Friday, August 8, 2008

Parents oppose power lines

Tsawwassen parent Heather Colls Wahlberg doesn't relish the prospect of B.C. Transmission Corporation power lines being "six metres" from the library at Tsawwassen's only high school.

She told the Georgia Straight that for this reason she will withdraw her son and daughter, aged 13 and 14, respectively, from grades 8 and 9 at South Delta secondary school. As spokesperson for the fledgling group Mothers Against Power Poles, she said she is not willing to send her kids to the school this fall, "given the risks that exist".

"We also have a petition with 400 signatures of parents saying they are not intending on sending their children to the high school," Colls Wahlberg said by phone. "There are 1,200 kids, and I know that 71 applications to transfer out of the school have been picked up [by parents]."

According to the application for an environmental-assessment certificate filed by the BCTC in 2006, the new power lines will replace a 138-kilovolt transmission interconnection circuit between the Arnott Substation in Delta and the Vancouver Island Terminal in North Cowichan. The project received approval from the B.C. Utilities Commission in July 2006 and the Ministry of Environment in February 2007.

In December 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada denied an application by the group Tsawwassen Residents Against Higher Voltage Overhead Lines to appeal a B.C. Court of Appeal judgment in favour of the project. Protests ensued, leading to a court-ordered injunction in June of this year to allow work to continue. In a July 10 ruling, B.C. Supreme Court justice Ian Pitfield asked that named defendants Lloyd Lemoignan, Sharon Lemoignan, Christina Ryan, Danny Duch, Patricia Purchas, Gregory Fahlman, and Marion Fahlman "respect the order" or face charges of contempt of court.

Now, with the lines set to be energized in fall or early winter, MAPP has formed and Colls Wahlberg said she too is furious, though she has ruled out any plans for civil disobedience.

"These power poles will be conducting 230,000 volts of electrical power over the heads of all of our children and the residences of Tsawwassen," she said. "They will be upping the voltage to 500,000 volts of power. One of the poles is in the process of being put up in the parking lot of the only high school in all of Tsawwassen. So, 1,200 students and all of the staff and all of the parents who have to go to this school on a daily basis…will be right underneath these massive power lines and the dangers associated with them."

Juri Jatskevich, UBC associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, told the Straight that the risks associated with electromagnetic radiation and power lines are "still being studied".

"In general, it is low-frequency emissions [associated with power lines], and I don't think there are studies or evidence that link to some health consequences," Jatskevich said. "But it is still being studied.…Somebody should do an expert evaluation on that. Over the phone I can't do an expert evaluation. Those things have legal implications, and I cannot say anything in that regard."

BCTC spokesperson Chris Rathbone told the Straight that the Crown corporation has looked at studies done over the past 30 years "available through the World Health Organization and other sorts of similar bodies".

"All the measurements are taken directly under the power line and progressively further away from the power line," he said. "So, in terms of exposure and effects, we look to the health experts to guide us.…We strive to exceed those guidelines."

But Colls Wahlberg said her mind is made up, and she'll enroll her kids in another Delta school.

"It is hugely inconvenient," she said. "I don't care so much about the costs, but I am concerned about the effects that will have on my children. They will be removed from the community schools and from all their friendships that they have made over 13 years."