Patricia Heintzman gets worried when she sees bushes growing near railway tracks by her Paradise Valley home. She knows the lush growth means Canadian National Railway will start spraying toxic herbicides again.
“My well is about 70 feet from the railway tracks and it’s not a very deep aquifer,” said Heintzman, a Squamish District councillor. “Every single year I always have a concern.”
Other communities in the Sea to Sky area have similar concerns about chemicals CN uses to control vegetation along tracks that run past homes, school yards, rivers and lakes.
The Village of Pemberton wrote a letter to CN in June expressing apprehension over the railway’s lack of consultation with the community about its spray plans. As of Aug. 30 CN had not responded to the VOP’s concerns, according to David Allen, development services director. The village was also concerned at the short lead time the railway gave, indicating in a May 8 letter that a spraying program would start June 1.
“We received the letter May 15 and only had two weeks to respond and that was inadequate time for us to review the plan,” Allen said. CN refused to provide the village with a copy of their pest management plan, saying it could be reviewed in person at their Surrey offices, Allen said.
CN said the pest management plan will be available on their website as of September 1.
Squamish-Lillooet Regional District also has issues with herbicide spraying.
“There’s been an ongoing lack of relationship with the railways on these issues,” said Steve Olmstead, SLRD planning manager. Five years ago the district filed against BC Rail with the province’s environmental appeal board regarding chemical spraying but lost the appeal. This year SLRD wrote to CN requesting mapping details of areas within regional district boundaries where the railway intended to spray.
“We advised them that the SLRD is opposed to spraying in riparian areas, community aquifers, water sheds and areas of high community use,” Olmstead said.
CN did not respond to the SLRD’s concerns.
Whistler is the only Sea to Sky community that has an agreement with CN to not spray in the corridor. Whistler asked CN to honour a previous agreement the municipality held with BC Rail and CN is adhering to that agreement, said Diana Waltmann, municipal spokesperson.
With proper provincial permits, railways across B.C. are allowed to spray a variety of toxic chemicals that include Amitrole, Garlon 4, Tordon 22K, Escort, Arsdenal, and Roundup to control pests and vegetation growth.