It's an upstream battle against fish spawning seasons, as District of Squamish (DOS) officials try to unclog the Mamquam Blind Channel for boating season this summer.
At the end of last year, district employees set out to clear 4,000 cubic metres of silt from the waterway's entrance. Mamquam holds a bad reputation in the yachting world, as vessels following the navigable channel have run aground. During low tide, the depths are so low one can practically walk across it, the municipality's capital projects engineer Greig Garland told council Tuesday, March 19.
Originally, district staff aimed to complete the work in the December/January fisheries window. But after a request for an extension to Canada's Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to accommodate the work didn't float, the windows of opportunity are fading.
Herring were expected to start arriving in Squamish's waters in February. The Squamish Streamkeepers provided Garland with photos of spawning activity last week.
“If Mother Nature delays [herring] spawn, then the dredging needs to be delayed,” he said.
DFO suggested dredging commence in the end of March, allowing for a small gap before salmon fry may possibly be added to the mix, Garland said. But the Squamish Streamkeepers are pushing for the beginning of May. If municipal officials miss securing permission to dredge in the spring, its next window is in December.
“It is going to be an interesting challenge to see it through to its end,” Garland said.
Ultimately, DFO has the final say on when the district can activate work in its waterways, Coun. Ron Sander said. With good intentions, district staff have contacted outside organizations, such as the Streamkeepers, for input into the process, he noted. Yet the channel also presents a safety issue to water crafts that needs to be addressed, Sander added.
“Having dredged a lot, DFO is not driven by outside parties,” he said.
Mayor Rob Kirkham agreed, adding he would like staff to nail down the fishery department's expectations and timeframe. All of the stakeholders involved have advice and wisdom, but the municipality can't do anything without DFO.
Council set a tentative budget of $70,000 for the project. Further studies have indicated that's not enough, with the estimated bill now at $100,000, Garland said. District staff have been exploring the idea of offsetting the bill through cost-sharing with other channel users, such as the Squamish Yacht Club. In a letter of support for the project, yacht club commodore Ian Dennis wrote dredging of the waterway “is very important to us.” The club would be willing to step up to the plate and contribute to this “most worthy project,” he continued.
Dredging the channel has been on council's radar for many years, but its hefty price tag has kept the project stagnant, stated the staff report to council. Up to 100,000 cubic metres of material needs to be removed from the channel. In 2008, municipal staff estimated the cost at $900,000.