Messin’ with QB’s Waterfront… again?

QB Council adopted Councillor Harrison’s motion at their regular Council Meeting on May 27, 2021 “that staff prepare for a grant application for implementing a significant portion of the Waterfront Master Plan in winter 2022.” Huh?

Is Councillor Harrison suggesting that whatever projects he has in mind actually get done in winter 2022? Or, just that the staff create a grant application in January 2022? We believe it’s the latter, and that raises just as many questions and concerns as it would if Harrison’s poorly-worded motion meant actual “implementation” of a “significant portion” of the QB Waterfront Master Plan.

Here we go again… CAO Daniel Sailland continues to unilaterally add more and more project(s) du jour to his so-called “strategic” plan, projects dreamed up with no public consultation or even basic communication about what they want to spend our taxpayer money on.

Neither we at Second Opinion QB nor the public at large have any idea what QB Waterfront Master Plan projects and spending have been cooked up behind closed doors by Councillor Harrison and his colleagues at Town Hall. We do not even know who the proponents might be. Staffers? Council member(s)? Consultant or contractor lobbyists? Perhaps all of the above.

The one thing we do know is that there is zero allocation of funding for waterfront infrastructure in the Town’s current long-term Capital Budget to go with any partial, one-off grants that the Town might get to “prime the pump” of the well of QB taxpayer dollars that the QB Council and Town continue to tap.

A closer look at the situation reveals that Councillor Harrison’s motion is a Trojan horse that could compromise Qualicum Beach’s financial and waterfront assets.

What does the QB Waterfront Master Plan say?

High about Qualicum Beach waterfront.
High above Qualicum Beach waterfront.

The Town’s Waterfront Master Plan produced in 2016 leads off with the commitment that “The Town will adapt and respond to climate change and sea level rise through proactive and precautionary planning that is based on current science and guided by long-term goals and community values.”

Apart from suggesting improvements to the amenities, access and enjoyment of our Town’s main natural asset (the Beach itself), the need for and the content of the Waterfront Master Plan was heavily premised on one dominant assumption. “Sea level rise is expected to dramatically change the existing landscape of the Qualicum Beach waterfront and reduce the amount of available land. Faced with the reality of sea level rise and uncertainty over the waterfront’s changing conditions, the Town has engaged in a comprehensive exercise to understand the existing coastal conditions, the impact of sea level rise and the community’s vision for the waterfront.”

The Plan reads like the proverbial solution looking for a problem. We were simply told by the Plan’s authors, without any explanation or rationale, that we needed to “naturalize the foreshore using Green Shores principles.”

The call to action (see Next Steps, page 18 of the Plan) urged immediate intervention. “Looking towards the next century, the waterfront will be transformed by rising sea levels and continued human intervention. Waterfront properties will either be protected by a heavy investment in shoreline protection, designed to accommodate regular flooding, or be left to erode.” … “The next five years (2016-2021) are expected to reveal more about the rate of sea level rise and the anticipated effects on coastal communities, and the Town of Qualicum Beach may have to shift course.”

What have we learned since 2016?

We have disappointing news for the fanatics who have drunk the Green Shores Kool-Aid. We suggest that Town staff, Councillor Harrison, and the contractors salivating in the wings, rather than rush into a bunch of crude, expensive engineering to harden our shores against sea level rise, need to pause and read the latest assessment of our oceans produced by scientists for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Canada’s Oceans Now, 2020 provides an antidote to the doomsayer predictions of the submersion of our shoreline. Yes, melting ice caps are a major concern generally in many places around the world BUT tectonic forces caused by the collision of the North American plate with the Juan de Fuca plate are pushing Vancouver Island upwards faster than the sea level is rising, resulting in sea levels falling locally.

Was that a bubble we just heard bursting? Indeed it seems we’ve caught a break from Mother Nature herself. Engineers love big, intricate (usually expensive) interventions. The subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate is definitely big and intricate, but (so far) it’s free!

So, big sigh of relief, we dodged a bullet (or rising tide) and now have an opportunity to refill the coffers being drained by recent unnecessary projects like the Memorial / 19 A roundabout with its multi-million-dollar overrun. We at Second Opinion QB are probably not the only Qualicum Beach residents and taxpayers who are reluctant to fund speculative shorefront “adaptation” projects that are certainly not urgent and in fact may be an attempt to “fix” a non-existent problem.

Ignore the facts; we’ve got an agenda here

One of the missions of a not-for-profit BC society known as the Stewardship Centre for BC is, through their Green Shores program, to advocate for counteracting the undesired effects of armoured concrete and rip-rap revetments on shorelines by more “natural” interventions.

One such engineering approach is to augment eroded beaches with gravel topped with vegetation, protected from winds and waves by large headlands of trucked in rocks. In a previous article, Second Opinion QB reviewed the Hodge/Furlani application requesting approval to proceed with one of these projects in front of their Higson Crescent waterfront home.

