Backed up Squamish channel unsafe for boats 

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A dredging project in Squamish that was overdue a decade ago has some renewed energy behind it.

The entrance of the Mamquam Blind Channel (MBC) has become so backed up with sand that during low tides boats face challenges passing in or out of the channel. The situation has even been identified as a marine safety issue by boaters.

Greig Garland, the District of Squamish (DOS) Director of Capital Projects, came to Squamish Council during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, floating the idea of publishing a request for proposals (RFP) to attract a company willing to buy the sand currently blocking the MBC.

Back in 2008 the estimated cost to remove the sand from the channel was $900,000. According to Garland, coming up with the money has been a challenge.

After some discussion based on clamshell or suction dredging, council decided it wants to look at another idea that could potentially result in removal of some sand by the end of January when a Department of Fisheries and Oceans window of opportunity for dredging closes.

Councillor Ron Sander suggested DOS staff check with provincial government officials to determine if sand in the area of greatest concern can be removed using a land-based excavator. Sander said this could address the safety concern for boaters.

Thinking longer term, Councillor Doug Race said it makes sense to put the dredged material on the Squamish Ocean Front Development (SODC) lands.

"The difficulty is we're in the middle of marketing the SODC lands so that kind of leaves a lot of uncertainty," said Race.

He said he favours a short-term immediate solution to make the channel more usable, followed by a more thorough sand removal project in the future by an SODC purchaser.

"They are going to need a lot of fill, we all know that," said Race. "The logical thing is to point them in the direction of the channel and say, 'Clean it out,' because there is certainly a cost benefit for them to do that."

DOS staff was directed to investigate finding a way to launch a dredge project next month while working toward planning a larger dredge project in the future.

Water rate changes coming

Squamish is looking to move towards a user-pay water billing system for owners of non-residential buildings.

District of Squamish (DOS) staff recommended a system that uses a fixed base rate as well as a consumption charge to replace the current system, which was developed in the 1970s when water charges were based on building uses. Most buildings in the community are currently paying a flat fee each year for water consumption with no regard for how much water goes through the building. This means conservative water users have subsidized high volume users.

Jenni Chancey, DOS director of municipal infrastructure, told members of Squamish Council that only about 150 buildings in Squamish are being billed for water usage based on data collected by meters. She said DOS staff intends to modernize the billing system and the rates charged.

"There's not a lot of rhyme or reason as to how it's done," said Chancey of the current scenario. "You can argue that it's not very equitable, you could argue a number of things, so what we've attempted to do here is develop a new water rate structure that is as equitable as possible without having a residential water metering program."

Chancey also noted that Squamish holds the dubious distinction of using a significant amount of water. "I can tell you that Squamish has one of the highest per capita uses of water in all of Canada and likely all of North America," she said. "Our per capita water use is through the roof."

The proposed changes call for non-residential buildings that don't have a water meter to pay an increased fee based on the size of the water pipe going into the building.

Chancey told council there's the potential for the switch to bring in more money to the DOS. A new water rates bylaw is expected to come before council in 2013.

Council directed Chancey and the DOS staff to carry on with plans to create the new water rate structure based on the planning work done to date.

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