Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder
Decommissioning of the concrete weir in Coats Marsh Regional Park has received federal approval, one of two regulatory requirements the Regional District of Nanaimo and The Nature Trust of BC need in order to proceed with the project.
In July, Environment and Climate Change Canada approved the change in use in the parkland from the concrete weir to a naturalized design that includes keeping the existing beaver dam intact, the RDN staff report from the Oct. 3 regional parks and trail select committee says. Federal authorization of the planned change is required given that the property was originally donated by Clyde Coats through the federal ecological gifts program.
The RDN and The Nature Trust of BC (TNTBC) will still require approval from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, which oversees the Water Sustainability Act and BC Dam Safety Regulation, and work is already underway on the dam decommissioning plan required to be submitted, which will include preliminary design and risk assessment, the staff report says. Part of the plan includes a required public engagement process, currently scheduled for January and February 2024. Landowners with properties adjacent to Coats Marsh Regional Park, Coats Marsh Creek and Hoggan Lake will be contacted, and a public information session will also be held on the island during which the preliminary design will be presented.
A summary of the public’s comments received will be submitted to the province as part of the dam decommissioning plan. If approved, final design and permitting is scheduled to wrap in April 2024 with construction to take place in late summer or early fall.
Electoral Area B director, Vanessa Craig, asked staff for details on how TNTBC will be involved in the process including the naturalization plan.
“We’re going to make sure we’ll be bringing the preliminary design forward and having lots of stakeholders involved and reviewing and ensuring we are doing the right thing in that area,” Rick Daykin, manager of parks, said. Restoration work will include native plantings as well as placing large boulders to slow the flow of water.
“We have to make sure we do not create a dam by putting in boulders in front of the area where the existing concrete barrier is,” Daykin said, “so we have to make sure we do a light touch on the boulders so that we allow the water to release but still hold water in the marsh at the same time.”
Over a million dollars is set aside for the project in the 2023-27 financial plan though the decommissioning is estimated to cost $415,000. Amounts were based on the 2022 weir replacement elevation report which outlined various scenarios for decommissioning. “Based on the information we have now, that number will likely drop,” general manager of parks, Tom Osbourne, said, and will be presented in the upcoming provisional budget.
In March, the RDN board passed a motion that staff explore grant funding in collaboration with TNTBC for the Coats Marsh weir replacement project.
Daykin told the Sounder the RDN and TNTBC will apply for habitat restoration grants for the project following completion of the preliminary decommissioning design.