Under assault

This week, columnist Rob Brown talks about the assault on the Zymoetz River

The Zymoetz River is one of the world’s premier steelhead streams. The river has a large return of Chinook Salmon and hosts Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon, and Pink Salmon as well as Cutthroat Trout, Dolly Varden Char, and Bull Trout. The Zymoetz is both an international and national treasure. It is irreplaceable and invaluable, yet despite its status it is under constant assault.

When the highway was upgraded and a new bridge built, the large dike above and below the highway  was erected to stabilize the new structure. Similar dikes were placed in the bottom of the valley to protect the property of land owners who should never have been allowed to build on the flood plain of a young and volatile river in the first place.

The erection of those dikes and the consequent channelization was hard on the Zymoetz delta. Only a few small wetlands remain. They could host more fauna than they do if the moronic and selfish ATV jockeys stopped using them as mud pits.

Considering its wildlife values, there should have been no logging in the Zymoetz Valley. Failing this, what logging there was should have been done in small selective patches located so as to avoid impacts on wetlands. Instead the valley was subjected to the same insensitive forest mining practises as the rest of Skeena by forest corporations whose raison d’être was to suck the profit out of the land and move on, leaving us the wreckage.

Even though partly subsidized by the public, the Copper River Road was built on the cheap with little regard for the many watercourses in its way. The remains of shoddy culverts uprooted in floods still sit, rusting on beaches alongside the river. There was no attempt, and no extra money spent, to move the road away from the river, actions that would have prevented erosion and prevented the road from being wiped out completely by high water. Instead more shot rock was dumped into the river at the expense of shoreline habitat to shore up the spots where the road was built too close.

The Zymoetz Valley has the misfortune of lying along the shortest route between Terrace and Smithers. Shortest means cheapest, hence the transmission line from Limonite Creek to the lower part of the river, and Pacific Northern Gas’ natural gas pipeline that follows the Zymoetz once it exits the Telkwa Pass. The electrical line, because it sits on high ground for the most of its length, has done little damage to the valley. The PNG pipeline is another story.

I don’t know where they got the engineers who designed the original pipeline, but it’s clear from their not-so-handy work, that they were fools. The late fisheries officer, John Hipp, told me that there was little regard for fish and wildlife displayed in the building of that line. And he was frustrated by the fact that there was little he could do about it.

The great flood of 1978 and the pair of hundred year floods that followed close on its heels in the early 1980s put the PNG pipe to the test. It failed most miserably. Large chunks of pipe are strewn over the beaches of Zymoetz’ middle reaches. There is a huge length exposed on the Trapper’s Run below the Clore. A section sticks out into the river at the Road Run a kilometre above there. A kilometre below Kitnayakwa Creek another section lies exposed. On the Little Grizzly Run above Matsen Creek a chunk of yellow pipe sticks out of the bank, and there is another below the Canyon. These are just the more accessible spots. There are more.

There has been no effort by the company to remove the derelict pipe, and in fact, considering the environmental damage that will occur in the removal, it may be better to leave it. There was certainly a lot of damage done to the section of river between the Clore River and Kinayakwa Creek during the repair of the old line.

The rebuilt line is higher in a lot of places. It now crosses the Clore in the middle of the lower canyon. This was done with no concern for the scenic values and not considering that people might not want to look at an ugly metal pipe running through the middle of a beautiful setting. It’s typical of Pacific Northern Gas.

Now PNG wants to run a pipeline through the most beautiful part of the Zymoetz, the Class One section of the upper river. Doing this would destroy the scenic values. The only thing that protects the vulnerable fish in that part of the river is lack of access. Pipeline construction will take away that safeguard.

PNG has been bad for the Zymoetz. To sacrifice the precious section of a timeless resource so the same company can profit in the short term and for a few construction jobs is insanity. If they must, let them run their line along the highway. If they argue it’s too expensive to do that, tell them it’s too expensive not to. World class resources that last in perpetuity trump pipelines.