Abduction of Spit an act of reconciliation, supporters say

A member of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw told the crowd at a briefing that the government has a duty to remove the structure, which has hurt the numbers of salmon.

Despite the proliferation of fierce criticism on social media and elsewhere against the dismantling of the Squamish Spit, no one voiced opposition during a recent Restore the Shore (CERP) briefing on the subject.

On November 17, dozens of people filled the Brackendale Art Gallery to hear about plans to remove hundreds of yards of the man-made berm south of the Yellow Gate. It was a presentation sometimes punctuated by applause.

The Restore the Shore project, formerly known as the Central Estuary Restoration Project, or CERP, aims to remove part of the spit so that young juvenile salmon have access to the estuary. Since the berm was built in the 1970s to service the industry, it has resulted in a sharp decline in chinook numbers. The structure forces premature salmon out into Howe Sound before they are strong enough to survive in ocean waters.

Randall Lewis, the founder of the Squamish River Watershed Society, presented the removal of the structure as a necessary act of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

He told the assembled crowd that in the 1990s, when he was on the Nexwsxwníw̓ ntm ta Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation Council), he urged the provincial government to do away with the structure.

“We knew this was having an impact on our species of salmon, chinook in particular,” he said.

(Chief Squamish has contacted the provincial government about this, but did not receive a response until the press deadline.)

The current removal project is a partnership between the Squamish River Watershed Society, the Squamish Nation and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

It is funded by the Coastal Restoration Fund, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.

Squamish River Watershed Executive Director Edith Tobe told the meeting that the project team has conducted studies on the impact of the berm removal on the Squamish terminals.

There are concerns that the removal of the boom will result in the deposition of silt and sediment near the port, creating problems for ships in the area.

However, Tobe said studies so far appear to show that the boom does little to act as a shield against river debris and sedimentation, but it significantly impairs the ability of salmon to cross the estuary.

Squamish River Watershed Society President Chessy Knight said when the spire was first built there was little to no study to see its effects in the area.

However, in the process of the withdrawal, Knight said the company spent around $ 200,000 to study the effects of the withdrawal.

“It’s so ironic for me,” she said.

Tobe said the project has been in the works for decades.

“This project is being carried out, as part of reconciliation with the Squamish Nation, and they have said very loudly and very clearly that they are not backing down,” she said. “It’s an important project.”

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