A culvert on the Spit will be replaced this summer, but the actual realignment of the berm won't begin for at least another year — a development that has been given kudos by windsports enthusiasts.
The Squamish River Watershed Society, in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Squamish Nation, is behind the multi-year project that conservationists say will improve fish access between the Squamish River and the central estuary.
Local experts say the Spit — originally built for a coal port that never materialized — prematurely funnels fish from the Squamish River into Howe Sound, which makes it harder for them to survive.
Delaying the Spit’s alteration could mean that windsports enthusiasts will have more time to enjoy the area in its current form. The formation has been hailed by the local kiteboarding community as a world-class launching site with steady winds. Many are worried altering the Spit could have a negative impact for those invested in the sport, though the Watershed Society says it has been working closely with kiters.
The Squamish Windsports Society applauded the decision to hold off on the realignment project this year.
"We see it as a positive step to delay the removal of the Spit within the next year so that the estuary restoration project can refocus on an even more collaborative outcome — one that has improved benefits for windsport users and the wider Squamish community,” said Geoffrey Waterson, president of the society, in a written statement issued to The Chief.
In 2019, one of the fish-obstructing culverts along Spit Road was replaced with a fish-friendly concrete box culvert.
This summer, a second culvert further downstream will be replaced, according to a release from the watershed society.
"This project is important to improve access to the critical rearing habitat in the estuary for out-migrating juvenile salmon, particularly chinook," reads the watershed society release.
The three-part project includes culvert upgrades along Spit Road; realignment of the lower section of the Spit; and reconnection of tidal channels in the east estuary across the rail spur line that services the Squamish Terminals.
However, the windsports society seemed to have a suggestion for how the project should be undertaken.
“The windsports community is looking forward to being able to contribute more resources to achieve the ultimate end goal, ideally in a single stage project, rather than multi-stage project with challenging interim options,” Waterson said.
Conservationists said that at the same time as culverts are being replaced, planning and assessment for Spit realignment and designing flow control structures across the spur line (secondary rail line) is also ongoing, but work won't begin in 2020.
"The original plan to start work on the Spit realignment as early as this year has been extended, and is now being considered for future years as solutions are being explored to provide an alternative route by which windsport users can access the southern launch site of the Spit," reads the watershed society release.
— Next up —
Spit Road will remain open while preparation of the culvert replacement gets underway, in the coming weeks. The site will be surveyed along with a geotechnical investigation at the culvert upgrade site.
Temporary road closures of Spit Road are anticipated in mid-late August for culvert placement.
More details will be released closer to that time.
The windsports society said that shutting down the road during the windsports season isn’t ideal, but said they understood the “bigger picture.”
“We are working together to achieve long term goals that truly benefit all parties involved. The culvert installation that will be taking place this summer is a key step in the longer term process,” said Waterson.
“Our enthusiasm and encouragement for this project reflects our passion for the environment and our desire to see improvements in the fish access between the Squamish River and the central estuary."
Find out more about the project at www.squamishwatershed.com.