Environmental review should be independent

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I was interested in The Telegram editorial on “Self-evaluating” criticizing environmental reviews for the province, where the province is both the proponent and the environmental watchdog.

Unfortunately, this situation is general and can be applied to most environmental impact studies in the province.

In developments which affect natural habitats the proponent must pay for the relative environmental studies.

This is fair, but a major problem is that the proponent hires the consultant and is also the watchdog. This results in the hiring of consultants who are competent but, for the improved chance of being hired, are likely to present data and findings slanted to be beneficial for the proponent.

An example is the loss of Sandy Pond, where in their original plans, registered in 2006, Vale had designed Sandy Pond for its Tailings Impoundment Area, rather than build a more expensive containment reservoir for the their toxic wastes.

Sandy Pond was a deep isolated post-glacial lake with a unique ecosystem of large brook trout, which after a certain size fed on an indigenous dwarf smelt. Also eels were present, categorized federally as a “species of concern.”

The Environmental Impact Study was made between 2007 and 2008, and accepted by provincial and federal departments in 2008, concluding that using Sandy Pond for toxic wastes was the most suitable plan for the company, and that with habitat compensation there would be no net loss of fish habitat. The compensation plan was finalized in 2011.

However, the study had no robust estimates of biomass, lake productivity or population estimates. The estimate for amount of habitat replacement for loss of fish habitats was in gross error and much lower than estimates I made using the same variables.

Both the trout and the smelt were likely to be unique races or sub-species and, if so, destroying these stocks would have been illegal.

However, no genetic studies were undertaken.

The “habitat compensation” of removing a partial barrier at the outlet of Forest Pond on Salmon Cove River and other minor enhancements was totally inadequate compensation for loss of a unique ecosystem, and appears to be mainly a public relations strategy.

The Sandy Pond Alliance (www.sandypondalliance.org) have taken the federal government to court, arguing that the destruction of Sandy Pond would be contrary to the Fisheries Act, and we are waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court.

In the meantime Vale has drained Sandy Pond with its development for a 74 hectare toxic waste impoundment area.

We have recently seen similar situations with the loss of the trophy trout and dwarf arctic char in Star Lake, and the loss of ouananiche and trout in Trout Pond. There is presently a major problem with these environmental studies which should, at arm’s length, be both designed and evaluated by some independent scientific body.

Otherwise we will be seeing further losses of biodiversity and of our natural heritage.      

John Gibson

St. John’s

Organizations: Sandy Pond Alliance, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Sandy Pond, Tailings Impoundment Area, Salmon Cove River Star Lake

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    July 30, 2013 - 17:23

    Sandy Pond was one of Danny's and Charlene's improvements to the deal. Jeez thanks.

  • Max P. Nichols
    July 30, 2013 - 08:53

    Full steam ahead. Investment diversity is all we need. Animals stink. Vale good money, I just got a new hot tub. Go to work John Gibson. Trust your country. Join the union. Stop being pessimistic. Your lika negative hippy, no weed or guitar, just cryin over fish, makin up facts. We got lots of ponds bye! We need hard core infrastructure man, wake up and smell the hydromet.