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Parksville will use $127K in grant money for wetlands remediation efforts

Studies needed to determine health of wetlands, according to director of operations
Photos depicting a 2021 update on trail construction in the Parksville Wetlands area. (Submitted photo)

Some major funding and expertise will assist with environmental remediation efforts in the Parksville Wetlands, related to the area’s trail network.

City council voted, during its June 20 regular meeting, to direct staff to retain a qualified environmental professional (QEP) to develop a comprehensive plan to complete recommendations by consultant WSP and staff. Additionally the city will use $127,082 in funding from the Local Government Climate Action Program Funding through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. The funding was granted based on population and is given to municipalities to mitigate greenhouse gases, according to the city’s chief administrative officer.

Council also approved using $53,000 from the remaining trail project budget and a previously-approved $60,000 amount originally intended for works along the new trail and drainage area.

A significant brush fire in the wetlands last July posed a potential risk to firefighters, as well as the fire department’s expensive apparatus, more than 40 adjacent dwellings and nearby city drinking water infrastructure, according to a presentation to council by Belinda Woods, the city’s director of operations.

Being able to quickly enter and safely exit the park is a critical consideration and so staff initiated the Wetlands Emergency Response Access/Trail Connections spending package, funded via DCCs, she said.

Studies are needed to determine the health of the wetlands, according to Woods.

“We don’t know if it’s healthy or not healthy,” she said. “We don’t know if the water level is higher or lower. We don’t have any statistics that help us prove that the wetlands are in good health or in poor health.”

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The city initiated assistance from WSP in March, to consider the ecological and hydrological conditions and assess the potential impacts to the natural drainage as well as identify any potential regulatory requirements, according to Woods’ report.

Studies found the wetlands are considerably more extensive in the park than previously understood, based on provincial and municipal mapping databases.

WSP reported the wetland does tolerate changes in hydrology and disturbance. Its report also found water flow is not blocked by the trail base construction materials, but the tall trail and berms are a potential barrier to movement of some wildlife, particularly amphibians.

The report also found a pre-existing outlet channel at the area’s northwest edge flows to the storm drain. The level of flow varies dramatically and the city monitors this daily, Woods said. City staff cleared organic material out of the channel and expanded it, Woods said.

WSP made a number of recommendations for the city to comply with the current requirements of the Water Sustainability Act and create a drainage plan, including delineation and classification of wetland types in the project area, alteration of berms to reduce potential negative impacts to nearby plants and a vegetation restoration plan.

Staff hope to work with the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) on a project to complete a species inventory of the wetlands and develop an invasive species remediation plan.

Council approved staff involvement in the MABRRI project and to provide a letter of support. Staff also recommended the city designate the wetlands, as well as Shelly Creek, as OECMs (other effective area based conservation measures) — a geographically defined area with some form of management in place that achieves sustained positive outcomes for biodiversity.

Finishing work on trails was paused earlier this year and on March 22 the city engaged a QEP in biology, hydrology and ecosystem science, Woods said.

On March 29, the city was advised a complaint was submitted to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Rural Development. The city’s chief administrative officer, director of operations and director of planning met with a compliance officer on April 14 and, upon clarification of actions undertaken, the history of the site, mapping information used by staff and confirmation the city had already engaged a QEP, no violation ticket or fine was issued, according to Woods.

The city received advice about the its obligations under the Water Sustainability Act and was issued a warning to ensure the regulatory Section 11 change approval was completed and terms and conditions met.

Based on advice from a WSP hydrologist, the city will not begin further remediation until a plan is made, which will address drainage, berms and natural water flow. No further work will be completed until the ministry approves plans put forward by the QEP.

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