British Columbia

B.C.'s top environmental stories of 2016

British Columbians have a long history of responding passionately to environmental issues and this year that was certainly the case as well. Here's our list of the top environmental stories of 2016.

Mega projects for pipelines, dams and LNG dominated the news, but some local concerns also made our list

A woman holds a sign during a protest march against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in Vancouver on Nov. 19. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press )

British Columbians have a long history of responding passionately to environmental issues and this year that was certainly the case again.

Here's our list of the top environmental stories of 2016.

1. Pipelines approved and disapproved

No single environmental issue dominated B.C. headlines more this year than the fate of two proposed pipelines and the possible impact they might have.

So when the feds announced last month Enbridge's Northern Gateway would be scrapped but Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project would be going ahead, many in B.C. vowed once again to take whatever action necessary to stop the project.

And that means that this story is likely to continue to dominate headlines in the months and years ahead.

Paul George holds a sign during a protest against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 29, just hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the $6.8B project.

2. Another spill response falls short

When a tug pushing an empty fuel barge hit a rocky reef off the Central Coast of B.C. and sank, spilling diesel fuel, the industry-run spill response system on the West Coast was once again put to the test.

And much like the spill from the MV Marathassa in Vancouver Harbour the year before, it fell well short of expectations, according to critics.

While the prime minister responded with a tanker ban on the North Coast and new funding and equipment, many British Columbians remain convinced we still lack the capacity to respond to a major oil spill on the West Coast.

Stormy conditions hampering the salvage operations to remove a tug that sank near Bella Belle. (Kyle Artelle/Heiltsuk Nation)

3. LNG projects on uncertain shores

Premier Christy Clark's 2013 election promise to build a billion-dollar LNG industry continued to sparked controversy, and nowhere more so than the two proposed locations of export terminals in Howe Sound and on Lulu Island near Prince Rupert.

While international companies backing the projects have yet to fully commit, opponents have been clear they want them stopped in order to protect the marine environment.

But heading into the May 2017 election, one thing remains clear, and that's that B.C. has yet to become an LNG superpower.

In July, dozens of boats gathered in Howe Sound near Horseshoe Bay as part of a protest against a proposed liquefied natural gas plant in Squamish. (CBC)

4. Royal recognition for the Great Bear Rainforest

Royal visits normally are all about pomp and ceremony rather than substance and calls for change. But when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge touched down in B.C. it was clear they had set an agenda that would challenge that.

In particular William and Kate's stop in Bella Bella to visit the Heiltsuk First Nation and mark the inclusion of the Great Bear Rainforest in the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy Initiative signaled the royal pair intend to use their celebrity status to highlight environmental issues.

Later in the visit when they touched down in Haida Gwaii, the locals made a point of adding an LNG protest to the day's events and dropping Premier Christy Clark from the invite list.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William walk with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and a conservation officer during a tour of the Great Bear Rainforest near Bella Bella as part of their September tour. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

5. Site C dam going ahead

When the feds granted the last remaining permits for the massive Site C dam project in Northern B.C. in August, and the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a petition by two B.C. First Nations to block the construction in November, the last major hurdles for B.C.'s other mega-project were cleared.

Now with the protest camps gone and the last remaining landowners facing expropriation, construction of what could be B.C.'s last major hydro electrical dam in the Peace River Valley is expected to be in full swing this spring.

David Suzuki, third from the right, and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, centre, joined protesters at the Site C protest camp at Rocky Mountain Fort on a cold day in January. (Yvonne Tupper/Facebook)

6. Victoria's sewage site selected

After years of criticism for dumping untreated sewage in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the capital regional district finally selected a site for its $765-million sewage treatment plant.

But the choice of the Esquimalt site is not sitting well with locals, and construction has yet to begin, meaning this story may still need some further treatment before it gets flushed out completely.

Commercial diver Allan Crow has documented what he claims is the dying ocean bed near Victoria. He believes it's caused by the city's practice of dumping raw, untreated sewage into coastal waters. (Allan Crow/YouTube)

7. Climate change plans and impacts

While Premier Christy Clark's refusal to raise the carbon tax as part of her climate change plan was largely panned by critics as a missed opportunity, it was still held up as an example to be followed by other provinces that have yet to bring in their efforts to fight global warming.

Despite the heat, Clark held her ground during a round of tough negotiations in Ottawa, getting the federal government to agree to leave the tax alone until the rest of the provinces catch up.

Canada has committed to a 30% reduction of 2005 emissions levels by 2030.

8. Contaminated soil dumping

Residents of Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, who have resolutely opposed the dumping of contaminated soil, raised the alarm when thousands of litres of untreated water leaked from the site in October.

While they failed to convince the government to shut down the site, they made sure Environment Minister Mary Polak knew their concerns for the future of their drinking water supply.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Shawnigan Lake on Jan. 6, 2016 to voice their opposition to a soil dumping site near their watershed. (Carol Anne Shaw/Twitter)

9. Interior clean up

When Kelowna resident Rod Tribiger became sick of finding piles of trash dumped in the local backcountry, he decided to do something about it and founded the Okanagan Forest Task Force.

The movement quickly caught on, and volunteers pitched in to clean up tonnes of metal and garbage from the Okanagan's beautiful backcountry, inspiring other groups around the province to do the same.

One contributor to the Okanagan Forest Task Force Facebook page said this camper was dumped at Long Meadow Lake on the way into Browne Lake. (Ron Lancour/OFTF/Facebook)

10. Mother nature fights back

Mother Nature also struck back this year, reminding B.C. that she's still ultimately the one in control.

It all started with the earliest-recorded fire season that triggered massive evacuations and shutdowns in northeastern B.C and Alberta, followed by floods that cut towns off from the rest of the province.

After a mild summer, Mother Nature's fury returned in the fall with storms that flooded parts of Vancouver Island and the Pemberton Valley and destroyed crops across northeastern B.C.

The final salvo included an Arctic weather system that plunged much of the province into a deep freeze, and a series of snowstorms that threw Metro Vancouver's traffic into icy chaos for the first half of December.

A fire near Fort St. John, B.C., shut down the Alaska Highway in May. (Paul Walter)


Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.