OPINION: Are Oceanfront’s ducks in a row?

For the past decade, the future of the Squamish oceanfront has attracted heightened attention and has been the subject of heated debate. Bearing that in mind, what direction is the stewardship of this community’s substantial marine-based assets taking?

Currently, Squamish Terminals is the main commercial client operating out of the harbour. Besides being the District’s current largest single tax revenue source, the company is also a major local employer, generating almost $60 million annually in economic output.

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And Squamish Mills has been engaged in forestry-related operations in the vicinity of the oceanfront since the early 1950s.

Several other ventures are either underway, or will be up and running soon, including the cutting-edge Carbon Engineering facility and the controversial Woodfibre LNG plant. In addition, the tantalizing prospect of a cruise ship port and the associated economic spinoffs has been bandied about for at least a decade and a half, if not longer. 

With the publication of the Squamish Marine Action Strategy, the District has sharpened its focus on reclaiming, remediating and redeveloping the waterfront. Included under that trifecta of headings is the creation of new industries and greater access for industrial, commercial, and recreational users. According to a study published by the David Suzuki Foundation, marine services alone could provide an estimated $2.8 billion per year in value.

Coun. Eric Andersen believes enhanced marine facilities on the oceanfront could lead to green transportation solutions, specifically, the use of barges instead of trucks for bulk hauling from Squamish. Currently, barges use the recreational boat launch, but companies also drive freight, such as pre-fab housing units, to the Vancouver waterfront where the loads are transferred to barges. 

Of course, the biggest project to hit the upper shores of Howe Sound will be the long-awaited Newport Beach mega development, spearheaded by Cornerstone Developments.  “The combination of the natural spirit of this place and the innovative minds of those who call it home will foster a lifestyle that inspires an all-inclusive employment spectrum and learning environment,” reads the company’s website.

But woven into the fabric of all that budding commercial activity is a series of obstacles highlighted in the Marine Action Strategy and other sources. In the face of climate change, the demand for extensive flood control structures is gaining more traction. There are also safety issues related to congestion in the harbour and adjoining waterways. Other concerns are insufficient moorage space, and inadequate facilities, including the lack of a community boat launch and marine fuel stations. 

Last July, the Squamish Chamber of Commerce sent an unambiguous message to officials of all three levels of government about the need for dredging at the mouth of the Mamquam Blind Channel. “Marine safety, community economic development and quality of life are affected by navigation channel constraints in this key zone of the harbour. Vessels are encountering difficulties and are being grounded with increasing regularity,” the letter stated.

As it stands, the Squamish oceanfront has the potential to become a major civic and commercial hub. Over the next decade, getting all our ducks in a row to harness that capacity will be the biggest challenge.

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