Fish death toll increases at Line Creek

Almost two-dozen more fish have been added to the total of deceased aquatic life found at Teck’s Line Creek Operations.

Between Thursday, October 16 and Friday, October 17 an initial 11 fish were found dead in the water treatment facility area at the Teck mine and preparation plant located near Sparwood. Since then, the total has risen to 34.

The facility has been shut down and is not expected to be fully operational again until early 2015, as Teck has taken to decommissioning, restarting and re-commissioning the facility as a precautionary measure.

“We take this incident very seriously and are actively working to determine the cause,” said Nic Milligan, manager of community and Aboriginal affairs in a press release.

Investigation into the cause of death of these fish is still ongoing, though according to Teck, the startup process of the water treatment facility may be related to the incident.

The startup process was recently installed to reduce selenium levels in the water.

Marcia Smith, senior vice president of sustainability and external affairs at Teck, has cited the water treatment facility — a $100 million infrastructure — as part of Teck’s “significant work” to reverse issues caused by selenium levels.

Public concern is rising regarding selenium levels as a result of the nearby Teck plants Fording River and Greenhills Operations, both located northeast of Elkford.

Selenium is an essential trace element necessary for cellular function in many organisms; however excessive amounts may result in toxic effects.

According to a review of Environment Canada’s Teck Coal Environmental Assessment, conducted between 2012-2014, concentrations of selenium found in westslope cutthroat trout fish eggs collected from the Upper Fording River were much higher than the toxic threshold for the species and displayed “classical symptoms of selenium poisoning marked by skeletal and craniofacial deformities.”

These deformities include concave craniums, bent spines, missing gill covers and deformed or missing fins, as seen in photographs of westslope cutthroat trout collected from the Upper Fording River included in the assessment.

The selenium threshold for these creatures, which notes the level at which sensitive species first begin to exhibit symptoms of selenium poisoning, is 10-15 micrograms per gram (dry weight).

Fish eggs collected from the Upper Fording River frequently had concentrations of 60 micrograms per gram (dry weight).

The review was posted on Teck’s website last month and the company has long acknowledged their part in the river pollution problem.

Over the next five years, Teck will be spending $600 million to improve water quality.

“We recognize that water quality in the Elk Valley watershed is a serious challenge that requires action,” said Milligan. “That’s why we have been working in cooperation with provincial and federal governments, First Nations, communities, governments in the U.S. and technical experts to develop an Elk Valley Water Quality Plan that will set out the approach to stabilizing and reversing selenium levels within the Elk Valley.”

Local residents had the opportunity to attend open houses earlier this year to provide their input in the development of the plan. Smith has also stated that Teck will continue to do research in universities across Canada and the U.S. in order to develop new ways to manage the selenium issue.

To read the full report and view photos captured of poisoned westslope cutthroat trout, visit http://www.teckelkvalley.com/res/vpl/documents/_ces_portal_meta/_portal_pages/documents/review_environment_canada.pdf

Appeared in print November 6, 2014 and online at The Free Press.

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Mapping Hollywood’s dysfunction at Reel Canadian Film Fest

The annual Reel Canadian Film Festival took over Fernie’s Vogue Theatre last weekend for the seventh time and on its Saturday evening docket was Maps To the Stars — a jumbled satire depicting the insanity of Hollywood.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, the film starred the festival’s most recognizable names with an ensemble cast featuring Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson.

With the play-on-words title indicating that the film will draw a picture explaining how its characters — among them a washed-up C-Lister desperate to emulate her late film icon mother (Moore), a Bieber-esque 13-year-old getting his career on track following a stint in rehab (Evan Bird), a schizophrenic burn victim hungry for fame (Wasikowska) and a quacked-up TV psychologist to the stars (Cusack) — have gotten to where they are, the film’s narration leaves things less than clear.

Though some of the film’s easy cracks at Hollywood and the craziness of the business ring true, in the film’s case plotlines of incest and disturbing familial sexual relationships serve as a main allegory and it tries to be too many things at once.

This forces some of its satire and jokes to fall flat or create a sense of awkward questioning if a disturbing scene warrants a laugh.

