The District of Squamish is telling the province it has no objection to the continued removal of the Squamish Spit, so long as it does not negatively impact Squamish Terminals, among other conditions.
This comes at a time when Squamish Terminals has reported that the initial removal of 300 metres of the Spit has allowed some sediment from Squamish River's outflow to start accumulating on its western berth. This could have problematic impacts on the port’s operations because if enough material gathers in that area, it will become an obstacle for ships. Presumably, this could create a need for regular dredging.
The next phase of the Spit removal initiative aims to remove an additional 550 metres of the berm. So far, 300 metres of the Spit has been removed to allow young salmon access to the estuary, where the calmer, brackish water gives them a chance to mature in a safer area.
Previously, the human-made Spit blocked access to the estuary, causing fingerlings to be funnelled prematurely into Howe Sound, decimating the numbers of salmon.
But while it has been blamed for killing fish, the Spit was also believed to have acted as a barrier that shielded the terminals from sediment that was being expelled at the mouth of the river. However, before the removal of the Spit, simulations predicted that taking away the berm would not significantly impact the port.
"Initial results from recent survey data shows a significant increase in sedimentation rates in the West Berth," wrote Paul Morris, terminals manager, to The Squamish Chief. "We would be remiss not to express our ongoing concern about the unknown future financial impacts the removal could impose on the business, the viability to operate the west berth and the impacts to safety of navigation. But we are still awaiting a further monitoring report and survey data from the project proponents. Squamish Terminals continues to work with all stakeholders in hopes of finding a solution that works for all."
He said that from the outset, provided there is no material impact on the terminal, Squamish Terminals has been supportive of the Central Estuary Restoration Project, or CERP, which is the name of the initiative to remove the Spit.
The Squamish River Watershed Society, which has been spearheading this initiative, said that it was aware of the terminal's initial report. They said those findings appeared to differ from a study in October that was made by their experts.
"It was a little surprising to us, as it does not seem to align with a preliminary look at the study that CERP engineers did in October, which shows little to no change in sedimentation in the area east of the Spit opening," said spokesperson Patricia Heintzman.
"However, we take this very seriously and look forward to working collaboratively with them. The CERP team is, of course, very interested in seeing the study the Terminals conducted, and sharing the results of our own Lidar and bathymetry, the report of which will be finalized soon."
Heintzman said that experts from both the terminal and CERP will be examining the data.
"The continued viability of the terminal has always been a fundamental aspect of this habitat restoration project. In no way would the CERP partnership of Squamish Nation, DFO and SRWS want to contribute negatively to Squamish Terminals' financial or operational viability," she said.
In the meantime, on Nov. 15, District council voted 5-2 in favour of telling the province it has no objection to the continued removal of the Spit under several conditions, one of which was that there would be "no impact to the viability of Squamish Terminals' west berth."
The motion identified "deleterious impacts to navigation, sedimentation or woody debris" as potential red flags.
Other conditions from council included safe access to the water at the end of the new Spit, which would include parking and a turnaround at the end of Spit Road, and signage warning the public against walking across the weir.
Councillors Chris Pettingill and Lauren Greenlaw were opposed to the motion.
Pettingill said the conditions that the municipality attached to its voicing of no objection could potentially endanger the Spit removal project.
"What we've said now is, 'If there's any impact on the terminals, this project is just done,'" he said.
The motion should instead urge senior levels of government to find ways to manage the impacts on the terminal, Pettingill said. This could be through federally-funded dredging, or some other program, he said.
"I understand the importance of the continued functioning of the terminals … but … given our level of authority, [we should] say to the feds and the province: The terminals is really important, this [CERP] project is really important — we're asking you to find a way forward for this project that makes sure the terminals proceeds as well," he said.
However, on the other hand, other members of council said the motion provided a necessary balance and protected one of Squamish's biggest employers.
"I think this is a fair assessment of what we need and what the community expects us to … understand going forward, as far as the prior conditions being met before something further happens," Mayor Armand Hurford said.
Coun. John French acknowledged that Squamish Terminals is a huge economic force in the community.
"More than ever, we need the data that's expected soon on sediment and woody debris impacts on the west berth of Squamish Terminals," said French.
"Squamish Terminals is one of our biggest employers, and we need to be confident half their business won't be severely impacted if the next 550 metres of dike is removed."
Coun. Eric Andersen, who supported the motion, said the terminal provides transportation infrastructure for all of western Canada.
"I think this aspect of viability is just a basic condition," said Andersen. "The viability of the west berth is the viability of Squamish Terminals, and that is a west coast ports issue."
The municipality has little control over the project, as it is occurring on Crown land. But, as part of the next phase of the project, B.C.'s Ministry of Forests is gathering input from those most affected by the work. The District was identified as one of the project stakeholders that the province wanted to hear from.