Ask Pat: Two projects

In the spirit of getting caught up, Here are two Ask Pats with similar answers: “I don’t know”.

mmmmm beer. asks—

I appreciate the transparency your blog offers. I just have a quick question. What ever happened to the Craft Beer Market that was supposed to go in at the New West Station. Is that still moving forward?

Shaji asks—

Firstly, thank you for getting back to me on my question about Frankie G’s 😊
Secondly, there are many of us residents at the Peninsula and Port Royal in general wanting to inquire about the plans for the Eastern Neighbourhood Node. I know there were some extensive discussions and planning sessions between the City and Platform Properties. We also have noticed that some ground preparation work has started. Any updates that you can share on what work has started, what are the prospects and what are the timelines for this project. Thanks 😊

Yes, the answer to both of these questions is “I don’t know”.

The Craft Beer Market was a proposal that came to Council for a Development Permit back in July of 2016, and was proposed for the empty lot across from the Anvil Centre at Eighth and Columbia. You can read the report starting on page 348 here. It was brought to Council as a Report for Information, and the next steps were to be Design Panel review and some public consultation, then staff would bring a Development Permit bylaw to us for approval or rejection. I remember the conversation about the proposal being generally positive (see the Minutes of that meeting, Page 13 here), but we have not, in my recollection, seen any further reports.

The Eastern Neighborhood Node that would connect Port Royal to the rest of Queensborough with a mix of residential and commercial property has been the subject of several meetings. The most exciting part of the proposal (and the part that led to some discussions around the layout of the site ans stage of development) was the allocation of some 50,000 square feet of neighbourhood-serving commercial. This would bring (it is hoped) a small grocery store a some basic services to the booming Port Royal community. There would be some land assembly required, as (again, to the best of my knowledge), the developer does not own all of the land required to make the development work, and some pretty significant utility and drainage engineering needs to be done to support the development.

Both of these speak to how complicated development can sometimes be, and to the fact that Council is not directly involved in some of what makes development happen or not happen in the community. We can, obviously, say “no” to a development proposal that requires variances or zoning changes, but once we say “yes” to a development we really can’t force the developer to build. Even the “yes” we give a developer does not typically contain a timeline to completion. As plans are developed, construction costs are calculated, compromises are negotiated, and market forces are navigated, sometimes the math ends up not working out for the proposal we see at Council, and it never happens. Commonly, those things occur in a way that Council would never see. If there is no decision for us to make, no plan or change of plans for us to approve, we are most likely in the dark about the details of what is holding the situation up.

Both of those proposals have some very public-facing companies involved. They may be able to answer your questions better than I can. As a general principle, I think getting retail happening on the eastern end of Queensborough and that empty lot at Eighth and Columbia activated would be great things for the City, and for our residents. I don’t know how I can make either happen faster than the landowner plans to invest. I can tell you that there is no action that I know of that Council has taken to slow down either proposal.

Council – Sept 17, 2018

Once a year, Council heads over the Queensborough Bridge and holds a meeting at the Queensborough Community Centre. This year was the first I was able to take the QtoQ ferry over, which made the bike ride much more pleasant, both because of the ride and because of the ride through Port Royal and along the refurbished Ewen Ave.

It was a meeting with lots of opportunity for public participation, with four (4!) Opportunities to the Heard, Public Hearings on four (!) Bylaws, and Public Delegations. Try to keep up with the twists and turns of the agenda.

We started with an Opportunity to be Heard:

Business Licence Bylaw Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Regulations) No. 8044, 2018
This is the bylaw that sets out the operational rules for new Cannabis Retail locations, once the federal legislation legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis comes into effect in October. We have had lots of discussions about this at Council, and if you want to do a deeper dive, here is a report from our February workshop, and another from our June discussion. We have gone through some public and stakeholder consultation, Bylaws have been drafted, but they require a Public Hearing to get to third reading.

We received no written submission, and had two presentations from the public: one asking us to move faster, one asking us to consider slowing down. Council moved to adopt the Bylaw, and we have a clear path to this new retail regime.


We then moved into our Public Hearings on three issues:

Official Community Plan Amendment (207/209 St. Patrick Street) Bylaw No. 8042, 2018
The owner of this house wants to opt into the Queens Park Heritage Conservation Area. though it was automatically removed during the process where houses were evaluated for heritage value and potential negative economic impact. We received no written submissions, and no-one came to speak to the matter. Council moved to give the bylaw Third Reading.

Official Community Plan Amendment (Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Guidance for Development Permit Area Guidelines) Bylaw No. 8039, 2018 and
Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure in Residential Buildings) No. 8040, 2018

These bylaws will change the City’s zoning laws to require that all new residential buildings include the built-in wiring to support a Level 2 electrical vehicle charger in all off-street parking spots. This is a Bylaw change that is occurring regionally, as we prepare our community for the next decade of transition away from fossil fuels. We had a single piece of correspondence in favour of this change, and no-one came to speak to the matter. Council moved to give the bylaws Third Reading.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Cannabis Regulations) No. 8043, 2018
These are the zoning law changes that will set out the location rules for new cannabis retail businesses in the City. Again, these are changes that were workshopped and discussed at length (see the links above), and we wanted to have them in place before Federal regulations make cannabis retail legal. We received no written submissions and no-one came ot speak to this matter (though the earlier speakers at the Opportunity to be Heard were really also addressing this issue). Council moved to give this Bylaw third reading and adoption – it is now the law of the land!


