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Squamish Windsports Society proposes municipal park at Spit launch site

Other organizations have yet to express commitment to the realignment proposal.
Squamish Spit 2021
The Squamish Spit

The Squamish Windsports Society has presented its proposal for realigning the Spit and maintaining land access to the launch site, but, at the moment, there appears to be little buy-in from other organizations involved in altering the structure.

On May 11, government and community groups held their latest meeting regarding the Central Estuary Restoration Project, or CERP, which aims to alter the Spit in a manner that would allow juvenile salmon to access the estuary.

Currently, the training dike, commonly known as the Spit, funnels the fish out into Howe Sound before they have a chance to grow strong enough for deeper waters. Before the structure was built in the 1970s — for a coal port that never materialized — the salmon had a chance to grow in the calmer, shallower waters of the estuary before making the leap to the ocean.

At the moment, it appears as if Squamish River Watershed Society, which is spearheading the project, is expected to follow through on its plans of removing the middle section of the berm.  

Removal is expected to start sometime this year after the end of the kiteboarding season.

 However, the Squamish Windsports Society is hoping to create an alternative that would involve realigning the Spit rather than completely removing it. This would preserve land access to the launching site.  

While the proposal to realign was part of the original plan years ago, the Watershed Society says the science around the project has since changed. As of now, it seems the most likely result will be a removal of the midsection of the Spit without a realignment.

 The windsports society is advocating to bring back the proposal to realign the Spit by creating land access to the launching point via Third Avenue.  

The society is also adding a new twist to the realignment proposal.

 "We've been working with a local Indigenous artist," Nikki Layton, president of the Windsports Society.

"Our concept is to create a piece of Indigenous land art out there that is a park that is actually for more than just windsports. It's a park for the community of Squamish."    The park, which would be designed by First Nations artist Xwalacktun (Rick Harry), would be shaped as a salmon from a bird's eye view.  

"It is bigger than windsports," said Layton. "This is an ocean access for the community of Squamish that is a rapidly growing community…..A lot of times things happen, and people don't even realize what they're about to lose until it's gone."

 Losing the Spit would create pressure on a place like the Oceanfront, as it would likely funnel large amounts of people seeking waterfront access into the same area.  

This could create congestion and conflict, she said.

 Layton said that volunteers have been trying to corral funds for the project.  

So far, the most significant potential contribution is a pledge from a private donor who says they're willing to foot anywhere between $2.5 million to $4 million to make the realignment happen, she said.

 There are grants and other funding available, but they can't apply for this money, as this project still has yet to be given approvals, she said.  

Layton said they will need buy-in from the District, the Squamish Nation and other organizations involved.

 The next step for them is to meet with these associations and try to work out a solution, she said.  

At the moment, the municipality and the Nation are aware of the proposal but haven't made any commitments.

 District spokesperson Rachel Boguski said the municipality was part of a meeting last week involving the spit realignment project.  

"It is too soon for the District to provide any comment on this proposal, and discussion of any next steps would have to involve all parties at the table," she said.

 Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson Syetáxtn (Chris Lewis) said the project is a complex endeavour.  

"We aim to have an adaptive management approach to be applied to this project, which will allow project partners and stakeholders to engage in the decision-making process to ensure that the CERP project design incorporates assessment and mitigation of short-term risks, and where possible makes space for viable long-term access solutions," he said in a written statement.

"The Nation is aware of the salmon-shaped park proposal, and will continue to work collaboratively with the aim to help facilitate conversations and progress towards a positive outcome for all parties in this area."

 As for the Squamish River Watershed Society, its spokesperson, Patricia Heintzman, said that a realignment and creation of a municipal park is outside the scope of CERP project.  

"When you look at the magnitude of what windsports is proposing, it's so far outside of the CERP mandate in and of itself, and the approvals process that CERP is going through. It's simply too big to be considered as part of the Central Estuary Restoration Proposal," said Heintzman.

 She said a project like that would likely require years of studies, engineering and analysis.  

Heintzman also said there are also challenges to the realignment proposal — which the windsports society acknowledges — such as crossing a CN rail line and creating a road through a provincial wildlife management area.

 Finally, she also noted that the municipality would have to consider the cost of upkeep for such a park.  

This also comes at a time when the municipality will be soon sinking in more money to maintain upcoming waterside parks at the Oceanfront and Waterfront developments.

 Those parks occur in new developments, she said. As a result, there will be an expanded tax base to pay for them. On the other hand, the realigned Spit does not have an associated increase in residents to help pay for that park.  

"I think bringing it down to a more realistic goal is probably wise for them," Heintzman said.

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