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A huge thank you to everyone who came down to the walkabout today! There we’re around 20 of us wandering down the breakwater including a number of potential Council, School District and Regional District candidates.
There was so much going on that I failed to take any pictures whatsoever so this will be mostly a text based update. :+)
That said, Dean Stoltz from CHEK News also noticed the add and came down to document the event and talked to a few folks.
Huge thanks to Mr. Jim and Ken Rutherford who both worked at Somass Mill and provided extremely important information, context, and reality to the whole endeavour. Jim is a primary source of knowledge about the potential contamination locations thanks to his long tenure on the site as environmental manager (I may have gotten that title wrong!) and shared a number stories and facts about where many processes occurred that would have sent contamination into the environment.
There is much work to be done and cleaning the contamination will be not only a burden but also a huge opportunity to make right and clean up decades of detrimental practices and bring salmon and wildlife back to a productive area.
We can, and must, make this happen! :+) Jim also brought along a bunch of excellent historical images. He pointed out there are more at https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/macmillan so I’ll definitely be working through that archive!
There were some excellent questions posed that I wanted to note down before I forgot!
- There was a lot of work done on Dry Creek in 2015 to improve the flow of the creek to mitigate flooding and to try to create more habitat for salmon. The question is what would restoring the estuary do over and above that? The answer is rather than trying to create artificial structures to nurture the salmon, we would have a much more complex and complete marsh, waterways, and other habitat that sustained salmon and other wildlife for millennia. Not only would this support salmon within Owatchet Creek but also support salmon in the Somass Estuary as a whole and give another region for them to stay and grow before heading down the Inlet and out to sea.
- First Nations
- The guidance from and participation by First Nations, specifically Tseshaht and Hupacasath on whose un-ceded territory this land lies, is crucial to its success. Nothing can happen without First Nations and their knowledge and experience both ancient and current is key to the success of any project but especially one that is so intertwined with traditional ways of living and existing on the land and water. We are extremely grateful that Tseshaht and Hupacasath have been open to this idea and it won’t move ahead without their blessing. There is so much opportunity in this project for healing and growth in our community.
- Birds, Grasses and other Wildflie
- Multiple people asked what kind of birds or wildlife we could expect to see in the restored estuary. I think to see the answer you could likely head over to the larger Somass estuary on the other side of the Inlet. Our understanding is that it would look very similar to and attract the same flora and fauna as the Somass estuary. Except now it would be drawn into the heart of Port Alberni.
- Transaction vs. Investment
- One of the fundamental differences in the vision of the City versus what our group is promoting is the concept of immediate return versus long term investment. The Mayor has indicated the City would like to sell the property so as to at least recoup the $5 Million paid. If the City undertook this project even with grant funding there would likely be more City money needed to complete the work. It would take longer for the City to recoup that cost. The City, however, is not a real estate developer, its responsibility is not just transactional and the value to the City is not only in dollars. The City has the added responsibility and burden to consider non-monetary values when considering the development of land. How much economic development will come from the increase in community park space and natural beauty? How much will that drive redevelopment of other areas near the harbour, raising both the value of the land and taxes for the City? How much will be saved by mitigating the risk of development happening on the low-lying areas of the Somass mill lands? These are all long term implications that a City must consider, it can’t only be about a single transaction. It’s about Return to the Community on Investment. The City has an incredibly rare opportunity and must make the most of it.
- Next Steps
- For the project, the next steps are:
- Continue communicating and promoting within the community.
- Continue discussions with organizations that could help make it happen.
- Submit an Expression of Interest to the City before the October deadline.
- Continue participating in the OCP process – make sure you do too!
- Continue engaging council candidates during the election to make sure it’s an election issue.
- For the project, the next steps are:
- Contamination – Cost – Funding
- From what Jim and Ken Rutherford indicated it seems a sure thing that there will be significant contamination. There will also be significant work to be done to bring down and hopefully salvage from the buildings on the site. There were questions about whether there were pilings underneath the buildings or land. It’s unclear exactly where that would be but the consensus did seem to be that much of the area did have marshy bog only a few feet underneath the current level of the ground. So while the thickness of fill might not be huge, the overall volume, and cost, will be significant. This project will only be able to happen if we can tap into the hundreds of millions of dollars available in brownfield site remediation funds.
- One great point brought up was that to enhance the protection of the City and also avoid potential release of contamination that might be under the harbour, the breakwater could be kept on the periphery of the harbour from Tyee Landing while the rest of the area of the land inland from the breakwater is restored to its original state.
- Reddfish https://reddfish.org
- I mentioned the company that operates mainly on the West Coast with experience in this field. It’s name is now Reddfish. It used to be the Central Westcoast Forest Society at Clayoquot.org. You can now find them at reddfish.org.
- Actual Course of Dry Creek pre 1940
- One of the first bits of information Jim and Ken shared was that Dry Creek was not actually diverted for the Stewart Welch and Bloedel mill. While this is what is noted in the AVMuseum picture, those notes are not always perfectly accurate and that seems to be the case here. Ken and Jim pointed out that there was a bridge that connected the mill site to Dunbar St right outside the main gate. This is where Dry Creek flowed and it emptied toward the fisherman’s harbour. It was only in the 1940s that the course was completely changed to flow north toward the paper mill.
That’s all I can remember for now. Thank you to everyone who came today. I hope others are able to glean useful information from this and we can continue to move the process forward.
Thank you again