Among those include Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack) punching his daughter in the stomach repeatedly, an accidental murdering of a dog or a later scene where Weiss pushes his wife (also his sister) into a pool after finding her on fire upon his return home.

The film isn’t without its merits, however. Moore delivers an electric performance and fully commits to the internal turmoil of a broken actress, as has frequently been her M.O. in films. But even an Oscar-nominated actress couldn’t overpower the purposefully absurd and silly satire that is Maps.

The purpose of the film festival is to highlight Canadian talent in film, with five films with a strong Canadian connection being shown over three days. Included were When The Ocean Met The Sky, Heartbeat, Maps, Monsoon and Mommy.

An opening and closing reception also welcomed locals to the festival.

Appeared in print January 22, 2015 and online at The Free Press

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Fernie mom strings together Beads of Courage

Lily Earl is a four-year-old girl in Fernie with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She has joined the Beads of Courage program where each bead represents a part of her treatment.
Lily Earl is a four-year-old girl in Fernie with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She has joined the Beads of Courage program where each bead represents a part of her treatment.

Lily Earl is four-years-old. She is lively, excitable, loves freezies and My Little Pony. She also has leukemia.

Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 28 months old, Lily has endured hundreds of rounds of chemotherapy, lumbar punctures and visits to hospital rooms.

Seeing her in her living room, playing with her mom’s iPad and shoveling chocolate pudding into her mouth, you wouldn’t be able to tell that a disease afflicts her.

In November 2012, during a routine check up, doctors in Fernie noticed an abnormality with her blood.

“The doctors called us later that night,” said Sheri Earl, Lily’s mom, “and told us to go to Calgary first thing in the morning and to pack for 10 days.”

The Earls only packed for two, not suspecting that the doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital would tell them that Lily had leukemia.

“The E.R. nurses were bawling when the doctor gave us the news,” said Earl. “They said, ‘We had such high hopes for you guys’.”

Lily was transferred to the oncology department where she spent the next two weeks undergoing bone marrow aspirates and chemotherapy injected into her spine to prevent the leukemia from crossing over into her spinal fluid and central nervous system.

After another fortnight spent in Calgary to get Lily into remission, the Earls were permitted to come back to Fernie.

Since then, Lily takes an oral chemo once a day, another oral chemo consisting of six pills once a week, once a month she gets chemo in her port in Calgary and then once a month she gets a five-day run of steroids orally.

“Think of steroid rage in a toddler,” said Earl with a laugh.

Earl talks about bringing her daughter home from the hospital, three days before Christmas, as “worse then bringing home a newborn.”

She laughs now, looking back, at the memory of her and Lily getting the stomach flu together on Christmas Eve.

“It isn’t that I don’t remember the dark days or that I’ve forgotten,” explained Earl, “but they’ve faded.”

To help remember everything that Lily has gone through, Earl recently joined the Beads of Courage program.

“I had thought about doing it for two years but knew that while I was undergoing that process and those dark days that I wouldn’t be able to have time for that,” said Earl.

But now, she thinks it will be a good keepsake for Lily and a testament to her brave journey to beating cancer.

Earl pored over what she calls ‘the cancer binder’ — a collection of every treatment schedule and hospital stay Lily endured — for days.

“I had to figure out everything from the last two years and the numbers astonished me.”

Ninety-two black glass beads clink together and slide on the line that spools them along. Those beads represent intravenous injections to Lily’s arm and the port surgically implanted in her chest.

Twenty-two more beads for lumbar punctures, 28 more for nights spent in hospitals, 21 for days spent in isolation due to fevers or infection, 55 for outpatient clinic visits or oncology check ups. Others more still make up the long string of treatments Lily has undergone.

“Everyone has beads in their pockets,” said Earl. “The nurses, the receptionist, the oncologist. When she’s done with a certain thing they’ll just pass her a bead.”

Looped on the string are also some very special beads. Her name, spelled out on large white beads. A fish, to represent her travelling a long distance to get the care she needs. An apple, to mark that she began school during treatment. A wooden face with a flower in its hair to symbolize the locks she lost from chemo. Most significantly are two beautifully ornate beads that each represents 100 chemo treatments.

“She’s part of the 200 club,” said Earl.

At one point, Lily interrupts to ask her mom if she can watch Finding Nemo.

