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Delta residents voice anger on dredging issue at town hall

Many of those who attended the event said they are fed up with words and want to see finally see action
The Ladner Sediment Group’s Mike Owen described the bureaucracy and painstaking red tape of the permitting process for anyone trying to get any dredging done, as well as an ocean disposal fee for sediment that he says makes no sense and the feds should scrap. Sandor Gyarmati photo

More than 150 Delta frustrated float homeowners and business owners made their anger known on the ongoing dredging issue at a packed town hall meeting at Fisherman’s Hall in Ladner July 12.

The message most of the speakers and many in the audience conveyed was made loud and clear that they don’t want to hear their political representatives describing how much they have been advocating, but wanting to see results.

Delta South MLA Ian Paton, Delta Mayor George Harvie and Delta MP Carla Qualtrough began the forum with presentations on their efforts and continued frustration getting someone to assume responsibility for immediate dredging to alleviate the rapidly silting-up secondary channels of the Fraser River, as well as an ongoing maintenance program to ensure the current situation can be avoided.

All three noted the port authority had been responsible before turning its back on what should still be its obligation, and ever since then, the federal and provincial governments have passed the buck while showing an unwillingness to address the worsening problem.

Acknowledging the efforts of the Ladner Sediment Group, Qualtrough said the issue has been “the biggest jurisdictional passing of the buck” she’s ever experienced since she was elected, suggesting residents form a new advocacy group. The recent funding announcement for dredging in Steveston should provide leverage for Ladner, she said, adding there is currently a “massive jurisdictional gap” on the issue.

Paton, who recently submitted a petition to the legislature, lamented it’s a problem that hasn’t been resolved for many years.

He said it’s not worth “chasing down” $12-14 million every 10 years to get dredging done at one time, only to see the problem come back. 

Instead, Paton said an ongoing maintenance program costing $2 million a year makes sense.

The province has a role to play since it controls water lot leases, but the government refuses even to acknowledge there is an issue, he complained.

Harvie, who joined forces with the City of Richmond, Tsawwassen First Nation and Musqueam Indian Band in the hopes of having a stronger voice, described his efforts, including meetings with federal officials in Ottawa, adding he’s never been so frustrated with the endless excuses.

Saying his boat at Captain’s Cove Marina had $5,000 in damage last year due to the sediment build-up, Harvie agreed the port needs to step up and assume responsibility, adding the port is planning a massive expansion at Roberts Bank but somehow can’t afford $2 million for a maintenance program.

He added that he recently spoke to the regional director of small craft harbours for the Pacific region, explaining that, according to the city’s lease for Ladner Harbour, it’s stipulated explicitly that the federal government is responsible for ensuring safe passage.

“My solution, the only solution, is to get the fricken port to do what they did before and look after the secondary channels… They can do the permits, but we’ve had no good relationships with the port, even since I was city manager and the last little bit as the mayor,” Harvie said.

Harvie, who is also chair of Metro Vancouver, said he would be pushing for a meeting with Metro’s representative at the port’s board.

The frustration was palatable as the panel took questions from residents and heard impact statements. One said the panel members “can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,” and another suggested it’s time for legal action.

Several noted that it is a federal responsibility for safe navigation of the water channels, while others asked what impacted residents can do to help bring the issue to the forefront, while another suggested forming a new group.

Qualtrough agreed a strategy involving a multi-pronged approach is needed, especially for “the noise part” to bring more pressure.

Noting the federal government has no problems ensuring safe passage in the St. Lawrence River but is brushing off the economically vital Fraser River, the Ladner Sediment Group’s Mike Owen described the onerous red tape those with water lot leases face to get dredging done.

“The problems we’re facing here is insurmountable,” he added.