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Removal of Spit an act of reconciliation, say proponents

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw member tells crowd at information meeting that government has had a duty to remove the structure, which has been hurting salmon numbers.

Despite the proliferation of vocal critics on social media and elsewhere against the Squamish Spit's dismantling, no one voiced opposition during a recent Restore the Shore (CERP) information session on the matter.

On Nov. 17, dozens of people filled the Brackendale Art Gallery to hear about plans to remove hundreds of metres of the artificial berm south of the yellow gate. It was a presentation that, at times, was punctuated with applause.

The Restore the Shore project, formerly called the Central Estuary Restoration Project, or CERP, seeks to remove a portion of the Spit so that young juvenile salmon will have access to the estuary. Since the berm was built in the 1970s to serve industry, it has led to steep declines in chinook numbers. The structure forces premature salmon out into Howe Sound before they are strong enough to survive the ocean waters.

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

He told the assembled crowd that back in the 1990s, when he served on Nexwsxwníw̓ ntm ta Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation council), he urged the provincial government to remove the structure.

"We knew it was impacting our salmon species, chinook salmon, particularly," he said.

(The Squamish Chief reached out to the provincial government about this, but did not hear back by press deadline.)

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

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

The Squamish River Watershed's executive director, Edith Tobe, said at the meeting that the project team has been administering studies on how the removal of the berm will impact the Squamish Terminals.

There have been some concerns that removing the Spit will cause silt and sediment to deposit by the port, thus creating problems for the ships in the area.

However, Tobe said that so far, studies appear to show the Spit does little to act as a shield against debris and sedimentation from the river, but it does significantly hurt the salmon's ability to cross into the estuary.

Squamish River Watershed Society president Chessy Knight said that when the Spit was first constructed, there was little or no study to see its effects in the area.

However, in the process of taking it out, Knight said the society has spent roughly $200,000 studying the effects of removal.

"It's so ironic to me," she said.

Tobe said the project's been decades in the making.

"This project is being led, as part of reconciliation with Squamish Nation, and they've made it very loud and very clear they're not backing away," she said. "This is an important project."