By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: March.3, 2012
There were phones calls during the Olympics.
There are queries from tour operators and other yacht club members now and then.
“We plan to bring our boat to Squamish. How are things up there,” they ask Les Smith, one of the director of the Squamish Harbour Authority.
Yes, come to Squamish, he tells them.
“But you better watch out for the tides,” Smith tells them.
Decades of gravel deposits from the Stawamus River and lack of dredging in the Mamquam Blind Channel means tourist boats (and local yacht club members) run the risk of running aground on a low tide.
And that information is enough to turn the tourist boats away. With them, speed away tourism dollars and the much-needed foot traffic for downtown merchants.
For all the talk about Squamish becoming a tourist town, our present isn’t a patch on the past, when boat full of people came on tourist boats like M.V. Brittania and made a return trip on the Hudson.
Now, on beautiful crisp mornings, all there are a few yacht club members wading through puddles of water and unsightly surroundings to get to their boats.
The uplifting view from the wharf ahead and the blight behind it: Nowhere in Squamish is the contrast so bleak.
But even to wade through these puddles of water, tourists would have to come at a high tide, especially if they have sailboats with deeper keels.
The average vessel now requires a minimum 4’ tide to cross the drying bar of the Stawamus River, Smith says. In the summer months, the lowest tide is during the day, making the channel impassable for pleasure crafts.
And those who come unwarned can run the risk of hitting bottom, sometimes hurting themselves and their boats, an experience no tourists or commercial boat operators would easily forget.
“Tourists then just bypass us and just go to Gibsons or Sidney,” Smith said.
As another deadline passed on Dec. 11, boat owners like Smith wonder how long they would have to wait to see the Mamquam Blind Channel dredged.
On Nov. 2010, Department of Fisheries and Oceans had extended the deadline for dredging to Feb. 2011.
The deadline was extended again to Dec.2011 for DFO to study the environmental consequences of dredging the channel while the district and MP John Weston found approximately $1 million needed to dredge the channel.
Two months have passed since that deadline, but there has been no news on when–of if–the channel will be dredged.
Despite repeated request, MP Weston could not be contacted.
“The issue of dredging seems to be put in the closet and ignored again,” said a frustrated Les Smith.
“We are losing tourist traffic here. It seems a shame that we can let this happen at a time when our industry is gone and every tourist dollar counts,” he said.
If the channel was dredged, Squamish could be marketed to tourists who could start to fill the gap left behind by Britannia and Hudson.
“The harbour authority has talked with tour groups, but there is very limited interest,” said Andrew Guilbride, one of the directors of Squamish Harbour Authority.
Lack of political will and deadline extensions have led to inexorable delays on the projects.
Interfor helped to dredge the channel in the 1980s, and it was last dredged by the federal government in 1985.
A 2006 council report estimates there is 100,000 cubic metres of material that needs to be removed to make the channel navigable at any time.
Westmana had tendered to complete a 4.5 metres dredge in 2006, but it didn’t proceed as the value of the dredge cover only 50 per cent of the $100,000 costs.
Council has no money earmarked for it, and there seems to be no funding for it at the federal level too.
That isn’t encouraging news for George Troeber, owner of Amigos Marine Services, on Pemberton Ave.
The more boats in the harbour, the merrier it would be for Troeber.
“They need to dredge that channel, we need more boats here. It would be good for business,” he said.
Councillor Doug Race, a yacht club member, said there is a misperception that dredging would benefit only a few ‘rich’ local yacht owners.
“I believe it is a community issue. We are losing tourism traffic now. The longer this difficulty persists the more the word will get out that this is not a good place to visit and it will be a larger hole to climb out of when the channel is finally dredged,” Race said.
He said the federal government has not provided any funding so far, but the district can’t commit to funds because of other infrastructure projects.
“The business plan for SODC contemplates building a sector of industry around moorage, servicing, building and repair of small craft and it will be essential to have a working channel for that to occur,” he added.