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Surrey councillor defends city’s environmental record as Suzuki joins park fight

Starchuk rejects notion city isn’t living up to David Suzuki’s Blue Dot movement as Hawthorne Park rally looms
Surrey Councillor Mike Starchuk. (Surrey Now-Leader file photo)

Surrey Councillor Mike Starchuk says he was surprised to learn that Dr. David Suzuki is suggesting the city isn’t living up to its environmental commitments.

Suzuki is set to attend a rally outside Surrey City Hall next month that opposes the city’s plans to build a road through Hawthorne Park as part of the 105 Avenue Connector project.

“He is one of the more respected environmentalists out there and a lot of the work he’s done I completely admire,” said Starchuk, who chairs Surrey’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory committee.

Starchuk said he hopes to talk to the world-renowned environmentalist about the project.

“If there’s the opportunity to meet Dr. Suzuki, I’m standing at the front of that line. Well maybe the mayor is right in front of me.”

According to a media advisory, Suzuki will attend the rally and speak to the importance of environmental rights, as well as “Surrey Council’s failure to live up to its commitments to the Blue Dot movement” after signing a declaration in 2016.

Led by the David Suzuki Foundation, the Blue Dot movement is a national effort to amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the right to a healthy environment.

Rally organizers — who have until Sept. 22 to collect 30,372 signatures in opposition to the project in order to stop the civic government from proceeding— say the event aims to “force Surrey council to honour their commitment to the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot movement” and “push back against Surrey council’s abuse of power.”

Starchuk rejects that.

“I think we are remaining committed to that,” he told the Now-Leader. “This is a specific project in this park and at the end of the day, the net result is more parkland, more trees and I think in the general area, better traffic flow, which reduces idling and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, which goes back to Blue Dot Movement - a right to a healthy environment.”

Starchuk said initially, he “completely understood” residents’ issues with the planned road through Hawthorne Park.

“I thought, ‘Holy crap, a road right down the middle of this thing? But we’ve taken that road and pushed it far south toward the edge and it was really a smart move in protecting some of the most natural parts of the park…. and you had the ability to move your services on 104th Avenue to 105th, and create a road, all at the same time to have minimal disruption.

“At the same time, we’re grooming an adjacent park area and adding more space,” he added. “When I take a look at what we’re doing as a whole, it actually improves some of the environment that’s there in the overall picture.”

Vehicles play a huge role in protecting the environment, said Starchuk.

“It’s all part of the transportation (issues) that the community faces today and how we’re going to keep circulation of traffic going…. We can’t have sit cars sit there and idle and produce all the greenhouse gases…. As the city moves and grows we need to make up for that, not only in traffic lanes but in the sense of our mass transit we want to have.”

While critics say Surrey isn’t being transparent through the whole process, Starchuk said, “it’s quite the opposite.”

“There are no barriers to what’s going on,” he said. “The city has not deviated from any kind of policy…. It’s being done in the way it’s intended to be done.”

In the larger context of Surrey showing environmental stewardship, Starchuk pointed to several projects underway including the creation of more electric charging stations, and its bio fuel facility that is soon to open.

And the city spends about $20 million a year to acquire parkland, Starchuk noted.

“How could that possibly not be seen as a positive step in the whole Blue Dot movement?” said Starchuk. “So for somebody to say we don’t care about open spaces, green spaces and having a healthy environment, the facts are different… So in the bigger picture, for me personally, I’d love to sit down with Dr. Suzuki and talk to him about what we’re doing in Surrey.”

As for residents’ efforts to halt the city from building the proposed road through Hawthorned Park, Starchuk said: “If the signatures go through and it doesn’t go through then we’ll move the services some place else. But bottom line, to put tracks for LRT or even if it was SkyTrain, those utilities have to be moved (off of 104th Avenue).”

Meantime, Grant Rice with the Save Hawthorne Park group said he could “draw up a better plan on the back of a napkin in 15 minutes than the one that’s being forced on Surrey’s residents.

“This is not just about Hawthorne Park,” Rice continued. “If council is successful in using the AAP (Alternate Approval Process) to remove park dedications, it can do it anywhere. If all of Surrey doesn’t send a strong message to council and sign these forms, we’ve not only lost the battle; we’ve lost the war.”

The group claims the AAP being used in Hawthorne Park is in contrary to “council’s commitment to the environment and the people of Surrey.

“This rally embodies Surrey citizens’ right to a transparent, public decision-making process on matters relating to a healthy environment,” said Rice.

The rally is set for Sept. 16 from noon to 2:30 p.m. in the plaza outside Surrey City Hall (13450 104th Ave.).