We then had the following Opportunity for Public Comment:

Five Year Financial Plan (2018 – 2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8055, 2018
We need to update our 5-Year Financial Plan to reflect revised plans for the electrical substation in Queensborough (both in timing and cost for the project) and for increased costs for the new Animal Shelter and Tow Yard project related directly to regional construction market changes. No-one came to speak to this matter.

…and more Opportunities to be Heard:

Temporary Use Permit for 610 Brantford Street (TUP00018)
The development at the north end of Bent Court includes market condos and the preservation of a historic single family house. The condo marketers want to use the protected house as the sales centre for the condos. This requires a Temporary Use Permit, because this use is not specified in the zoning for the lot. We had no written submissions, but the owner of an adjacent business appeared to express concerns about parking, which were addressed by staff (to the apparent satisfaction of the delegate). Council moved to approve the TUP.

Development Variance Permit for 1 Cumberland Street (DVP00652)
That big construction site at the foot of Cumberland Street is a new sewer pump station being built by Metro Vancouver to support population growth in the northeast sector (Coquitlam, for the most part). A development like this would usually require that the electrical services be undergrounded, but that is not technically feasible on this site, for a variety of reasons related to rail crossings, riparian areas, and rights of way. So they require a development permit variance to allow this variance from what is permitted. We received no written submissions, no-one came to speak to the matter, and Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit for 200 Nelson’s Crescent, 228 Nelson’s Crescent, 258 Nelson’s Court and 268 Nelson’s Court (DVP00650)
The Brewery District is a unique development, especially in how it faces Brunette Ave. The developer wants to create a better aesthetic for the façade facing Brunette Ave, but require a variance of the sign bylaw to do so. We received no written submissions, and no-one came to speak to this variance. Council moved to approve the variance.


Council moved the following items On Consent:

BC Penitentiary Cemetery Restoration Task Force
This task force’s work is completed with the official opening of the preserved BC Penitentiary cemetery memorial site. So the task force is being dissolved.

Exempt Properties – Review of Questionnaire Results
There are some properties that don’t pay property tax. Some are exempted by provincial regulation, like churches and private schools. Others are given a “permissive exemption” based on their public service, mostly supportive housing, daycares, and sports facilities. This review of exempted properties is something we do as part of our annual budgeting process.

41 and 175 Duncan Street (Townhouse and Child Care) Consideration of Issuance of Development Permit
This townhouse development in Queensborough has gone through the OCP amendments and rezoning required, it still needs a Development Permit to move forward. The DP is the stage where “form a character” work is done, including landscaping, building, building design, etc. A separate DP for the attached Child Care centre will come to a subsequent Council meeting. Council moved to approve the Issuance of the DP

11 – 30 Capilano Way (Another Brew Co.) Brewery Lounge Endorsement
A small start-up brewery in the Braid Industrial Area wants to open up a tasting lounge of 20 seats. This endorsement is part of the business and liquor licensing process. Council moved to approve endorsement.

200 to 400 Blocks Columbia Street: Sewer Interceptors – Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
There is a semi-regular piece of sewer maintenance work that cannot occur during the day because sewer lines are too full of water and… stuff. In order to do this kind of work at night, we need a construction noise bylaw exemption. The work will occur in September of October on a night when storm water flows are low. The equipment will be muffled as best as possible, but nearby residents will be aware of the work happening.

2017 Corporate Greenhouse Gas Emissions Update
There is good news and bad news on GHG emissions – we are ahead of our target in every sector except our fleet. The fleet is killing us, as the technology for large vehicles, utility trucks, and such has not kept up with that of automobiles when it comes to adopting hybrid and electric technologies. This clearly needs to be the area of concentration in the coming year as we implement a new emissions reduction plan.

Amendments to Tree Protection Bylaw: Tree Protection and Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 8052, 2018, and Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8053, 2018
We are making adjustments to the Tree Bylaw to make it work better, less onerous for residents, and potentially less expensive. We are not reducing the protections for trees in the community, but are seeking to streamline the processes to reduce the cost and hassle of the bylaw for our internal operations and for homeowners.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Updated Intelligent New West Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022
The Intelligent New West program has been a pillar of the City’s Economic Devleopment plan for the last few years, and has turned in some serious benefits – from a big increase in tech-industry employment in the City to a successful dark fibre utility and Smart City 21 designation. However ,a strategic vision for where it goes over the next 5 years is needed, and this report outlines it.

Environmental Strategy and Action Plan Final Report
Similarly, the City’s overarching environmental strategy has not seen a comprehensive review in a decade, though much work on sustainability has been done, and new goals and targets have been created. We asked staff to put together a single strategy o align our ecological, greenhouse gas and energy reduction, and waste management goals. After more than a year of public consultation, committee re-working and policy development, the strategy is ready for endorsement.


