A low-impact walkway and habitat improvements could be compromise options for a controversial stretch of foreshore in Vancouver’s Kitsilano, where groups have been battling a proposal to extend the city’s seawall.
Marine ecologist Jamie Slogan says there doesn’t have to be a black-and-white solution to the debate, which is currently at a standoff between building a seawall and doing nothing. Conflict erupted in early July when the city said an anonymous donor was willing to put up $10 million to build an extension to the walkway, which already lines 22 kilometres of Vancouver shores.
Slogan suggested a walkway that minimizes any disruption to the environment could be engineered. Different kinds of habitats could be built for the existing species inhabiting the area. That would be an improvement of the natural landscape, compared to the damaged state it’s in now, he said.
“There’s a lot more experience now with developing marine intertidal and subtidal habitats. You could introduce an offshore kelp forest, then a rocky intertidal habitat three or four metres deep as a reef, and then alternate the rocky habitat with a soft substrate to create a diversity of habitats,” he said.
Slogan, who was involved in research for the habitat reconstruction at the addition to the Vancouver Convention Centre, believes that the foreshore area between Kitsilano and Jericho beaches are a good candidate for the introduction of artificial habitat.
The foreshore has been eroded and retaining walls have been built to protect property along the shoreline over the years. Some of those walls are likely to collapse in the future, as they are undercut by currents.
Slogan said aerial photographs could be studied to try to reconstruct the habitat to the way it was and a walkway could protect the current retaining walls from being further undermined.
Other residents agree that the beach is far from perfect.
Gerry Goodleff, who attended a seawall opposition meeting on Oct. 3, thinks spending the money to refurbish the foreshore and improve accessibility is a good idea.
“Have you seen those cliffs there? They’re covered in f****g graffiti,” he said.
Park board chair Sarah Blyth believes consensus is possible.
“There are so many things you can do that can have no impact and improve accessibility,” she said.
The issue of how to preserve beaches and foreshores has been addressed by other communities and organizations.
The City of Richmond has worked to protect the natural landscape on the Fraser River and the ocean around Steveston, while still building pathways for humans, by constructing a system of greenways — low-impact walkways along the water in between parks.
There’s also an organization that’s focused primarily on conservation, restoration of habitat, and alternatives for shore protection.
According to Slogan, Green Shores has been working with local governments and homeowners to reduce development impact.
The Stewardship Centre for British Columbia started the Green Shores program to encourage sustainable use of coastal ecosystems.
This is done through a voluntary assessment and certification process for shore developments, supporting local government planning, providing an inventory of greener design alternatives for shoreline development and protection, and an outreach program with workshops and seminars.
Green Shores aims to maintain or enhance habitat diversity and function, as well as reduce collective impacts on the coastal environment.
However, the original opponents to the Kitsilano seawall extension remain adamant that the beach should be left alone.
“Keep Kits Beach Wild”
The Point Grey Natural Foreshore Protective Society has said from the beginning that any sort of built walkway isn’t a good idea. Its members are not about to change their minds.
The society met with about 60 concerned community members Oct. 3 to organize a united front against the proposed connection in one of Vancouver’s most utilized recreational areas.
A petition has being circulated through social media by Elvira Lount called “Keep Kits Beach Wild” and has 600 signatures.
According to Mel Lehan, a society director, even a boardwalk structure would harm the ecosystem beyond repair.
“There isn’t really an alternative to a seawall. They are both an invasive intrusion,” he said.
Lehan also believes this beach should be preserved as a quiet, undisturbed place for the public’s enjoyment.
“Whether or not it harms the foreshore, we don’t want a seawall, you need a rural oasis in the middle of an urban centre,” he said.
Sheila Byers, a Vancouver marine biologist who spoke at the society meeting, has seen how building projects often make some sort of effort to reduce harm to ecosystems, but never bring the ecosystem back to normal.
“Will it be the same as it was before? Is 75 per cent good enough or is 50 per cent good enough? What is good enough?”