The longer the District of Squamish waits to dredge the Mamquam Blind Channel, the more money downtown misses out on, says Coun. Doug Race.
Although the long-discussed and environmentally controversial project is not in this year’s budget, the municipality needs to push it forward sooner rather than later, Race told council at a special business meeting last week.
“We are digging ourselves a hole and it is going to take us longer to get out of when we do start wanting to invite more visitors to our community,” Race said.
The original district estimate affixed a price tag for the job of $1 million. So far, the municipality has come up empty-handed in securing outside funding for the project, including repeated requests for federal funding, district real estate manager Neil Plumb said.
Department of Fisheries permits to allow the dredging during fish spawning windows are in place until the end of this calendar year, but may need to be extended for the third time, he noted.
“Staff are looking at aligning a team internally, with planning, finance and engineering, to try and look at this issue again in the context of 2012,” Plumb said.
Dredging the Blind Channel would benefit residents beyond immediate waterfront property owners, Race said. Marinas in communities such as Gibsons and Bowen Island are booked up with boats in the summer, he noted. If the channel was easy to navigate, including at low tide, Squamish could capitalize on tourist dollars, Race said.
“If we make this an attractive place for boaters to visit, boaters will visit,” he said.
But, he noted, the district first needs to find funding to do the work and an ongoing maintenance cash stream. Previous councils contemplated a user-pay system and a maintenance fee paid through rezoning of waterfront properties, Race said.
“[The Squamish Yacht Club] have in the past showed some willingness to assist in some fashion, but it has never really been sort of formalized how we would do that,” he said.
The district needs to see a new estimate besides the now years-old anticipated bill for the project, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said. Plumb said staff would complete that task. Once that figure is in place, council will have to assess whether the money is better spent on dredging or other priorities, such as the revitalization of downtown, she added.
The district might be able to reduce the dredging costs if it co-ordinates work with other harbour users, such as the Squamish Terminals, Coun. Ron Sander said, noting transportation of the equipment to Squamish is a big chunk of the bill.
If the district is serious about attracting boat traffic, the lack of a fuelling facility will need to be addressed, Sander said. Like Race, Sander said he sees the potential economic benefit of the project, beyond the need to deal with the current safety issues surrounding boats running aground.
“It is a huge liability for us,” Sander said.
The project has its opponents. Local environmentalist John Buchanan, for one, has said he’s concerned that dredging the channel would raise silt laden with mercury from the old Nexen chemical plant and cause serious harm to aquatic life in the channel and out into Howe Sound.