After all of this, we did our usual reading and adopting of Bylaws:

Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8049, 2018
There were some clerical errors in this Bylaw when we gave it second and third readings on August 27th that Staff needed to correct. So we rescinded those readings and repeated the second and third reading as amended.

Tree Protection and Regulation Amendment Bylaw No. 8052, 2018 and
Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8053, 2018
These Bylaws that introduce some changes to our Tree Bylaw to make it more functional were given first reading.

Taxation Exempt and Exempt Properties Bylaw No. 8054, 2018
This Bylaw that formalizes the list of property-tax exempt properties in the City (as described above) was given three readings.

Five Year Financial Plan (2018 – 2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8055, 2018
This Bylaw that updates the Five Year Financial Plan (as described above) was given three readings.

Zoning Amendment (420 Boyne Street) Bylaw No. 8036, 2018
The zoning amendment to permit the new animal shelter, which was given previous readings on July 9 and August 27th, was given three readings, and is now off to external agencies for review.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1084 Tanaka Court) No. 8011, 2018
The zoning amendment that permits a banquet hall to be built in Queensborough was adopted.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (618 Carnarvon Street) No. 7949, 2017
This zoning amendment to permit a large development on the corner of Sixth Street and Carnarvon (the one with the big “618” signs) which had a Publci Hearing back on January 29th, was Adopted by Council.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement (205 Clinton Place) Amendment Bylaw No. 8046, 2018
This HRA amendment to give the homeowner a little more time to complete their heritage restoration was adopted by Council.

Development Services Fees and Rates Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No.8047, 2018;
Smoking Control Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8048, 2018; and
Municipal Ticketing Information Amendment Bylaw No. 8050, 2018
These Bylaws that related to the legalization of cannabis retail and better managing the nuisance of cannabis smoking were adopted by Council.

TMH and the Public Hearing

We had a Public Hearing on Tuesday, and I have gnawed the ends off of a few metaphorical pencils thinking about how to write about it. Partly because it was an emotional night for a great many people, including members of Council. So I’ll start by talking about the facts, and save the emotions for after the fold.

The Public Hearing was to evaluate an OCP Amendment and Rezoning to permit the construction of a 44-unit supportive housing project on City land in Queensborough. This project is funded by the provincial government’s rapid response funding program, where capital and operational cost of a temporary modular housing (“TMH”) building will be covered by BCHousing, if a local government can provide land it owns (for a 10 year lease) and a reliable service agency agrees to operate the facility.

The City went through an extensive search for an appropriate site, and several sites were evaluated in Q’boro and other New West neighbourhoods. Of the three “short listed” sites, only the site at 838 Ewen Avenue was found to be viable. After some initial feedback from the community, we did some more evaluation of a second site in Queensborough, but again found it was not viable for reasons I discussed here. In short, if we wanted to take benefit of the rapid response funding, and have a TMH project in New Westminster, the Ewen Ave site is the only location.

Going into the Public Hearing, we received about 200 pieces of correspondence, and almost all of them were in favour. There was also an electronic petition circulated in the neighbourhood that opposed the project. The Design Panel, Advisory Planning Commission, and Community and Social Issues Committee all voted to support the project. I attended the public open house back on May 1, and heard concerns expressed by some residents, and also had some of my questions answered about the project. I had meetings with people who expressed specific concerns about the site, and the project in general, and also had many conversations with people who supported it, including many people who approached me at the Queensborough Children’s Festival two weeks ago. Along with other members of Council, I did a tour of the similar (but larger) TMH project in a residential Marpole neighbourhood that received significant public attention when it was proposed, but has been operating for more than four months without significant issues.

All this to say I had a *lot* of information going into the Public Hearing, but I was not sure what feedback we would receive, and only hoped for a rational and respectful conversation about concerns and benefits. In the end, we had about 80 people delegate to Council, with a majority in favour of the project. Even if we separate the presentations from the proponents (BCHousing and E.Fry), there were still as many community voices speaking in favour as opposed. That said, Public Hearings should not, in my opinion, be about raw counts of Pro vs. Con presenters, but should be about the weight of the arguments when seeking balance between benefits and costs of any project.

Fundamentally, this is a land use issue. The question before Council was whether this is an appropriate use of the land. This being the only piece of City land available does not by itself make it the right place for TMH. Every land use decision is about balancing positive and negative impacts, including opportunity costs. This lot was purchased by the City along with an adjacent piece of land a couple of years ago from the owners of the previous gas station on the site (demolished in 1991). It had recently been used as a construction staging and supply stockpile during the Ewen Avenue reconstruction, but is currently bare gravel. The location is close to the Queensborough Community Centre, adjacent to a bus stop with fairly regular service, and about 800m from major shopping. The service providers think the site is a good balance of being close to services but also in a residential area.

I am cognizant of the green space concerns, but do not see this project as a significant takeaway from Ryall Park. The lot is about 1,430 square metres, which is less than 2% of the Ryall Park area (when you include the Community Centre and adjacent playing fields, but not including the schools). Despite some comments I heard during the Public Hearing, Queensborough has more green space by area and per capita that the City’s average, made even more so with improvements over the last decade related to Port Royal Park, Old Schoolhouse Park, and greenway improvements along the waterfront. I am protective of the City’s green space, and agree that many neighbourhoods need more (which we are working on), but every discussion about green space is about balancing the opportunity costs and other community benefits.

