and eat him for lunch. I hope whoever is leader recognizes that Simons should be up towards the top of the government making the hard choices that need to be made by government, I have that much faith in his ability to make intelligent policy, but don’t put him down in the trenches trying to defend them. He is above being leader.

But Adrian Dix isn’t. I almost couldn’t get past Adrian’s shiny, fat, orange tie. He makes some solid points, and at least one is close to my heart – making the environment the centre of the NDP platform will hit the Clark Liberals where they are embarrassingly weak. The problem is that the NDP doesn’t have the environmental cred to do the job, and they have (up to now at least) not had a green set of policies. As long as they are beholden to Big Labour’s perception that environmentalism is counter to Workers Rights, the NDP will not be able to fight from that position (one of the reasons I have never yet voted for an NDP candidate). Adrian made good points about the Environmental Assessment process (going through one right now at work, I am suddenly very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the current EA system). But in the end Adrian is worse than Mike Harcourt 2.0, he is Glen Clarke 2.0.

Which brings us to John Horgan. At the first blush, John is an aw-shucks nice guy, and this is a serious value for people sitting on the fence of what might be a three-way battle for the next government of the Province. His main opposition will be the queen of aw-shucks nice, and you need to get on the same field as her to win that battle. He is a party insider from way back, but one who took at rather principled stand when the party started to eat itself last year. He seems to take a common-sense, and science-based approach to many issues, and is very well versed in the energy sector, where BC is going to need to make some tough choices in the next decade. He shares my concern that the public service at the Ministry of Environment, and organizations like the Geological Survey have been gutted, leaving little ability for enforcement of environmental laws, and little science to support policy decisions.

At a real gut-level, though, there were two things that won me over. First, he said that as leader, he would not allow any NDP candidate show up at a constituent’s door with a pamphlet featuring a photo of Christie Clark. In other words, let’s bring fresh, new, better ideas instead of wasting our time arguing against the ideas of the other team. Second, as an MLA, he holds an informal Town Hall on the #61 bus from the Legislature to his home in Sooke. He uses this opportunity, on public transit, to find out what is really happening in his community. He started doing it informally, but now the constituents expect it.

From that, I get the impression that John Horgan “gets it”. We elect people to represent us, and take our ideas and desires to the halls of government, and we elect people to find solutions, though a well trained and well supported public service, for the problems we encounter. He also had the funniest joke of the night: “We’re the NDP. Bill Good calls us up every three years to ask us why we suck so much”.

So anyone out there who is a member of the NDP (especially Dawn Black, my local MLA), vote for John Horgan, and you have my vote next election.

Just to be as fair and non-partisan as possible, I have also included a video that summarizes the complete BC Liberal discussion on the environment from their leadership race.

on being visionary, one Clear, Open Stream at a time…

I just had the Sustainable Communities equivalent of a Stones fan meeting Mick. I had a chance to meet and hear a talk by one of the major rock stars of sustainable Urban Development.

Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang is the President of the Korea Transport Institute, which is a somewhat unusual organization in the Canadian context: a policy research think tank, populated by academic experts in the field, that works directly for the Prime Minister. Dr. Hwang was visiting Vancouver as a Visiting Fellow in Urban Sustainable Development at the SFU Urban Studies Program. While here, he gave two public lectures, one on the Cheonggyecheon Project, and one on Seoul’s bus transit system. The sharp end of my curling season meant I could not attend the evening lectures, but Councillor Cote managed to arrange a visit to New Westminster for Dr. Hwang, which included a walking tour of the City’s waterfront, and a presentation by Dr. Hwang to members of City Council and City staff in Transportation and Planning. Councillor Cote invited members of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which is how I got into this great talk. The topic, Cheonggyecheon, is relevant and timely in New Westminster, with all the recent talk of North Fraser Perimeter Roads and United Boulevard Extensions, and the City entering a Master Transportation Plan process.

“Cheong Gye Cheon” can be roughly translated into “clear, open, stream”, which as a name was remarkably ironic, but is now iconic. The short version of the story is that the City of Seoul took 6 congested kilometres of stacked 12-lane freeway and solved the congestion by simply removing the road and replacing it with an urban stream and greenway/linear park, sparking a urban renewal in Seoul that is still going on today. But there is a longer version of the story, and I will try to condense Dr. Hwang’s talk here (based on my notes, so any factual errors are very likely mine!).

The history of Cheonggyecheon is of a small, ephemeral stream near the centre of Seoul. In the early 20th century, there were less than a million people in Seoul, and this stream was a water source, a place to wash clothes, and an open sewer, much like streams in developing urban centres the world. Things did not improve with the economic collapse around the Korean War. Post-war the stream was mostly home to squatter houses and squatter factories. Between sewage, waste, and dyes from the unofficial textiles industries, the stream was very polluted, and often ran multiple colours. When Dr. Hwang was a child, this was considered the “bad part of town”, with poverty and all the crime that comes with it.

Cheonggyecheon in the post-war period.

With the rapid development and industrialization of Korea in the 1970’s, there was little resistance to burying a small, heavily polluted, ephemeral stream in the bad part of town, and capping it with 8 lanes or surface traffic and 4-6 lanes of elevated traffic. Seoul was the heart of Korea, and building major freeways was a point of national pride: this is the progress Korea needed to become a leading world economy.