Earl promises afterwards that she can.

She explains later on that to a lot of cancer kids and parents, a prominent quote in the film to “just keep swimming” has become a sort of mantra for them.

“It’s just what you have to do,” said Earl.

Right now, Lily is swimming towards her purple heart, the final bead that will represent the end of her treatment.

Earl said it’s important to let the community know how dire funding is for pediatric cancer through a post she had written on the Lily Earl Facebook page.

“I wanted to write that post on the last day of Pediatric Cancer Awareness month to show how much these kids need support,” explained Earl. “Only one penny of research goes towards these kids per dollar raised of cancer research.”

For now, the Earl family has a routine when it comes to dealing with Lily’s illness.

“You almost have to have some kind of humour to get through it,” said Earl. “With the gravity of the years worth of treatment that we’re faced with … you wonder how life is ever going to be normal. But it becomes a new normal.”

Family vacations have been piggy-backed onto trips to Calgary for Lily’s treatment. Waterslide parks, a hike up to the top of the World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller and many others on what Earl calls the family’s Southern Alberta Historical Tour.

Lily interjects and asks to play with her Flynn Rider doll, the male lead from the Disney film about Rapunzel Tangled.

She is expected to see Flynn in person when the family makes a trek to Disneyland following Lily’s final treatment.

It’s a chance to try and give her a sense of normalcy and laughter that she may have missed out on otherwise.

“I don’t think that she’s felt yet that she’s missed out on a lot,” said Earl, “But I do. I feel sorry I can’t take her to playgroups I used to take my son to. Or library reading groups.”

But Lily makes the most of life. She laughs, she squeals, she scampers around the house with her lopsided pigtails bobbing. She had begged to be placed in preschool, which she attends twice a week.

“The notion of being off-treatment is actually so frightening,” admits Earl. “You know you get conditioned for so many years that chemo keeps the bad things away.”

What scares Earl now isn’t the ‘c’ word (cancer), which used to often be a synonym for a death sentence.

“The ‘r’ word, relapse, is what scares me the most,” said Earl.

But Lily’s prognosis so far is good, her family is good and the community she belongs to is good.

“This is my opportunity to thank everyone I never got the chance to thank,” said Earl.

She mentions someone in Sparwood who donates $60 faithfully every month to a bank account opened in Lily’s name. She speaks of anonymous donors who left food and presents on their door during the Christmas season when Lily was at her worst. She thinks of her friends who decorated their home with twinkly lights for the holidays when they were in Calgary and away from home. She is constantly blown away by the unending support of the Elk Valley who once raised $25,000 for Lily through an auction set up through Facebook.

“There is a lot of love in this town, in this entire valley,” said Earl.

At this point, Lily asks for her second freezie and another chocolate pudding.

Earl simply smiles and complies, “How can you say no to a kid with cancer?”

Appeared in print October 30, 2014 and online at The Free Press

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Surrey’s Good Citizen of the Year Ron Meadley ‘genuinely cares about his community’

Ron Meadley had never planned for a quiet retirement.

“It just wasn’t practical nor was it the best for myself,” Meadley says. “I knew that it wouldn’t work.”

After serving in various managerial positions for tobacco and furniture companies, Meadley looked at his retirement as an opportunity to become proactive and give back to the community.

Over a decade-long career of environmental conservation of Surrey’s forests and waters, Meadley has acted as vice-president of the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, vice-president of the Little Campbell Watershed Society and president of the Sunnyside Acres Heritage Society.

On April 15, Meadley was named ‘Good Citizen of the Year’ by the City of Surrey at the Annual Volunteer Services Celebration.

The spark to create an impact in his environment, he says, began when he tried to save an eroding island he was living on in Nova Scotia close to 40 years ago. Young Island, a glacial till island off Nova Scotia’s coast, was experiencing a loss of four to five inches of land per year as strong high tides would pull the gravel composition of the island away from its shores.

Seeing this, he thought of a way to prevent further erosion. For five years, by hand, he would roll boulders 20 to 30 feet to the water’s edge to create a 1,000-foot long protective wall.

He laughs at the memory, shaking his head and rubbing his hands on his worn denim jeans.