A lot of the conversations and research over the last month has been around a “risk” argument – the argument that the residents of this housing will pose a greater risk to other park users than any other resident of a house or townhouse in the area. We met with BC Housing folks and reviewed the Community Advisory Committee and PAC minutes from the Marpole project and adjacent schools. We have talked to law enforcement and support agencies. We did everything we could to learn what the experiences in other locations were in relation to these concerns, talking to people who have dedicated their careers to providing assistance to people in need of housing. I could not find any evidence that this project will create some exceptional risk to neighbours or other park users. Quite the opposite, the evidence is ample that an amenity like this improves the lives of people in our community, and makes our entire community stronger.

Council each had their own reasons to support this project moving forward (and you can watch the video here, I don’t want to speak for others). For myself, I believe this is an appropriate location, the only location in New Westminster where this valuable amenity can be rapidly built, and I am convinced this project can and will be a positive for the entire community.


Now for the hard part.

This Public Hearing was soul-crushing. There is no other way to describe it. A week later, it is still causing me a mix of feelings, most of them negative. I cannot get over what was an overwhelmingly negative experience for every member of the public who attended – those in favour of the project, and those opposed. But I don’t know how we take a project that elicits so much emotion and provide outlets for people to speak from their hearts and their minds such that they feel heard or understood without the antagonism that was displayed. I believe in community consultation, and in representative democracy and responsible governance as a force for good… this was none of those, and I feel heartbroken about how the event unfolded.

One thing that was made crystal clear to me: the Public Hearing process is broken. This structure demanded by the Local Government Act is almost perfectly designed to create an 11th hour all-or-nothing us-vs-them divisive conflict event where opponents face off and speak past each other instead of providing a safe, inclusive, and collaborative conversation about the relative merits or costs of a project.

The structure is such that it makes it difficult for Council members (who must remain open minded through the process in order to act semi-judiciously in the ultimate decision making) to moderate the debate or pre-empt the conflict. Staff must balance on the razor’s edge of providing factual information about a project without appearing to be advocating for a project that must have had enough public policy merit to get as far as the Public Hearing. The delegates at any Public Hearing are almost exclusively people who feel strongly for the specific project, or are strongly opposed to it. This is evidenced by the fact that most Public Hearings are sparsely attended – you have to feel personally affronted to bother going out on a Monday night to speak at a boring public meeting. Of course, the stronger those feelings, the less likely one is going to accept or appreciate new data or varying opinions provided at the Public Hearing. And as it is always a last-minute winner-take-all debate, there is very little opportunity to learn, or discuss the larger policy implications that underlie a project, from affordable housing policy to transportation demand management to voluntary amenity contributions and urban design principles, because those are bureaucratic-sounding and technocratic solutions that are lost in the fog of parochial personal concerns and emotional battery. That is a terrible way to make decisions in a complex world.

I wish a week later I had suggestions, a model for a better way, but I don’t. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how we have a more nuanced discussion with the general public about any new project that comes down the pike. I don’t know how we provide space for the somewhat-interested and potentially-benefiting to engage when so much of the space is taken up by the personally aggrieved. All I know is that the current model of the Public Hearing doesn’t work. As currently structured, it is an affront to representative democracy, a barrier to good decision making, and a terrible form of consultation. It divides at a time when we should be coming together. It needs to change.

ASK PAT: Potash

Shaji asks—

This proposal to put a potash storage and transportation facility on the Surrey-side banks of the Fraser river seems absurd!

I have recent made the New West and the Fraser river my home and come to realize how much of it is surrounded with beautiful marshlands and resident wild life – despite the Fraser being a working river. I see seals bobbing their heads out of the water everyday from my window.

Our efforts need to be to preserve and clean up this beautiful surrounding; not further pollute it with such harmful proposed projects.

What is the City’s stance and influence on the proposed project?

Thanks again

The first I heard of a plan to move potash through Fraser Surrey Docks was when a few residents of Queensborough started sending me e-mails. The general theme of these e-mails was “What is the Port trying to pull here!?” Hopefully I can explain, although I have not heard a peep from the Port (officially or informally) about this project, so most everything I know you can read yourself at the Port’s information website about the project.

It appears that one of the world’s largest mining companies, BHP Billiton, wants to build a facility in Surrey to move potash off of train cars and into bulk carrier ships for export. Much like the previous coal terminal facility proposed for Fraser Surrey Docks, this facility will be required to go through the Port’s own Environmental Review process, instead of a Federal Environmental Assessment. This procedure exists because of legislative changes made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that decimated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – changes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government seems in no rush to address despite significant election promises to the effect. But I digress.

Upon hearing about this proposal, my initial questions were around what it means for the Coal Terminal project. That project has already been approved by the Port, although that approval is still being challenged in court. My cursory look at the proposed coal terminal drawings:

…and the drawings for the proposed potash terminal:

…suggest to me that they do not share operational footprint, except for some rail loop infrastructure. So I am operating under the assumption that potash terminal approval would not mean coal terminal termination. We should be so lucky.

