© Photo special to The Guardian by Leo Broderick
Work at the Plan B highway realignment.
It wasn’t supposed to happen, but a stream along the Trans-Canada Highway realignment ran red with silt Friday near Peters Road.
Steve Yeo, the province’s chief engineer, said a silt fence was compromised, which allowed water to get into the stream.
“As soon as staff saw it then they got the contractor to fix it right away,” he said.
Since work started on the so-called Plan B, the contractor put several measures in places to keep silt from running into waterways along the new highway’s route.
Those measures include silt fences and setting ponds to capture sediment.
In this case, the fence was breached near the site where protesters had set up a camp in the project’s path before the RCMP removed them several weeks ago.
Yeo said sandbags were anchoring the silt fence, but there was an area where the ground underneath it was soft and the water was able to get underneath it.
“The contractor re-anchored it and put additional sandbags to make it stronger,” he said.
The province has staff in place to monitor the measures used to minimize the project’s environmental impact and Yeo said staff noticed the breach around 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Yeo said there was also an issue with water pumped out of the setting ponds and filtered through vegetation to remove the finer particulate, but the ground became saturated from recent rains.
That plan changed and the water was pumped to different setting ponds farther away from the stream, he said.
Despite the measures in place to keep silt out of the water, Yeo said no one could have anticipated the ground weakening and giving out the way it did.
Yeo said the same measures are used in other projects and they usually work well, although there are occasionally problems.
“The environmental controls are far above what we would normally put in a construction job,” he said.
Plan B opponents have been voicing concerns about the project’s environmental impact, including the potential impact of sediment getting into the waterways.
Jackie Waddell, the Island Nature Trust’s executive director, hadn’t been to the site to see the breach’s impact, but said it happened after a moderate rainfall.
“This won’t be the last time,” she said.
As for the impact, Waddell said silt could affect fish, invertebrates and vegetation.
Waddell said it’s going to be another two years of silt getting into waterways along the construction path, despite assurances it wouldn’t happen.
“It’s impossible to prevent that in a project this big with the highly erodible soils we have here on P.E.I.,” she said.