“It was completely crazy of me to do,” he admits, “but it was one of the first things that got me thinking, ‘How can I impact the natural environment around me?’ Up until that point, I was just working a regular job to get by.”

Meadley says that the highlight of his career has been teaching Surrey’s youth about the environment.

His face crinkles into a warm smile when he recalls all the children he’s led through the forests that edge his South Surrey home.

He gestures towards the sun-dappled window of his living room that looks over Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest.

“If you can bring the children through the forest and have them draw a leaf just the way it is,” he says.

“You give them something tangible they can actually touch with their hands and you can see the sparkle that’s in their eyes.”

Meadley has also worked with various teachers across Surrey to bring fish breeding into schools. Fertilized eggs are provided to classrooms by the Semiahmoo hatchery. After development, the children bring the fish back to Semiahmoo where they can learn more about salmon before releasing the young fish back into the river.

He describes the experience as something truly special.

“Once you give a child a bucket with fish that they can release back into the wild, you realize you’re giving them an experience they’ve never had before,” said Meadley.

Bi-annual community plantings have also revitalized Surrey’s forests and helped the society to connect with citizens of all ages who are interested in the environment.

“We have small shovels just for little folk,” he describes fondly of the plantings, “and these kids are so small that they can still barely lift them. It’s truly something to see.”

Through the society, Meadley says he has also built bonds with other retirees who, like him, didn’t see the end of the work week as the end of their productivity.

“There are a lot of seniors who want to continue to help and literally grow with the community,” said Meadley.

Jeff Harrison, Meadley’s neighbour, led the charge in nominating him as ‘Good Citizen of the Year’.

For years, Harrison had heard about all the work that Meadley had been doing for the community and decided to do something about it.

For three weeks, Harrison collected letters of recommendation from each of Meadley’s organizations before sending off the packet to the City of Surrey.

“I’m just happy that the city made the selection that they did,” says Harrison of Meadley’s award, “This man genuinely cares about his community and pours his entire retirement life into all of his projects.

Appeared in print April 24, 2014 and online at The Now.

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Mayor Gregor Robertson announces re-election campaign for third term

Despite attempts at being covert, it came as no surprise when Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced his plans to run for re-election on November 15.

“I’ve been honoured to lead Vancouver over the past five years,” said Robertson at a telephone town hall at City Hall on Thursday. “I’m running for re-election because we need a Mayor with experience in business and government who can take our city to the next level.”

For Robertson that means focusing on homelessness, continuing his campaign for Vancouver to become “the greenest city in the world”, affordable housing, the building of the Broadway Subway — despite the need for a light rail plan in Surrey — and taking a strong stance against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

“We are going to continue with our work fighting the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” said Robertson, “The Kinder Morgan pipeline is a huge threat to Vancouver’s success. Our economy and our environment are at great risk if there is an oil spill in our harbour.”

Robertson also talked about the risk the pipeline has on jobs and the economy of the pipeline:

Following his last six years in office, the main objective for Robertson is to prevent Vision’s primary opponents, the Non-Partisan Association, from undoing his party’s achievements.

“They don’t understand modern-day Vancouver,” said Robertson of the NPA, “They’ve been against affordable housing, against the greenest city plan. The only thing they appear to be for is more oil tankers in Vancouver’s harbour.”

Robertson will also be hosting a policy conference on Sunday as the efforts to reach thousands of residents over the next coming months becomes a priority. “We’ve got six and a half months to the election and we’re gearing up to build on the success of our last five years,” said Robertson.

Originally posted on Vancity Buzz

Newcomers to provincial politics fight for empty seat in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows

With Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows NDP MLA Mike Sather retiring, the open seat is being contested by a mixture of relative newcomers and veterans to politics.

Conservative Manuel Pratas was shocked even by his own nomination, having not previously anticipated a Conservative candidate to be present in his riding nor in neighbouring Maple Ridge-Mission. Pratas has expressed that the race may be fairly even amongst the current candidates, considering that none of them have run for a provincial seat. Doug Bing of the Liberals and Elizabeth Rosenau for the NDP are also running in the riding for the first time.