Cheonggyecheon expressway in all its glory.

???

Fast forward to 2002. Seoul is a modern “world class” city of more than 10 million people. The elevated Cheonggyecheon expressway is congested, the original watercourse has been buried in underground vaults and culverts, and the space between is nothing short of disaster. No sunlight, polluted by vehicles, traffic congested, not accessible to pedestrians as all open spaces are taken up by travelling vehicles, commercial vehicle parking, and unlicensed retail operations (street hawkers). The buildings were aging, and there was no impetus to improve them in this undesirable setting, so the businesses were declining. This was just one of the epicentres of overall urban decay in Seoul. Although they had built the trappings of a modern city, with advanced infrastructure and large dense population, the residents and officials in Seoul were realizing their quality of life – the liveability of their City – was lagging behind cities that were considered “World Leaders”.

This begat a paradigm shift. A new Mayor was elected in 2002, and the new broom swept clean. His new paradigm including shifting from development to conservation; from building spaces for automobiles to building spaces for people; from infrastructure efficiency to infrastructure equality. This is similar to what we now call “sustainability” in urban design. The Mayor immediately announced the plan to tear out the Cheonggyecheon freeway and return it to a 5.8km-long linear park. The project was master planned in less than 6 months, and completed in a remarkable 3 years. There obvious political motivation for the fast timing, in that Mayors in Korea face the polls every 4 years. The project cost almost $300 Million (US), but the planners calculated that this amount was about the same as they would save in 10 years of maintenance of the existing highway and buried waterway system that was reaching the end of it’s design life.

Before and after airphotos – where would you rather live?

Although there was an extensive (if rushed) consultation process, including the Transportation Institute, all levels of government, and citizen representatives, this did not prevent significant backlash and protest. The protests will sound familiar to anyone who has listened to the Hornby Street Bikeway project or who might suggest New Westminster might be better off without the waterfront parkade: local businesses worried about losing traffic and customers, concerns about where everyone will park, neighbouring areas concerned that the congested traffic till get worse on adjacent streets. The illegal street vendors were particularly militant in their protests, but the project went ahead.

The road was cut up and removed (with 95% of the material recycled). The stream was exposed and re-contoured. Since most of the stream’s flow was ephemeral and partly because of other water management projects in the City, the stream was going to be dry 8 months of the year. A diversion project from the adjacent river and groundwater sources were combined to provide up to 120,000 M3 of water a day through the stream to maintain a constant minimum of 40cm of water. Storm runoff and combined-flow sewer water was separated and treated before entering the stream. Aside from the base flow, the stream was designed to accommodate the 50-year flood in a lower tier, and the 200-year flood in its upper tier. There were also 22 bridges built to cross the 5.8-km route, although many of there ware actually restorations of original bridges that were partially deconstructed and buried in asphalt in the 70’s.

The end result is 5.8-km people space. Areas are very green and organic, other parts of very hard-surface with lots of facilities to accommodate public gathering, arts, or walking. People are encouraged to interact with the water. Where the symbol of “Korean Progress” used to be a 16-lane freeway full of cars, the new symbol is of urban children playing in a refurbished stream surrounded by green. Paradigm shift indeed.

What of the externalities, and what of the protests? The complaints about increased traffic elsewhere disappeared, just as the traffic did. Ridership on the adjacent subways increased, some people changed their travel times, some changed route, but mostly, people just stopped travelling so much through the area. Adjacent traffic congestion increased less than 1.5%, but overall there was a concurrent 2.5% decrease in Central Business District traffic. Property values adjacent to the stream increased 30%, and businesses prospered as they were suddenly adjacent to a site where there were more than 50 Million visits during the first year. The air temperature in this part of the Central Business District dropped several degrees during Seoul’s hot, humid summers, as the water flow acted as natural air conditioner and created a conduit for cool breezes. All this in a public place for festivals, for lunch, for art, for living space…

One of several “under bridge Art Galleries”

However, this progress does not forget the past. At several locations along Cheonggyecheon, there are reminders of the past. Those forgetting history are doomed to repeat it.

Several columns preserved, to remind people what they lost.

How does this translate to the rest of the City? Once the success of this project was apparent, every part of the City wanted one. Other viaducts have been removed under a “sky-opening” initiative. Other significant public areas in the City have seen the removal of traffic lanes to make room for green space: effectively building for people instead of cars.
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Seoul City Hall before…

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…and after.

There has been a renaissance across the Central Business District, with more people moving into the area (12,000 new residential units in the CBD being planned right now), greenways popping up in exchange for density across the city, and all of the sudden, people in Seoul are finding they can walk places. With the new mayor talking up plans to refurbish their industrial river front:

Oh, and the visionary Mayor who proposed and fast-tracked this project? He is now the President of the Country.

So… the question is, are we ready in Canada, in BC, in New Westminster, for this kind of shift?


Are we ready to re-evaluate our public space and our public spending? The province is currently spending billions of dollars building more freeways, with little protest. There is huge pressure to push more lanes of “important regional traffic” through New Westminster and along our water front, and people seem indifferent, or think it will solve some problem in a magical way that has never worked anywhere else in the world.

When will our paradigm shift happen? When will we catch up to Korea? Or are we visionary enough now to not bury our waterfront under cars?