A couple of excavators might just do the job, Coun. Ron Sander says.
After years of discussion about what to do with the silt that’s clogging up the Mamquam Blind Channel, it’s time to at least deal with navigational safety issues, he said at Tuesday’s (Dec. 18) Squamish council meeting.
Sander’s suggestion was a diversion from the direction the municipality’s capital projects engineer Greig Garland was headed. Garland proposed the district publish a request for proposals (RFP) for parties interested in purchasing the estimated 100,000 cubic meters of dredged material that officials anticipate will come out of the entire channel. It’s work that’s been on the district’s radar since 2008, but the project’s big stumbling block is its approximate $1 million price tag.
“Funding has always been a challenge,” Garland said.
By putting the material out to bidders, the district might recover some of the dredging expenses, he said.
The recommendation rung alarm bells for a number of councillors. The material that would be drawn out of the channel has long been slated as structural fill for the Squamish oceanfront development. If the material goes out to RFP, there’s a chance it would be bought out from under the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corp. (SODC), Coun. Ted Prior said.
The oceanfront property is on the market, leaving its future uncertain, Coun. Doug Race said, noting whomever purchases the land will need fill. Studies indicate the purchase cost to use the material on the oceanfront property is approximately $10 per cubic metre. If the material was to be used further afield, the price, which includes additional expenses such as trucking, quickly jumps to around $27 per cubic metre.
The SODC wouldn’t have been able to bid on the dredged material, SODC chair Bill McNeney said.
“Yes, of course we want it,” he told The Chief, “but financially we just don’t have the bank account to write that cheque.”
Council elected to back away from a full-blown dredging project until there’s more feedback on the SODC’s marketing campaign and the project’s future. In the meantime, council backed Sander’s request that staff approach the Ministry of Environment to see if the district could remove silt that’s blocking the waterway’s navigable channel.
Squamish has developed a bad reputation in the yachting world because of the channel’s dangerous entrance, Race said.
“If [boaters] follow the preferred navigation chart, they will run aground,” he said.
Sander’s suggestion is less intrusive to the environment than dredging the entire channel, Squamish environmental advocate John Buchanan said.
“I noticed there wasn’t any talk in there about the environmental impact,” he said.
He’s concerned that dredging the channel would raise silt laden with mercury from the old Nexen chemical plant, causing serious harm to aquatic life in the channel and Howe Sound.
The area is designated as industrial, which means it is held to a lower level of environmental standards than most waterways, Buchanan said, noting that doesn’t mean work conducted there is contained there.
“It’s like having open smoking and non-smoking areas,” he said. “We need to lose the industrial designation of the Mamquam Blind Channel.”
Studies have concluded that material from the channel is free of heavy metals, Garland said. Dredging would only go as deep as previous dredging in the 1980s, he said. The material will contain salt, which must be considered in its final use, Garland said.
The district is looking to start excavation work during the January 2013 fisheries window. The municipality’s current dredging permit expires on Feb. 1, 2015.