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Backlash over Burnaby's proposal to build waste facility in parkland

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The City of Burnaby’s proposal to build a green recyling and organic waste facility is causing controversy – as it would mean paving over designated parkland.

It’s a plan that Josh Wong is fighting to prevent from happening.

"They really should think about what they're doing, because this sets a precedent for future generations,” said Wong, who is a part of the SaveFraserForeShorePark grassroots group.

The Fraser Foreshore Park in South Burnaby was acquired by the city in 2004 as a wetland habitat, but that title could soon be washed away with Burnaby’s new proposed plan.

"Once a parkland like this is bulldozed over, there's no coming back,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about this project.”

“This is one of the most biodiverse parks in Burnaby, which is one of the last standing marshlands situated along the lower Fraser River.”

It’s a decision that Mayor Mike Hurley calls “difficult.”

"We've done an exhaustive search of other lands that might be suitable but we were just not able to find anything large enough within the city to accommodate that facility,” said Hurley.

He says the city conducted a 400-page assessment and determined the new facility would enhance the environment by a 3:1 ratio.

“It’s a decision that’s made through the lens of climate change emergency and the need to do everything we can to get our diesel trucks off the road and also take care of our organic materials that are produced,” he said.

On Monday morning, a number of people were seen walking through the trails with their children or their dogs. But aside from the site being a place to enjoy the outdoors, experts say preserving wildlife habitats and the nearby estuary is also important.

"In terms of protecting natural values, I would say it would be unfortunate to build it where they plan to – and further, it would be very unfortunate to build it right by the river,” said Dr. John Richardson, a UBC professor of the forest and conservation sciences department.

Estuaries are where the ocean meets the river, providing a place for species to live. That includes salmon, which hatch in fresh water before migrating to saltwater. The marshes are also critical to fish food supply and a place to escape large predators, according to Richardson.

“These little bits of tidal marsh habitat that we find in places like Burnaby is a really scarce environment these days because we’ve really plowed most of it under,” he said.

The City of Burnaby is asking residents to vote on whether or not to use the park as the waste site. Voter cards must be in by April 28, and can be either mailed or delivered in person. According to Wong, 16,251 opposing votes are required to keep the parkland from becoming destroyed. 

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