Would you support a corporation that destroys the environment, disrespects indigenous heritage and tramples on people's rights?
Developers for Bear Mountain Resort and the Bear Mountain Interchange have destroyed two First Nations caves near Victoria, BC. They demolished irreplaceable karst formations hundreds of thousands of years old for the sake of profit and convenient highway access. The City of Langford promised residents that the Langford Lake Cave would be protected. Instead, it has been closed off permanently with a rebar grate and tons of broken rock (below).
What was once public forest is now bare rock. Crown forest land ended up in the hands of Bear Mountain Resort and Len Barrie after it was flipped twice in 2001. Now, the bottom line is trashed ecosystems and hundreds of millions in profit pocketed by developers while the province looks the other way.
Does this sound like ethical business practices?
Is this sustainable development?
Why would anyone do business with Len Barrie and his Bare Mountain?
Sample letter to investors
Welcome to the Hall of Flame, part of the Boycott Bear Mountain campaign. We are writing to advise you on concerns that arise from your involvement in the Bear Mountain Resort in Langford, BC. Due to mounting public outrage over the loss of First Nations cultural sites and environmental degradation in Langford, we are obliged to disclose that the resort, along with the new interchange project, fails to meet basic standards of sustainability, respect for aboriginal rights, and due diligence. We are contacting Bear Mountain's investors and others connected to this project and releasing their names in the public interest.
Most investors give careful thought to their legacies and to the mark they will leave on the world. As a shareholder in Bear Mountain Resort, you share the responsibility for the destruction of the land at Spaet Mountain and the abuse of people living nearby.
Given the following risks and liabilities inherent in the development of the resort and the new highway interchange to serve it, we urge you to terminate your involvement in this project immediately.
- Construction at the resort and the interchange site is wiping out irreplaceable First Nations heritage sites. The highway interchange will damage or destroy a significant cave used by First Nations for hundreds of generations. A second sacred cave was demolished at Bear Mountain Resort last year.
- Interchange construction is already eradicating endangered ecosystems and vulnerable species. Chainsaws and bulldozers have leveled several groves of Garry Oaks, which represent the rarest ecosystem in Canada, and degraded pond habitat for Red-Legged Frogs, a federal and provincial Species at Risk. Watercourses are fouled by toxic runoff.
- The area landowners, including Bear Mountain Resort, are legally obligated to repay the city's loan. The city has applied for a federal and provincial grant to finish the project, but that application is likely dead in the water. Municipalities are not permitted to give cash grants to private companies.
- Future litigation may force Bear Mountain to compensate local First Nations for loss of their land rights. Court-ordered environmental remediation could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
- The Bear Mountain Resort is the target of an international boycott campaign launched by local residents to demand developers take responsibility for cleaning up the mess they have made.
First Nations sites destroyed
The destruction of the Spaet Cave has ruptured relationships with First Nations. The area of Spaet (Skirt) Mountain is a shared place for ritual going back hundreds of generations. The Tsartlip First Nation, one of the bands with a claim and treaty rights to the area, has been shut out of negotiations with the province and the developer. Two neighbouring bands signed an agreement to allow construction on the mountaintop to proceed in exchange for compensation. Meanwhile, the Tsartlip First Nation rejected the deal, and was subsequently - and illegally - locked out of official meetings. ("Tsartlip veto Skirt Mtn. cave deal," Times Colonist, Dec. 20, 2006). The only remaining remedy is a potentially costly and disruptive court battle.
After the agreement was signed, the cave was demolished. The underground pool was drained and the cavern was filled with truck tires and stumps while blasting took place. The roof of the cave was removed and the surrounding area bulldozed. The stumps and tires were later removed but the cave was never rebuilt.
A second cave, also identified as a shared cultural site for local bands, is located in the path of the Bear Mountain Interchange near the Trans-Canada Highway. It has been permanently damaged by the blasting and excavation splitting open underground caverns connected to the main cave. The City of Langford promised to "protect" the cave, but instead city workers drilled and welded a rebar grate over the entrance and piled tons of broken rock on top of the rebar earlier this year. The cave is no longer useable by speleologists (cave experts), First Nations, local schoolchildren and recreationists. The closing of the cave precluded any assessment by the provincial Archaeology Branch, which has failed to act in keeping with BC's Heritage Conservation Act to protect First Nations sites. Village sites excavated along the Bear Mountain Parkway were also destroyed without any assessment or oversight. (See attached article, "Heritage Conservation Act or Heritage Destruction Act?")
The geology of the interchange area is dominated by karst, a limestone-based rock characterized by underground watercourses and caverns. Experts warn that blasting in karst areas without proper assessments can cause widespread contamination through underground channels. Karst areas may also be subject to sinkholes and collapses, especially when aquifers are altered. The interchange site is literally on shaky ground, and yet the city has failed in its due diligence and carried out no karst assessments.
At the site of the Bear Mountain Interchange, the project is moving forward with little regard for mitigating environmental damage. Construction has proceeded without formal approvals for watercourse diversions from BC's Ministry of the Environment. Runoff from bulldozed and excavated watercourses at the site has contaminated wetlands and nearby Spencer's Pond. At the time of writing, mud and silt are suffocating Pacific Tree Frogs and Red-Legged Frogs, a provincially and federally-listed Species at Risk. ("Work Begins, Permits be Damned," Monday Magazine, March 19 2008.)
