Ducks called widgeons paddled on the calm waters, going “kwik, kwik” like little squeaky toys. Joining them were larger Canadian geese, while various birds circled above on a sunny Saturday morning.
Standing at the south end of Vancouver’s Bentley Street at the banks of the North Arm of the Fraser River west of the Arthur Laing Bridge, biologist Otto Langer basked in the peaceful, natural images of Richmond Slough.
The former habitat manager for Fisheries and Oceans Canada knows that from April to July, the place will be teeming with anywhere from 25 to 50 different fish species, including young salmon coming from upriver before heading out to sea.
However, Langer is also aware that this bird and fish habitat may soon be filled by something else.
The slough lies between Vancouver and Richmond Island, a property owned by the federal Port Metro Vancouver that is being eyed by Bastion Development and its partner, the Musqueam Indian Band, for a marina.
“The proposal by Bastion in cooperation with the Musqueam Indian Band is to dredge out the whole slough, make it deeper and fill it up with a marina, and then on the island put all sorts of boat storage,” Langer told the Georgia Straight.
That could mean a loss of valuable wildlife habitat, according to the biologist.
Although Richmond Island falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Richmond, the island is physically joined to the City of Vancouver by a causeway that’s closed to public access by a huge gate. This causeway creates a blind slough that is ideal for a marina because it is protected from flooding currents and debris like logs coming down the river, Langer noted.
But with this kind of slough, sediment buildup is quicker, and, according to Langer, it has to be dredged continuously if a marina is put there.
Bastion’s Matthew Cote, who is in charge of the marina project, declined to provide details of the proposal.
“It’s something which we think would be quite popular and [a] kind of interesting development for that area, which is mostly industrial,” Cote told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to Langer, the marina will berth about 200 boats, and the land sheds will store about the same number. The facility will also feature a hoist for getting boats in and out of the water.
Port Metro Vancouver spokesperson Barbara Joy-Kinsella confirmed that the federal corporation has received a lease application for a marina at Richmond Island.
“It’s in the process of being considered right now,” Joy-Kinsella told the Straight in a phone interview. “We’re going to work with everybody involved to make sure that we get all the information.”
Port Metro Vancouver has the authority to approve developments within its jurisdiction.
The proposal has started to make a stir in Vancouver’s Marpole neighbourhood. According to Claudia Laroye, executive director of the local business improvement association, residents also want access to Richmond Island for recreational purposes such as picnicking, walking, and biking.
“There are many people in the community who very much like that [marina] idea and have been thinking about that for some time,” Laroye told the Straight in a phone interview. “It [island] is currently not being used in any substantial way apart from storage of construction vehicles.”
Based on information gathered by Fraser River historian Terry Slack, the proponents of the marina project plan to dredge about 70,000 cubic metres of sediments from the slough. According to Slack, this will significantly alter the balance of nature in the area.
Langer, who is also a former marine conservation director for the David Suzuki Foundation, hopes a win-win situation can be considered by Port Metro Vancouver, like allowing a smaller marina, with the other half of the area devoted to fish and bird habitat. He also endorses the call by Marpole residents for them and other citizens to share the island with boat owners.