So what do we know about potash? It is mined from evaporate deposits under Saskatchewan; it is mostly potassium chloride with less than 5% sodium chloride and trace amounts of other minerals; it is primarily used for fertilizer, although it is also used in metals refining and other industrial processes. It is no more toxic that table salt, isn’t flammable, isn’t carcinogenic, and isn’t a particularly nasty environmental contaminant in soil or water. There are some well-understood and generally well mitigated environmental impacts from mining. After spending a few hours reading up on potash and its handling, finding science-based sources I consider reliable and relatively unbiased, there is little in my Environmental Geoscientist experience that causes me great concern about this material being handled in or moved through my neighbourhood.

There will be impacts, no doubt. Train traffic, noise, light, and potentially dust (though potash is usually handled though a pretty closed system due it its solubility). The Port review process (as sketchy as it is) should provide us some ability to provide input to the Port about how we want these potential issues mitigated. You can learn about the project and review process by attending an Open House at the Fraser River Discovery Centre on Thursday evening, you can read the project materials here, or you can go to the BHP project site here and provide some feedback directly. For further research, I might reach out to some council colleagues on the North Shore where potash has been handled for years to see what concerns it has caused in their communities.

That said, you asked a specific question, with pretty simple answers: Council has not been formally asked to opine on the project yet (any more than any other stakeholder), haven’t received any reports, and haven’t really discussed it, so the City doesn’t yet have a stance on the project. Our influence as a stakeholder is limited – as we learned from the coal terminal project where our firm opposition did not prevent the project from being approved. I am sure we will participate in the review process, but it would be premature for me to speak on behalf of all of Council on what the City’s position will be.

As an aside, this proposal is apparently to move potash from a new mine outside of Saskatoon, specifically one that BHP Billiton announced they were in no rush to open as recently as August. I have no idea what that means to this project, but the timing does seem strange.

Council – September 11, 2017

As has become tradition, the first Council Meeting of September was held in the Queensborough Community Centre, and we had a Queensborough-heavy agenda, though not a particularly long one. We started with an update on the largest road-improvement project in the City’s history:

Ewen Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project Update
The third phase of this project (the easternmost westernmost part, from Hampton to Boundary) is currently being tendered. A bunch of the in-ground work around sewer main replacement and tie-ins has already been done, but the re-configuring of the roadway and installation of major sewer works is coming up over the next year.

Somewhat concerning, the first Request For Proposals for the project had no responses. That no road construction company in British Columbia put in a bid for the project is a sign of how challenging the construction business is in BC right now. There’s too much work and not enough people to do the work, and projects on tight timelines create too much risk for many companies. We have put out another, more flexible tender, and will see what happens.

Delays are expensive, and this project has had a number of challenges along the entire length, from coordinating with Metro Vancouver’s sewer work to geotechnical and environmental issues with the soils under the roadbed. There are many residents frustrated by the lengthy timelines, and I am not happy about the inability to find cost savings when it became clear that soils issues were going to blow the budget. However, I’m confident the end result will be a great asset for the Queensborough neighbourhood,


The following items were Moved on Consent:

Status of 2015-2018 Strategic Initiatives – Update for First Half of 2017
This report (more, it’s appendix) is a great update on what the City has been doing over the last three years on the Strategic Priorities set out by Council. Aside from the day-to-day running of the City, and the amazing number of new things that pop up, either by happenstance, or sudden Council whim, our strategic plan is coming along at what I would call a moderate pace. Some projects (e.g. Front Street Mews) are complete; some are still in early phases (e.g. City Hall renovations). As there is often a bunch of lower-visibility work that needs to be done before (for example) we break the ground on a new Affordable Housing project, these reports help keep Council and the public abreast of the progress that isn’t always obvious in following Council reports.

Life comes at you fast. When we put these Strategic Priorities forward, the housing crisis was only starting to percolate (a Million-dollar house in New West was still an anomaly), the scourge of fentanyl had not taken hold in our community, and we had Federal and Provincial governments with different spending priorities. So like all strategies, adjustments need to be made to achieve the long-term goals they underpin. I am pretty satisfied that we are moving in the right direction, even if progress on some fronts is slower than I might like.

232 Lawrence Street (Day Care)
One of those strategic things moving forward a little under most people’s radar (despite several public reports and a Public Hearing) is a Day Care facility to be built with Provincial Gov’t support on City lands in Queensborough. This report outlines the next steps in the senior government grant process, and the expected commitment that City will make to building the modular structure for the daycare.

The City’s $156K contribution represents a likely 24% of the budget, and the City’s contribution will come from the General Amenity Reserve, which is money we collect from developers when they increase density of the City.

131 Eleventh Street: Temporary Use Permit – Renewal
The area around Lower 12th Street is an area in transition, considered a “Special Study Area” in our community plans. Council recognized the land is not being used to its full value, and although the long-term plan is unclear (the City is reluctant to shift “job generating lands” to fully residential lands – short term gain may result in long-term pain) we want to accommodate the most sensible current use of the lands, to support local businesses. This retail use doesn’t fit the language of the current zoning, so we are using a Temporary Use Permit to allow it, such that we don’t undermine any future long-term planning.