Downstream from the construction zone at Bear Mountain Resort, an unidentified orange sludge is leaching into Florence Lake. (See attached photo.) A mass die-off of amphibians in the lake has been observed, coinciding with the the start of construction 18 months ago and the first appearance of the sludge. Prelimary lab tests of the sludge show the substance contains 1000 times the background level of manganese, as well as elevated levels of barium and cobalt. (Enkon Environmental report, February 2007. Results for 2008 pending.) The results are consistent with the drilling fluid often used in mass quantities for rock drilling and road construction. If, as we believe, the underground water channels are contaminated with drilling mud, the sludge will continue to seep into local creeks and lakes for years to come. Clean up and remediation of underground sites may be technically feasible but it would be prohibitively expensive. And yet, the only recourse for landowners affected by the runoff may be to seek a court order demanding such remediation. (See attached legal letter to the city of Langford.)
Residents are calling for a halt before the further damage occurs. They demand a moratorium on development at least until water diversion permits and mitigation measures are in place.
Public opinion and publicity
The interchange project faces widespread community opposition in the City of Langford and across Vancouver Island. Much of the controversy is fueled by the fact that Langford's aggressively pro-development council has sidestepped the usual voter referendum on capital projects. Langford designated the highway project part of a Local Service Area agreement, which required only the consent of the developers. Over 2250 local residents signed a petition demanding the city put the interchange loan to a vote. Langford dismissed the petition and one councillor suggested voters did not understand what they were signing. ("Blackwell Balks at Petition Result," Monday Magazine, Feb. 13 2008.)
Interchange construction was delayed for months by protestors. News stories about the interchange, Langford City Council, and protestors have dominated local and regional television reports and news radio for weeks at a time. More than a hundred stories and letters appeared in Victoria's newspapers and journals in February and March 2008. The Globe and Mail and the Report on Business have recently published unflattering reports of environmental damage and the First Nations blockade. (See "The Bull and the Bear," Report on Business, March 28 2008.) Public awareness about problems with the interchange has reached hundreds of thousands of consumers, and web polls show the majority opinion is at least two to one against the interchange. ("Do you support the construction of the Bear Mountain interchange?" CFAX poll, Jan. 12, 2008.)
Developers are trying to intimidate First Nations leaders and environmentalists. Bear Mountain owner Len Barrie and his top deputy Les Bjola have admitted to reporters that they "orchestrated" two violent confrontations, directing over a hundred Bear Mountain construction workers to disrupt a First Nations gathering at Spaet Cave in 2006 and a small rally on the highway in 2008. Encouraged by their bosses, the contractors swarmed both gatherings en masse and pushed, shoved, kicked, spat at and threatened native leaders and local conservationists. Their actions were captured by TV cameras, viewed by thousands on Youtube, and condemned by residents across the region.
In April 2008, after a full year of confrontation and months of delays to the start of interchange construction, local environmentalists launched the "Boycott Bare Mountain "campaign, selling T-shirts and bumper stickers, disclosing environmental risks and liabilities, and naming investors to the Hall of Shame. The boycott has already won the support of leading US and Canadian environmental groups.
Normally, city road-building projects are funded by the Municipal Finance Authority. In this case, the City of Langford acknowledges that the road primarily benefits the Bear Mountain Resort, a private company. The city is applying for credit on behalf of the developers. This has led to a widespread perception that Langford is improperly conferring a benefit on a corporation, a charge that Langford mayor Stew Young denies.
The MFA rejected Langford's application, citing the "non-traditional " nature of the third-party loan and the financial risk to its triple-A credit rating. Now the city is applying to TD Bank for the interchange loan. We have contacted the President and CEO of TD Bank, asking that the company apply its new Environment Policy and Environmental Management Framework to this application. TD Bank is reviewing our information package and assessing the environmental and social risks as part of its commitment to sustainability. It is likely the assessment will result in further delays even if Langford's application is successful.
The city and the developers chose not to consult with local residents, respect aboriginal rights, comply with environmental best practices, or cooperate with the community in any way. Justice demands we use every form of leverage available to us.
We ask that you review the enclosed documents relating to First Nations cultural sites, environmental liability, and geological rarities in the area. Then, we urge you to take the high ground and divest from Bear Mountain Resort. Once you have informed us of your divestment, we will remove you from the Hall of Shame.
Thank you very much for you time and attention, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.
Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network
Save SPAET Our Sacred Mountain, online petition
Cheryl Bryce: "Heritage Conservation Act or Heritage Destruction Act?"
Adrian Duncan: "City of Langford - Spencer Road Interchange," BC Speleological Federation
Adolf Ceska: "Environmental review missed many rare plants"
Robin Gage: Legal letter to Langford City Council
Lyle Jenish: "The Bull and the Bear," Report on Business, 3/28/08
Jason Youmans: "Blackwell Balks at Petition Results," Monday Magazine, 2/13/08
Bill Cleverley: " Loan plan for interchange abandoned," Times Colonist, 3/13/08.
Photo of orange sludge, March 2008
cc: W. Edmund Clark, President and CEO, TD Bank Financial Group
Lillian Ranalli, Senior Manager, Corporate Environmental Affairs, Government and Community Relations