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Site C Archaeology Stripping of Top Soil

December 2, 2019

 

For over a year now, PVLA and many individuals have been concerned and voiced opposition to the BC Hydro practice of Archaeology Stripping of topsoil for the realignments of Highway 29 required for the Site C project. That practice, approved by the BC Archaeology Branch, involves the mass stripping of topsoil from existing Heritage Act Sites that are known to likely contain more artifacts. That soil is then trucked to certain locations under the future reservoir to be spread and packed by a cat. No further archaeology work is done other than perhaps a cursory inspection of the surface. Those locations are then given new Heritage Site designations, albeit, under a reservoir.
In addition to being a waste of what is often high quality top soil, the resulting increase of organic matter being dumped in the reservoir will likely lead to increases in future CO2, methane, and methylmercury levels. In most cases, this practice also entails a substantial increase in trucking, with a corresponding increase in cost and carbon footprint.
Our argument has been to stop dumping the soils under a future reservoir, and to keep the soils available for agricultural use as close as possible to where they are stripped. Basically the response from BC Hydro has been that unless the adjacent farmland is on the same Heritage Act Site as the soil originated from, the soil cannot be spread out for agriculture use. In reality, that has resulted in all archaeology stripped topsoil to date ending up under the future reservoir. That was the policy invented and held by BCH and the BC Archaeology Branch...until now.
Fortunately, BC Hydro has indicated that from now on, all archaeology stripped top soil is to be stockpiled above the future reservoir. I use the word “indicated” because they are not exactly broadcasting this news, but I have personally been assured that this is now the new policy.
The following BC Hydro “Information Sheet” gives the rules for managing topsoil in protected heritage sites. Basically, the same rules apply as before, however, the “off-site archaeology stockpiles” are now to be outside the reservoir, instead of inside the reservoir. That is a pretty major change that is not acknowledged on their site: https://www.sitecproject.com/sites/default/files/IS-Topsoil-management-Highway-29.pdf  I was also informed that if these stockpiles are ever sifted for artifacts in the future, then that top soil could possibly become available for agricultural use. I put little faith in that ever happening, but who knows?
Basically, all we have achieved is keeping good topsoil from being dumped into a reservoir, which is about half of what we were asking for. On top of that, much of this work has already taken place, and they are not going to haul what is already under the future reservoir out. I think this process reveals problems with how this project is managed. Obviously, the former policy was a bad one, and that is now acknowledged by BCH. I have not spoken with one person, either Indigenous or Non-Indigenous, who agreed with this practice in the first place. So how did this come to be? In the ‘real’ world, heads would likely roll for such a screw-up. However, in the bureaucratic world of BC Hydro and various BC Government Ministries, I think the foot soldiers will close ranks and ensure the safety of all with no consequences where perhaps there should be. I have heard it said that politicians are fair game for attack, but don’t go after the bureaucrats! It appears that much of the Site C project is run by bureaucrats who continue to protect each other despite gaffes. That results in no accountability or consequences for mistakes. With that sort of culture, how are we to learn from mistakes, and hopefully evolve to do things better in the future?
Ken Boon

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