Roadblocks at the provincial and federal levels are preventing the city and partner organizations from carrying out ongoing work on Joseph Creek over the last four years.
During a city council meeting on Monday, elected officials heard from staff and representatives from the Columbia Outdoor School, which are working hand-in-hand with the city and other non-profit organizations to revitalize and restore Joseph Creek.
Mike Matejka, the Manager of Infrastructure Planning and Delivery, along with Todd Hebert and Jennifer Krotz with the Columbia Outdoor School, delivered the presentation, which outlined accomplishments on the project and looked ahead to further challenges in the future.
While praising some recent tree-planting up at Idlewild Park, Mayor Lee Pratt also expressed frustration at the pace of some of the work on Joseph Creek, which has run into obstacles from higher levels of government, according to staff.
“I’ve spent countless hours banging my head against the wall trying to get things moving forward with this,” said Matejka, in response. “I think it would be great to try and get the support of mayor and council to engage with our provincial and federal leaders to help remove some of these roadblocks.
“We can only do what we’re permitted to do and we’ve applied to do significant amount of works and we have funding to do significant amount of works and we continue to run into roadblocks on those things and I think we have great solutions to do them, so I think it’d be great if we could find a way to try to get some more support at a high level.”
Coun. Ron Popoff specifically raised concerns of willow trees along the creek banks, which are considered an invasive species, however, staff and Hebert again noted the challenges of working through provincial and federal environmental regulations.
“That is one of the most complex issues we have relating to this project,” Matejka said. “Right now, we know that those trees aren’t good for the creek, they don’t work well at all for the function and health of the creek, they are a ongoing flooding issue. But from the province and the federal government’s perspective, they are trees, they are riparian habitat, they are providing shade, and they shall not be touched.
“I think they understand the issue that those trees pose, but we need to come up with a way that better quantifies and classifies that we need to be able to remove them and try to replace them with something that is more suitable.”
Thousands of volunteer hours and nearly half a million dollars leveraged from grants and community donations of cash or in-kind services have gone into work along Joseph Creek, according to Krotz.
This year, Hebert says priorities include addressing data gaps, supporting infrastructure programs and establishing habitat banking program. A fish management plan is also a key priority that is necessary for moving along some creek work as well, Hebert added.
“Without that fish management plan being complete, a lot of work is going to continue to stall,” Hebert said, “so we’ve really been focusing down on making sure that the fish management plan is in place and that we have all of the pieces put together so that we can present those to the authorities that need to see them.
“And we can strategically help the city with that work so we can make sure the enhancing and upgrading of infrastructure moves along as smoothly as possible.”
Community outreach and stakeholder engagement are further key priorities for the Columbia Outdoor School, which has been involved facilitating programming for school students at various sites along the creek, Hebert said.
“Over time, the creek has really become a place where teachers are bringing their kids out without us and that is fabulous, that is exactly what we’re hoping, is that teachers will do it on their own and get the kids outside,” Hebert added.
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