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No road to compromise

Squamish Estuary road option rankles conservationists



The pursuit of balance is tricky business, and there’s seldom a harder line to walk than the one strung between development and conservation. To build or to preserve — that’s the real question.

Catherine Jackson has an answer. As president of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society (SECS), Jackson is flatly opposed to a District of Squamish transportation plan that considers building a road through the Estuary, an ecologically sensitive habitat located at the southwest end of town. Currently, the area and its environs accommodate railway and marine terminal infrastructure, at the same time providing a home to birds and other wildlife.

“There’s a lot of people that realize the value of the Estuary and what will be compromised,” she said. “It’s horribly significant, and it will have a huge impact to have a road going through, as well as a rail line.”

For district staff, however, that position is balance-bereft. The town is growing, and downtown density is expected to increase. A road through the Estuary offers an alternative to both regular traffic and shipping trucks. Further, it provides links to the town’s business park and terminal. The transportation plan outlines other choices, but staff seems most interested in the so-called 7 th Avenue Connector option.

“Our expectation is that corridor is needed,” says Mick Gottardi, Squamish’s director of community development. “If they’re not going to have that access, what they’re going to do is use Loggers Lane, and that’ll cause two things. One, development will be occurring around Loggers Lane, and so there’ll be more activity, more pedestrian activity, and that will create conflict.”

The second hitch relates to Loggers Lane itself. The street, which is south of and runs parallel to Cleveland Avenue, is too small to accommodate large volumes of truck traffic. To boot, expansion opportunities are lacking.

But Jackson prefers another of the plan’s options, which is to build a bridge crossing Mamquam Blind Channel, thereby allowing truck traffic access to the highway. While the district does intend to build such a bridge, the issue of truck traffic in the downtown core still remains, says Gottardi.

Besides, he says, the district has an impact mitigation strategy on the drawing board.

“I think the only thing that realistically we can do is try and capture run-off from the road,” Gottardi said. “I think that’s the main concern. There are noise issues and air quality issues, and there are issues of grease and oil and hydrocarbons from vehicles.”

Gottardi says a ditch could be dug to collect harmful overflow. From there, some kind of bio-filter system would take care of the rest.

No dice, says Jackson. Hydrocarbons are indeed an issue, but even if their impact could be mitigated to nil, the noise and commotion created by roadways is still a paramount concern.

“The impact from vehicular traffic going through can’t be underestimated,” she said. “It would be huge.”

This section of the transportation plan will be rolled into the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan, which, in turn, will be part of the Official Community Plan. All proposals are at various stages of the approval process.