Michael Patterson for the Greens is also running for the first time provincially. But he did run, unsuccessfully, for the Greens in 2008′s Maple Ridge municipal election. Patterson currently works as an electrical engineer and telecommunications expert for wireless carriers in B.C.. An avid cyclist, Patterson says in his Green Party profile that, “You don’t have to be left or right wing to support the Green Party. You just have to be someone that cares about your community.”

Although a newcomer to British Columbian politics, construction worker Pratas says he understands the work schedule of a politician — having served three years on city council in Hamilton, Ontario — and wants to put in more time and effort than most. “I speak the language of the people. I’m not going to be a suit and tie man who only works 39 days of the year and spends the rest on vacation.” Along with the Conservatives’ proposed tax credit for commuters stuck with bridge tolls as well as an abolition of the carbon tax, Pratas’ main concerns are education and the environment.

Three-term Pitt Meadows councillor Bing, who is running for the Liberals, has raised questions about his NDP opponent Rosenau’s experience. Rosenau beat out Korleen Carreras for the nomination last June following a recommendation from Sather. Citing her inexperience in politics as a pitfall to his veteran knowledge in the riding, Bing says that he has his “finger on the pulse of the issues that matter to the community” while Rosenau has worked as a pharmacist in the Pitt Meadows region since November 2005.

Supporters of Rosenau argue that her scientific background should be seen as an advantage. She’s supported not only by her predecessor Sather but also NDP health critic Mike Farnworth. Farnworth stated in a press release that Rosenau’s experience as a health professional will be invaluable when forming government.

In the past, this riding has seen some close calls come election day with Sather beating out his then-opponent Liberal Ken Stewart by only 274 votes in the 2009 election. It will be interesting to see in two weeks time who comes out on top — and by how close of a margin.

Originally posted on The Vancouver Sun

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows candidates make last attempt to sway voters

All four candidates in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows made their pitch to voters at the riding’s last all-candidates meeting at at Meadowridge Secondary school on May 2.

Questions posed by the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce included whether the candidates would support the reinstatement of the business vote in municipal elections.

NDP candidate Elizabeth Rosenau, a pharmacist running for office for the first time, said that she didn’t have enough knowledge to answer fully but said that, “Businesses have every right to lobby politicians to have their needs met.”

B.C. Liberal candidate Doug Bing, a Pitt Meadows councilor of eight years, shot down the idea, stating bluntly, “Individuals vote, not businesses.”

Conservative candidate Manuel “Mike” Pratas was the only one who supported idea, saying that, “Small businesses are the backbone of this province … The B.C. Conservatives are all for trying to work with them.”

One questioner asked about job development, wondering how the Liberals could justify spending $17 million on job development when employment growth hasn’t changed much in the last year, according to Statistics Canada.

Bing pointed out that Statistics Canada posts job development numbers on a monthly basis, reflecting either plateaus or depressions in unemployment rates. Which is true enough as February’s highs were followed by March’s lows, contributing to an overall 7.2% unemployment rate in the province.

In terms of the economy and jobs, Rosenau was quick to point out that the NDP’s proposed diversified economy included “strategic investments” made in agriculture, forestry, film, television and the digital arts. According to Rosenau, “a strong economy is a diversified economy that doesn’t put all its eggs in the LNG basket.”

When asked about corporate business tax increases imposed by the NDP, Rosenau said that, “All we’re doing is rolling back those taxes to 2008 to where they were under Gordy Robson and nobody was talking about businesses fleeing our province in 2008.”

“In fairness to Gordy Robson I think she meant Gordon Campbell,” Bing remarked to audience laughter.

Rosenau sheepishly responded, ”That’s not the first time I’ve made that mistake, thanks Doug.”

In his closing statement, Green candidate Michael Patterson said he’d like to see more government investment in transit and cycling lanes.

Bing pushed for more focus on the economy and LNG development to fund the rest of the province’s necessities including health care and education. Rosenau admitted she hadn’t written a closing statement, wanting to head into the meeting with “an open mind to what we [the NDP] may have missed.” Pratas rounded out the closing statements with a mention of the Conservative-proposed tax credit for users of both toll bridges and ferries.

“You definitely will be voting for change because Michael Sather will be retiring,” Bing quipped at the meeting’s end.

This was the last meeting for all four candidates before the fast-approaching election date on May 14.

Originally posted on The Vancouver Sun