Logic suggests — not to mention their Higson Crescent neighbours — that a shoreline modification like this simply deflects the problem, literally, onto adjacent properties. We have yet to hear whether their application to the provincial government for a license of occupation of crown land / water to alter the foreshore has been approved or rejected. The application is still noted on the government website as “Application Under Review.”

Proponents of the one-off Hodge/Furlani foreshore modification seem to have got the point. Now they are saying they need to expand the number of headlands to “neighbourhood scale,” i.e. to span six adjacent properties — again to solve what may be a non-existent problem, perhaps with detrimental cascading effects that are larger, and more pronounced.

Cue the May 13, 2021 presentation by the Green Shores team, co-hosted by the Town of Qualicum Beach (promoting their desired Higson Crescent project) and the Comox Valley Regional District (with a similar proposed project targeted for Gartley Beach in Royston).

Details can be seen in the Concept Designs for Neighbourhood Scale Coastal Adaptation Measures document produced by Northwest Hydraulic Consultants Ltd.

What are other Vancouver Island seaside communities doing to remediate their shorelines?

Not much. An attendee at the virtual Green Shores presentation asked the question that was on most of our minds. Where else have “neighbourhood scale” Green (or soft) Shores interventions been completed? Turns out, according to coastal engineer Grant Lamont, no such projects can be found around the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The closest completed reference projects, and he was vague on this, might be in Europe.

If rising sea levels were a serious, urgent concern among Vancouver Island coastal communities, we would expect to see some coordinated action (like lobbying the provincial government for attention and money) from the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC). Their annual conference was just last month, so we checked their list of endorsed resolutions for anything related to climate change mitigation or adaptation.

One general resolution from the Comox Valley Regional District was endorsed by AVICC, namely “that UBCM request that the provincial government provide sustained financial support for local community climate action planning and implementation that serves to meet the goals of Clean BC.” Nothing relating to sea level rise there.

In 2019, an AVICC Climate Leadership Plan steering committee was formed. At the 2021 AGM, AVICC members endorsed the committee’s drafted Climate Action Goals. However, this document only mentions shoreline protection and restoration once, and then only in the context of securing food production and harvesting. Again, nothing relevant to sea level rise and/or the Hodge/Furlani foreshore alteration application.

Ocean shoreline remediation – whose job is it anyway?

So, local proponents of foreshore remediation seem to have moved past the silly idea of “one property at a time” shoreline restoration towards an almost as silly six properties at a time project.

And still, the strategic question has not been addressed:  Whose responsibility is it to reverse 50 years of erosion caused by dozens of one-off attempted hard-armour defenses against nature by private property owners? Or, should anyone tinker? Maybe the sea should be allowed to continue with its own adaptation to us instead.

Another question. As we approach National Indigenous Peoples Day, have we even asked for guidance from our local First Nations? After all, they have six thousand years of harmonious existence with the Salish Sea and its shores.

If we think of the ocean foreshore as part of the “commons” from which we gain shared benefit, and for which we provide shared stewardship — both as an asset and as a liability — then perhaps we should think in terms of sustainable waterfront infrastructure.

We already deem the federal government to be the principal custodian of oceans. For example, with regards to habitat protection for wild salmon, the federal government is obliged to eradicate the infectious diseases and parasites like sea lice introduced in open net fish farms located on the paths to and from spawning grounds. It gets complicated when the provincial government is the custodian of ocean foreshore below the high tide line. Not sure how that happened. But at least we have some precedents, especially lately, of joint provincial-federal funding of infrastructure projects.

Perhaps now it is high time that foreshore protection be taken out of the hands of local municipalities completely. That would remove the temptation for municipal governments to jump into experimental dabbling, putting our scarce property tax revenues at risk for dubious, and likely fleeting, gain, if any.

Is this a priority in QB’s Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan (CCCAP)?

The Town has asked the public for its input on the Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan (CCCAP) that was drafted a year ago. In case readers missed it, Council at its April 21st Special Meeting extended the timeline for this public input on the CCCAP to July 21, 2021.

Once again, this plan leads off with the assumption “From rising seas to increased drought and heightened storm intensity, the Town of Qualicum Beach faces many challenges resulting from a changing climate.” One of its nine overarching themes is to “Continue long-term planning for sea level rise in alignment with the Waterfront Master Plan.”

In the face of the scientific facts that Vancouver Island may not experience a rise in sea levels like other areas around the world, will proponents of these Green Shores waterfront disruptor projects still try to hitch their wagons to the Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan (CCCAP)? Probably.

Is the Town’s emphasis on climate change “adaptation” misplaced?

The unfortunate consequence of all of this focus on climate change “adaptation” is the relative loss of attention to climate change “mitigation.”

When confronted with the nightmarish risk of proliferating nuclear weapons in the 60s, did the world shrug and create a plan to restore the planet after nuclear conflagration? Of course not — Job #1 was, and remains, deterring an all-out detonation war between nuclear powers.

If risk mitigation is successful, there is a reduced need to adapt. This same principle applies to the effects of climate change. Adaptation ought to be the last resort. Where is the Town’s planning effort to mitigate / prevent / avoid climate change?