Local Area Service Bylaw to Underground Existing Overhead Utilities
on the East Side of 200 Block of Howes Street

As mentioned back in June, a Local Area Service is like a “special assessment” where a neighbourhood wants a land improvement done that isn’t necessarily the highest priority for the City. When a majority of neighbours agree that these works are desired, the City works out a shared-cost agreement ,and the residents have the option of writing the City a cheque for their share, or adding a special charge to their taxes for as long as 20 years.

The majority of homeowners have agreed on street improvements along 200 Block of Howes Street, and through a complicated negotiation with several utility companies, the LSA Bylaw is now able to move forward.


The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

420 Boyne Street (Animal Shelter): Proposed Amendment to the Heavy Industrial Districts (M-2) Zone to Allow Municipal Uses and Zone the Former Lane to the Rear of the Property to (M-2)
The City also needs to amend the zoning language around the Industrial zones property where we are building our new Animal Shelter and the accessory space for our proposed tow yard. The site preparation for this site is finally underway, and the City’s long-outdated Animal Care Facility will be starting construction soon. So far: on time and on budget.

BC Hydro Pest Management Plan
Coming after public notice by BC Hydro of pesticide use on their properties in New West last year, Council asked for better reporting of the types of pesticides used and where. BC Hydro responded, indicating they use “mechanical methods“ (weed whacking) in the publically-accessible areas in their Connaught Heights right-of-way, and they use several different pesticides in their substation lands.

A Councillor raised a concern about the use of Glyphosate (“Roundup”) in the City, and asked that a letter be written asking BC Hydro to switch to different products (such as iron- and acetic acid-based pesticides). I am less fussed about small, spot use of Glyphosate when part of an Integrated Pest Management System, and I understand there are some seriously impactful invasive species (such as Japanese Knotweed) where chemical treatment are the only approach demonstrated to work, but am happy to forward the letter and ask BC Hydro to monitor and control its use, and demonstrate the City’s preference for the most sustainable solutions.


We then did the Bylaw shuffle:

Zoning Amendment (420 Boyne Street Animal Shelter) Bylaw No.7944, 2017
As discussed above, the Zoning Amendment Bylaw to support the development of the Animal Shelter on City-owned Industrial Lands was given two readings.

Local Area Service Bylaw No. 7942, 2017
As discussed above, the LAS Bylaw for Howes Street was given three readings.

Wood-Boyne Street Road Closure Bylaw No. 7935, 2017
As discussed at the July 10th meeting, this Bylaw to officially close an unopened part of Wood Street to support the City’s Animal Care facility was Adopted.

Housing Agreement (630 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 7927, 2017
Zoning Amendment (630 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 7920, 2017

As addressed at the Public Hearing on June 26th, and discussed at the August 28th meeting, these Bylaws to support the Affordable Housing project in Queensborough was Adopted.

Ask Pat: Q2Q Ferry

I am a little behind on my Ask Pats, I apologize. there are a few in the queue, but work, life, and an amazing array of community events have kept me away from the computer keyboard. I’ll try to catch up.

BoatRidesAreFun asks—

Hi Pat,

Any updates on the Q2Q ferry that was supposed to open July 1? I haven’t seen anything happening at either of the docks.

The ferry has been a challenge. This is one of those times I am glad I am an Elected Type setting unreasonable expectations for staff, and not City Staff trying to meet the unreasonable expectations of the elected types!

The good news is the the trial is ready to go, and will be starting this weekend. The Ferry will run on weekends and holiday Mondays in August and September from 9:00am to 7:00pm, and from 5:00pm to 9:00pm every Friday in August. It will run every 20 minutes, and will cost a Loonie or a Twoonie. The route will be from the Quay (near the Inn) to the public dock on the south side of Port Royal. The bad news is that the limitations of the project as a “pilot” will mean it falls short of some expectations, and that could benefit from some background explanation, so I am glad you asked.

Running a passenger ferry turns out to be a much more complicated process than you may think. You need a boat and operator, you need (at least) two places for it to dock, and you need permission from several different agencies responsible for keeping people from drowning as a result of poor planning.

The first issue was surprisingly hard to solve. The Fraser River is a dynamic, working waterway. There are tides reaching 9 feet in range, and tidal and river currents that flow in different directions up to 10 knots. These currents shift lots of hazardous debris like large logs. There are also tugs, barges, and large ships moving around the river. The little tubs used to shuffle tourists around the relatively safe tidewater of False Creek were not going to work on the Fraser. Something more skookum (to use the nautical term) was required. The more requirements the City put on a boat (number of passengers, weather protection, accessibility, room for bicycles, operating cost), the more limited the number of available boats just sitting round BC waiting for hire.

Then we need two places to dock the boat. Installing a new dock facility in tidewater in Canada is not a simple process, as it activates everyone from the local Port Authority to the Marine Carriers and environmental agencies including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. For a short-term trial, the City really needed to find already-existing docks.

