Last Saturday, Graham Fuller moseyed about the small crowd
gathered at Squamish’s Stan Clarke Park for the re-launch of the district’s
Oceanfront Peninsula planning process. A now permanent resident with a robust
academic background, he constitutes the definition of a citizen engaged.
“It’s great to see they’re starting the process again,” he
said. “We can’t afford to get it wrong a second time. And one of the most
beautiful places in the world has to be preserved for the public and public
enjoyment, with a balance of residential and light industrial.”
Up to now, the planning paradigm has unfolded in “fits and
starts.” Those are the words of a recent staff report detailing the saga, the
control of which has shifted from the Squamish Oceanfront Development
Corporation to the District of Squamish (DOS). HB Lanarc, a consulting entity,
is steering the process, and a new, more proactive focus on public consultation
has come to the fore.
And so Saturday’s open house was the first demonstration of
that strategy. District staff was on hand to interface with the public, and
placards detailing the process were set up beneath a canopy. An artist was also
present to illustrate the ideas proposed by residents.
“We’re calling this the public launch of the create the
Oceanfront Planning Process,” said HB Lanarc’s Vince Verlaan. “So we’re asking
the public to come out for the first installment of an eight-month planning
The new timeline calls for a draft plan to come together this
winter, with a final plan scheduled for Spring 2009.
While the planners were putting on a positive face, some
residents were raising red flags. Back in the days of a younger Squamish, when
heavy industry carried the day, the Chlor-Alkali chemicals plant leaked mercury
into oceanfront waters, at one point to such a degree that herring fishing was
Under outgoing Mayor Ian Sutherland’s tenure, the Nexen Lands
plot was purchased for $3 after negotiations in Calgary. Millions were spent on
a clean-up above the high tide mark, while the contaminants offshore were left
undisturbed in the ocean floor. For people like John Buchanan, an
environmentalist and member of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society,
the prospect of dredging those buried contaminants is wrought with trepidation.
“It’s exactly what I expected,” he said of the information
display. “There’s not a bloody thing about mercury at all. It’s even more
laughable when they talk about a shell fish industry.”
And so Buchanan came armed with the cover page of a report
prepared by URS Canada Inc, an Ontario planning consultant. Prepared for DOS in
2004, the report is called “Plan for Management of Mercury Contaminated
Sediment at the Former Chlor-Alkali Plant, Squamish, B.C.” Buchanan taped the
cover page to a placard along with one of the report’s maps showing
contaminated zones all along the peninsula.
“I am worried about that,” said Fuller. “Someone might say 80
per cent of it isn’t a worry, but these are highly technical questions. It’s
easy to be manipulated by special knowledge of the developers or the greens.
Who’s telling the truth?”
According to the report, mercury levels have been subsiding
over the years. Mercury levels found in crabs, marsh grasses, leaves, seeds,
soil cores and sediment have all been mellowing. And yet, page four of the
report notes that provincial criteria are exceeded “at depth in nearby
intertidal and subtidal sediments and in some areas of nearby marshlands.”
On the same page, however, the report notes that the mercury
has been locked down for 30 years, and, barring dredging activity, will likely
remain as such. The report also lists other contaminants, including silver,
barium, copper, lead, thallium and hexachlorobenzene.
“We’re relying on DOS, who have been dealing with the long term
clean-up,” said Verlaan. “That would be one of the issues to resolve.”
Cameron Chalmers, DOS director of planning, said he and the
district are cognizant of the problem, and they aren’t hiding its existence.
“On the mercury issue,” Chalmers said, “it’s been an issue
addressed since day one. The former owner spent multiple millions on
remediation. It will be a factor in the process. It’s one of a myriad of
issues, but it’s not driving the process.”
What is driving the process, said Chalmers, is land use. He
predicts the meshing of residential and commercial building to be the most
galvanizing issue when it comes to community involvement.
As for Buchanan’s guerilla signage, Verlaan said he considers them on the same keel as all the other public input resulting from the afternoon. “We will address that. All these notes get typed up, and we’ll put it in a report.”