Ecologically sensitive area eyed for development

South Campbell Heights, home to 13 at-risk species, is being considered for a business or industrial park.

A pristine area in South Surrey, teeming with fish and at-risk species of wildlife, is being examined for development potential as a future business park.

South Campbell Heights, near 16 Avenue and 192 Street, is more than half the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and is abundant with salmon, 100-year-old trees, an immense aquifer and many animals, including 13 species considered at risk.

The 245-hectare (600-acre) expanse of land is roughly bordered by 8 Avenue to the south, 20 Avenue to the north, 188 Street to the west and the Langley border (196 Street) to the east.

It has been identified in several City of Surrey documents as an ecologically sensitive area, but is now being eyed for a business park.

The particularly sensitive area south of 16 Avenue is called a “Special Study Area” which is defined as “an area where future land planning is projected, potentially leading to land use changes.”

An environmental study commissioned by the city this year indicates the area is home to the Brookswood Aquifer which is “highly vulnerable to contamination.”

The study notes the aquifer is “nearing or at (development) capacity” to provide domestic water “without decreasing the water table.”

The study indicates the area includes tree stands between 50 and 100 years old, which “dominate the forested landscape.” Some of those trees are 100 centimetres (more than three feet) in diameter at chest height.

The study also notes there are 13 at-risk wildlife species identified in the area, including the Pacific water shrew, Trowbridge’s shrew and a two species of bat.

The expanse of land is just south of the Campbell Heights Business Park, which began development in 2003.

The David Suzuki Foundation described that development as one of the worst examples of salmon habitat destruction in the province.

The large area south of 16 Avenue includes the Little Campbell River, which is home to several varieties of salmonids.

Surrey staff say the area is being considered for an expansion of the business park or industrial uses.

Deb Jack, president of the Surrey Environmental Partners (SEP), said Monday her group is deeply troubled by the plan to pave the way for development in South Campbell Heights.

“We are very concerned and have been concerned from the outset,” Jack told The Leader.

At one time, SEP recommended to council the city create “living legacy parks” in Surrey. Campbell Heights was the only location specified by the environmental watchdog.

Those concerned about the streams are particularly unnerved by the development plan.

Roy Strang, with the Little Campbell River Watershed Society, said he had no idea a Local Area Plan for the South Campbell was in the works.

He urges the city to go back to the basics and examine why the area needs to be considered for construction of any kind.

“I’m skeptical,” Strang said. “They better ask themselves, do they have to develop? What is the purpose of development? Just to broaden their tax base?”

Mayor Linda Hepner said Monday some areas of the plan need to be protected, while others don’t have huge environmental values.

One area in the lands, near 176 Street, she said is an old gravel pit, and is probably ripe for development.

“But in discussion with the Little Campbell River folk, there are some concerns about areas in there you would never touch, and I expect that will be what happens within the Local Area Plan analysis,” Hepner said.

“But there are some areas that I think will prove valuable for us to achieve a couple of other elements,” Hepner said, adding that would likely take the form of industrial development.

A report was endorsed by city council at a meeting on Monday, Sept. 14.

City staff will now be taking the plan to the public through several consultation sessions.

That process is expected to be completed by spring of 2017.