Ferry_Map(1)

The public dock at Port Royal was there and available, but designed for small pleasure craft, not to accommodate a passenger ferry. Significant changes would intrude into water lots owned by Port Metro Vancouver, who were helpful and accommodating, but had their own safety and operational concerns that had to be addressed. On the Quay side, the only functional docks are operated by the Inn at the Quay (where the paddlewheeler tours launch from) and the industrial dock operated my Smit. Again, both had challenges with accommodating their established operations with a new every-20-minutes group of passengers, many of whom are not that accustomed to walking around industrial marine operations, and who will create no end of hassles if they fall into the drink and get dragged downstream. Again, a deal was worked out and operational concerns managed.

At this point, City Staff need to be acknowledged for managing a significant number of potential game-stoppers here, but in the compromises required to make this work are the inherent flaws in the final plan. During this summer, we are going to have the trial ferry service that was possible, not necessarily the one we want.

When I think about connecting the Quay to Queensborough, I am not thinking of it as a tourist draw or a piece of recreation programming, I am thinking of it as a vital transportation link. To be such a link, it need to be reliable, available for daily users, and fully accessible. The trial ferry is going to fall short of this. The high tide range and reliance on existing dock infrastructure means it will not be fully accessible to those with some mobility challenges at all tide stages. Running the ferry only on weekends with limited hours means it will not be useful for work commuters wanting to get from Port Royal to Downtown or Skytrain. The limited hours will further cause people crossing the river for diner and a drink to look closely at their watches while waiting for the bill to arrive. The City recognizes these limitations, but also recognizes the value of getting this project running to see how the public reacts.

In the end, I hope people will appreciate this is a test-of-concept trial, and not the ultimate solution to connecting Queensborough to the Quay. Its successes may be limited, but there has already been a lot learned by the City just in setting up the service, and there will be much learned during its limited run, both in it’s success and where it falls short of expectations. I hope that people on both sides of the North Arm will come out to support this pilot, and provide your constructive feedback to the City, so that we have useful info to inform planning for a more permanent solution.

Census 2016 (part 1)

The 2016 Census data is starting to trickle out. I’m not sure if it is for dramatic effect, or if different data sets require different massaging levels, but the info you and I provided Stats Can in 2016 will be released in several stages through 2017. The first tranche, released this week, is population and residential dwelling count per census tract, along with numbers that can be calculated from those, like population change since 2011, population density, and residential vacancy rate.

growth
…from Canada Census website.

It should be no surprise to anyone that New Westminster is growing. Just a little under 71,000 people called New Westminster home in 2016. In terms of population growth, New Westminster grew about 7.6% over those 5 years (which works out to an average of about 1.2% increase per year). This rate of growth is above the average for Vancouver (6.4%), BC (5.6%), and Canada (5%).

There is a website called CensusMapper where the raw census data is popped into a map of census tracts as it becomes available, providing quick analysis opportunities for data geeks (like me).

Density is a simple measure of the number of residents per square kilometre, and density is one area where New Westminster leads the nation (by some estimates, we are the 4th or 6th densest Municipality in Canada). This s a result of several factors, including us having a relatively small land base (only 11 square kilometres), 150+ years of being the centre of expanding hinterlands that created their own local governments, and our being largely built out as an urban community. It is no surprise that Downtown and the Brow are the densest parts of the City, Queens Park and the industrial areas the least dense:

INSERT DENSITY 1 (image extracted from Censusmapper.ca)
Population Density, persons per square km. (image extracted from Censusmapper.ca)

There are a few things off with this presentation, as the census tracts include areas like the river and park land, so the east half of Queens Park neighbourhood is shown as less dense than the west half, which does not necessarily reflect the true residential density differences on either side of Second Street. In the image below, I highlighted in orange a downtown tract that is biased by including the river – without the river, it may be darker purple like the adjacent tracts.

INSERT DENSITY 1 (image extracted from Censusmapper.ca)
Population Density persons per square km. (image extracted from Censusmapper.ca)

Finally, there are some interesting patterns in the Population Growth plot. It is clear (and not surprising) that growth is not evenly distributed throughout the City. We have been building a lot of family-friendly ground-oriented “missing middle” housing in Queensborough, and that has led to predictable growth. Areas where we have towers and other forms of multi-family dwelling are growing, with only very moderate growth in the West End and other single family neighbourhoods. The only surprise is that the Connaught Heights neighbourhood, during significant regional growth driving an ongoing housing crisis, somehow shrank in population.

INSERT Popgrowth (image extracted from Censusmapper.ca)
Percentage population gr0wth, 2011-2016 (image extracted from Censusmapper.ca)

This is a concern. Both our City’s long-range planning and the regional planning documents depend on concentrating growth along rapid transit lines, for a variety of sustainability and livability reasons. We have slower growth around Braid and Sapperton Stations than in the relative transit desert of Queensborough, and actual population loss around 22nd Street Station. Keep this in mind as we discuss the OCP in the months ahead.

Plans and Promises

I have had interesting interactions on social and traditional media this week, and it got me thinking about plans the City makes, and where those interact with promises made by politicians. I am new to making the latter, have made the former for a long time, but haven’t really thought about the differences. let me see if I can tie this together into a cogent discussion.

