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Fraser River gravel removal set to resume

After a two-year hiatus, Fraser River gravel removal operations are slated to resume early next year.

"We are looking to resume sediment removal during January to March 2013," Carol Loski, director of Emergency Management BC's flood protection program, said in an Aug. 2 email sent to "stakeholders."

But why the program is re-starting now, and how effective gravel removal has been in flood protection over the past decade isn't clear as EMBC officials did not return a Progress request for that information.

Chilliwack MLA John Les blamed the two-year hiatus on the "endless requirement" for studies and reviews in the process for obtaining permits to remove gravel during the brief window when in-river work can be done.

"That's essentially what was happening," he said.

Last year, a gravel removal operation at Tranmer Bar was cancelled at the last minute when federal fisheries requested additional information, which pushed the project beyond in the window for in-river work.

Despite his criticism of the process, Les stood by his pro-removal stance, saying "sustained" gravel removal does reduce the risk of flooding in the lower Fraser River.

The EMBC is asking for "stakeholder" feedback on the resumption of gravel removal by Aug. 20.

But Marvin Rosenau, a member of the Fraser River Gravel Stewardship Committee, said that's not enough time for a full review of the consultant's report to the EMBC.

"If they were honest about flood protection and engaging people," he said, the EMBC would not send an email "out of the blue" in the middle of the summer when many stakeholders are on vacation.

"We're just back to the same-old same-old," he said Monday. "All of the unresolved issues at still outstanding."

Each year, about 230,000 cubic metres of gravel and sand are washed down the Fraser and deposited in the "reach" between Agassiz and Chilliwack as the river current slows down.

Proponents of gravel removal argue the build-up of gravel on the river bottom is raising the water level beyond the capacity of dikes in the area.

Opponents say there is no proof gravel removal reduces flood risk, and the practice is damaging fish habitat.

The consultant's report identifies the nine potential sites and describes why they were selected.

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