Excavation complete, says Pacific Playgrounds

Pacific Playgrounds says its project involving intertidal excavation work is complete — but some area residents are still unhappy.

Pacific Playgrounds says its project involving intertidal excavation work is complete — but some area residents are still unhappy with the state of the beach.

A large sandbar runs parallel with the shore out in the intertidal zone at the north end of Saratoga Beach. This sandbar held water in a depressed area closer to the shore, creating a giant tidal pool area or salt water marsh even at low tide.

But, Pacific Playgrounds — which maintains a navigation channel to its marina just north of the salt water marsh area and just south of the Oyster River Estuary — excavated a section of the sandbar at the beginning of February, causing the salt water marsh area to drain during low tides.

Manager Kelly Purden says the excavation work was done to allow dredging of its navigation channel, and that the work was temporary.

The saltwater marsh “breaks through the south wall of our navigation channel and then spills all this material into the channel, and then basically blocks the traffic — it makes an unsafe situation for navigation,” explains Purden. “It’s been doing that over the last years constantly, so the idea was to take the pressure off the wall while we dredged all that material back up, armoured it as best as we could, and then we put the (drainage) trench back.

“But, you know, in the meantime the ocean does pound away and level things over, and you can’t put it back exactly the way it was because the material has been moved around and you don’t want to disturb the beach anymore than you have to.”

Pacific Playgrounds — which includes a marina, cabins and an RV park — received approval for its dredging project from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and Purden adds a DFO official inspected the site after the drainage trench was filled back in.

The DFO was contacted for updated information Thursday, but was unable to provide any by the Record’s deadline on Monday.

Purden also says the saltwater marsh area “is maintaining water levels that are the same as before the project.”

Area resident Alf Butterfield disagrees.

He says the drainage trench has been filled in somewhat, but not enough, and the saltwater marsh area “is less empty than it was but it’s still considerable loss of habitat and considerably lower levels of water.”

Butterfield says the area is popular with wildlife — including a number of bird species like blue herons — likely due to feeding reasons, and he’s concerned the wildlife will be affected by the changes.

Rolf Haller, another area resident, says he’s upset about an oyster patch in the excavation site.

“What really bothers me, and it’s never been said, is that oyster bed — that was a beautiful little oyster bed there, a natural oyster bed,” he says. “They dug right in the centre at the start of (the drainage trench) and you could still see around the (trench) edges oysters and stuff, but they dug right through the main part of it.”

He says he’s noticed a large drop in the number of birds in the salt water marsh area during low tides.

“That is almost like a bird sanctuary that they come into and now that drains, you know, there’s very few of those birds coming in there,” he says.

Butterfield contacted the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) to see to see if the work should have been approved by the ministry as well as the DFO.

A Ministry spokesperson confirmed to the Record that a portion of excavation work occurred on Crown land, and is believed to be in trespass under the Land Act. Compliance and enforcement staff are investigating, but the spokesperson couldn’t give a timeline for how long the investigation would take.

According to the MLFNRO, ministry staff can take a variety of actions, including issuing instructions to restore the land to a condition satisfactory to the minister. According to the Land Act, the person could also be charged a fee, as deemed appropriate by the minister, for uses such as area restoration.

Purden says she last she heard from MFLNRO at the beginning of this month, and was under the impression the ministry was satisfied with the completed project, so she didn’t want to comment on the investigation.

She adds Pacific Playgrounds sought all the approvals it thought appropriate for the work, and strives to maintain natural habitats.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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