Update – W̱SÁNEĆ Capacity Funding to Support Engagement on Proposed Road Project at Goldstream River

Trans-Canada Highway 1 – Goldstream Median Barrier Widening Project Overview

The province have proposed to do road work where the Trans-Canada Highway passes through Goldstream Provincial Park. The Goldstream River supports chum, coho and chinook salmon fisheries, and the ongoing practice of W̱SÁNEĆ rights including fishing, food gathering, holding ceremonial gatherings, and exercising stewardship responsibilities.

Over the past year the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC) have been consulted by the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) about a proposal to widen the highway, install a median barrier, improve access to Finlayson arm, complete pedestrian upgrades, work on a trail next to the river, connect Goldstream trails to other trails, and install a pedestrian crossing over the highway and river and an additional crossing under the highway. Part of the highway project plan is to blast rock, install retaining wall structures, a cantilever structure, and an enclosed drainage system with oil/water spill collection and separation devices near the Finlayson Arm Road intersection.

WLC, Tsartlip and Tseycum Referrals staff have received many technical reports related to the proposed road work. The review of reports and engaging with the province are a big draw on our time. While reviewing the reports, we recognised that our capacity to critically assess some of the plans is limited. So this spring we recommended that the WLC Board of Directors access funding to help recover costs for staff time to review technical documents, for committee engagement, and for a community engagement forum. We provided a cost estimate for engagement, and included amounts for a contract for geotechnical experts to review the project Metal Leaching and Acid Rock Drainage project reports and recommendations, and for a legal review of Right of Way documents.

Capacity Funding Agreement and Project Timelines

Following from legal advice to confirm that obtaining funds for engagement would not in any way indicate consent of the W̱SÁNEĆ for the project to proceed, on May 22, 2023 WLC entered into an agreement to accept engagement funding from MOTI. The capacity engagement Agreement provides $200,000 to support:

  • Ongoing staff review of project reports
  • Neutral third party environmental consultant review of technical materials
  • Legal review of Right of Way materials
  • A W̱SÁNEĆ Nation level community and external expert Goldstream River project engagement Forum (tentatively planned for late September – stay tuned for the date)

In addition the Agreement commits the parties to work together to identify timelines for further engagement and project activities, including geotechnical investigations/drilling, moving forward with a project contract tender process, and timelines for development and review of a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) and other project-related plans prior to works commencing. On June 27 the WLC Board communicated that they reject a MOTI proposal to drill in July and plans to tender the project this summer, without WLC consent.

W̱SÁNEĆ Marine Guardian Maxwell Pelkey monitoring the Salmon run at Goldstream River in November 2022. Photo from QENTOL, YEN 2022-23 Report.

Salmon fry and Three-spined stickleback in the Goldstream River in June 2023. Photo from W̱SÁNEĆ Marine Guardians/ QENTOL, YEN.

The WLC’s main concerns with the project are the potential impacts to fish and fish habitat from activities in and about the stream in any season, including the proposal to clear +700 trees from the road right of way and park, incursions into the stream and forested riparian buffer areas to build retaining walls and other structures, noise impacts to fish and other species from drilling, environmental impacts from disturbance of contaminated soils, and that blasting that can expose rock with potential to generate acid rock drainage and leach metals into water (toxic to fish), and that blasting and tree harvesting may result in more slides in the area or other waterway impacts. We are in the process of negotiating a contract for an Environmental Consultant to review related project technical reports that we have received to date.

Goldstream River Assessment and Restoration Projects

Prior to learning of MOTI’s proposed road work, technical staff were aware of the need for restoration projects at Goldstream, to address past impacts from traffic – pedestrian and vehicle access impacts that occurred over several years, and flooding and climate change driven impacts to the riparian areas adjacent to the river. Staff have been involved in Streamkeeper training and a stream assessment, to identify and prioritize restoration projects. WLC and member First Nation staff, hatchery volunteers and consultants, are collaborating to address issues such as undersized culverts, flooding that results in fish being washed up onto Finlayson Road, and bank erosion next to trails. An overview of Goldstream River restoration needs will be the focus of a future article, and we will be looking for input from W̱SÁNEĆ members about the proposed road work at the Forum in September.