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United Nations raises concerns about impact of tar sands and Site C dam


The Peace-Athabasca Delta is located at the confluence of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers with Lake Athabasca.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee is concerned about the impact of the tar sands and the proposed Site C dam on Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace–Athabasca Delta region in north-eastern Alberta.

The Canadian Press reports, “The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has asked Canada to invite a team to Alberta to study how the [tar sands] and other nearby projects will affect Wood Buffalo National Park. The UN committee’s request follows a petition by the Mikisew Cree First Nation in December that asked for the park to be added to a list of world heritage sites in danger.”

The Edmonton Journal adds, “[UNESCO has] asked Canada not to make any decisions about future projects that would be difficult to reverse, and to conduct a strategic environmental assessment to determine the potential cumulative impact of development on the park. It wants to see results of the assessment by Dec. 1, 2016. In the meantime, the advisory group to the World Heritage Committee will plan a visit to Wood Buffalo National Park to see what’s happening on the ground, [Mikisew spokesperson Melody] Lepine said. She hopes that party will come in September or October before winter’s freeze, in time to provide a summary at [their] conference [next July].”

Just prior to the committee’s decision, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated, “[Canada] has some of the most stringent environmental and park legislation in the world, and we are protecting and improving the ecological integrity of Wood Buffalo National Park.” And now, a news report notes, “George Green, vice-president of heritage conservation with Parks Canada, [says] that the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River was reviewed by an independent, joint federal-provincial panel and that it found there would be no impact on the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Green also noted that at 45,000 square kilometres, the park’s size, provides for ‘considerable potential resilience’.”

The Peace–Athabasca Delta is the largest freshwater inland river delta in the world. It is located partially within the southeast corner of Wood Buffalo National Park. The delta is formed where the Peace and Athabasca rivers converge on the Slave River and Lake Athabasca. In 1983, Peace–Athabasca Delta was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its biological diversity and for the population of wild bison. The previous year the region had also been designated by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty of 169 countries, as a wetland of international importance.

The Council of Canadians thanks the Mikisew Cree First Nation for their petition to UNESCO, as well as the World Heritage Committee for its decision.

We have been opposing Site C for the past five years and support the court challenge launched by four First Nations against it. Site C would be a 60-metre high, 1,050-metre-long dam and hydroelectric generation station located on the Peace River between the communities of Hudson’s Hope and Taylor in northeastern British Columbia. It would create an 83-kilometre-long reservoir and flood about 5,550 hectares of agricultural land southwest of Fort St. John. It would submerge 78 First Nations heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance. Construction on Site C could begin this summer (if not stopped by a court injunction) and be completed by 2024.

We also oppose the TransCanada Energy East pipeline as well as other tar sands pipelines including the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain, Enbridge Northern Gateway and TransCanada Keystone XL pipelines. Filling the 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East pipeline would spur a 40 per cent increase in tar sands production and undoubtedly further endanger the delta and park.

It might also be noted that the Energy East pipeline would also cross the Rideau River just south of Ottawa. That river feeds into the Rideau Canal just a short distance downstream. In 2007 the Rideau Canal was also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being a work of human creative genius.

Further reading
Mikisew Cree First Nation applauds UNESCO decision on Wood Buffalo National Park