Fraser River gravel removal for 2013 abandoned

Timing and consultation concerns raised by Cheam First Nation have put a program to remove gravel from the Fraser River gravel near Chilliwack on hold.

"This will be the third year of not being able to proceed," Carol Loski, director of the flood protection program of Emergency Management B.C., told the Progress Tuesday. "As of today we are looking at abandoning the idea of removing sediment this year."

The 2013 plan had originally proposed removal of 230,000 cubic metres, and it would have meant an estimated 16 gravel trucks an hour travelling to sites on the Gill and Hamilton bars, near Chilliwack.

A Feb. 4 letter from Cheam Chief Sidney Douglas stated that the duty to protect their aboriginal title and rights "requires a substantive engagement process that takes into account the concerns of our people."

Impacts on traditional land uses and fish habitat, and the need to be included on the technical team and decision-making were cited in the letter.

"To date Cheam has not been consulted nor provided with all the necessary information to form the basis of a meaningful consultation process," Douglas wrote.

But Loski said the Cheam were included in the overall consultation process, as well as that which was mandated through the permitting process for gravel removal.

"I have had regular contact with them, and feel comfortable saying yes we have consulted with them," said the EMBC rep, adding that perhaps they're seeking "more robust" involvement.

Another factor is that the six-to-eight-week fisheries window, where water levels are lowest, is about to close, affecting when in-stream gravel can be safely removed from the river with minimized impacts on the environment.

"The timing is one of the biggest elements," said Loski.

They already lost more than a dozen working days in the fisheries window, meaning they likely wouldn't be able to extract the proposed amount of sediment for 2013.

Marvin Rosenau, member of the Fraser River Gravel Stewardship Committee, said the overarching goal is obtaining a long-term hydraulic modelling plan for the river.

"It's good to hear," he said about the prospect that gravel mining plans are on hold this year. "None of the committee members believe it is a flood protection issue at stake. But if it truly is a flood protection issue, show us the money. We need a clear hydraulic model with comparisons from decade to decade."

Loski said a new hydraulic model was forthcoming by Forests, Lands and Natural Resources officials. It was supposed to be part of a "parallel process" this year whereby they remove gravel at the same time as working on a long-term gravel management plan.

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