It started with this Facebook post:

Hey Patrick, Earlier this year you spoke of the pedestrian and cycle improvements that were soon to be built along Braid. What does soon mean? You spoke of right away, seems you’ve become just another politician, promises promises…….

I have a slightly vague memory of having this conversation, as it was around the time some public consultation was being planned around this project. I knew the project was coming along because we talked about it at ACTBiPed, and because I attended an event as Acting Mayor just before the last Federal election where an MP from and adjacent riding announced some federal funding to help fund the project.

So I replied to the Facebook post with a link to the project page (above), and slightly cheekily followed with “no promises, though”, because it seemed to me the poke about “promises” by my inquisitor was slightly tongue-in-cheek. Or maybe not, as another person took slight offence to my flippant attitude, requiring yet another response by me that provided more detail, proving once again that Social Media is a terrible place to infer nuance.

The longer version of my response is that the project is coming along, but this isn’t really something I would think of as a “political promise”. I don’t think anyone ran for Council supporting or opposing a plan to put green separated lanes on the north side of Braid Street to connect to the United Boulevard bikeway. However, some of us were more supportive than others of the Master Transportation Plan for the City adopted just before the election (I don’t think anyone NOT supportive of it was elected). I am not only still supportive of it, but am supportive of rapidly implementing the active transportation measures included in that plan, including filling some of the important gaps in our bicycling network.

When it comes to building certain connections, though, that is really a complicated discussion between Council, staff, our Advisory Committees and other stakeholders, and is influenced by the capital budget and various priorities. This particular project was seen as a good chance for some senior government grants (applied for and won), represented an important gap, and was generally seen as ready to go. Drawings were created, some cost estimates done along with some public and stakeholder consultation. Capital budget was set aside in the 2017 year to do the works. My “supporting” this plan was a very minor part of the plan coming together for 2017, even as one of the members of a seven person Council.

That said, I can see a couple of potential issues that may prevent this from happening on the existing timeline. If you look at the poster boards from the Public Consultation, you will note that the map has red lines on it. Those are property lines, and a large part of the project is within rail property. I understand that we have agreements for these properties, but as we are learning with whistle cessation measures elsewhere in the City, the way rules and agreements work on rail lines is not always straight-forward, and it is best not to be too hasty predicting how those agreements will work out when it comes time to roll out the excavator. The second issue is, of course, the upcoming Brunette Interchange project by the Ministry of Transportation. I can’t tell you too much about it because MoT has not yet released their project drawings, but if there are changes in how Braid Street works through this area, we may need to go back to the drawing board. I don’t know the answers to the questions, nor are they completely in Council’s control.

I have every reason to expect this project will proceed in 2017 as planned, but all plans are subject to change, based on the rule of best laid plans. This doesn’t mean we won’t build a safe cycling and pedestrian route between Braid and the Bailey Bridge, it just means that the connection may not arrive exactly as we envision it today, or on that timeline. We’ll stick to the goals, we may need to change the plan. Stay tuned.

As for “promises”, I remember promising to support the Master Transportation Plan, to support and work towards implementation of the transit, pedestrian, and bike infrastructure improvements in that plan, I promised that stakeholders like HUB and the members of ACTBiPed would be involved more in planning these types of projects. I also promised I would do everything I can to be the most open Councillor about talking about how decisions around the Council table are made – mostly through this blog and other Social Media, hoping that openness would build more trust in the work City Hall is doing. If we make a decision you don’t agree with, I hope you will at least understand my motivation for making that decision, and hopefully you will be angry at me for the right reasons.

Which brings us to this week’s editorial in the Record, where they are critical of Council’s approach to the Q2Q bridge. They are right that the current situation is a let-down, and that, ultimately, Council has to own that disappointment. I may (cheekily) offer surprise that they claim to have known all along it was impossible to build the bridge, and didn’t bother to point that out to anyone, even when previous engineering reports suggested it was well within scale of our budget, but that is not the part of the editorial that made me retort. Instead, I was pretty much with their argument until this:

It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that Queensborough’s project would be low on the priority list. In fact, you just have to drive down Ewen Avenue to know that Queensborough often gets the short end of the stick.

I have to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that this Council ignores Queensborough as some sort of political calculation. That the Editor used Ewen Avenue as an example suggests to me they have not been to Queensborough in some time. Ewen Avenue is undergoing the single largest road improvement project in New Westminster in the last decade. Two years into a three-year $29 Million upgrade, the entire length of Ewen Avenue is going to be a brand new transportation spine for all modes. It has been a big, disruptive construction project, but the end result is becoming visible now, and will change how Ewen Avenue connects the community in a pretty great way.

If the issue is priorities, the Editor may be reminded that the Q2Q plan was part of a series of DAC-funded projects that started with $6.2 Million towards the $7.7 Million renovation of the Queensborough Community Centre, including the opening of the City’s first remote library. It included another $5 Million in Park and greenway improvements for Queensborough (including the South Dyke Road Walkway, Boundary Road Greenway, Sukh Sagar and Queensborough Neighbourhood Parks, and a pretty kick-ass all-wheel park). These were the first thing done with DAC funds, not a low priority.

Just two weeks ago at Council, we turned down capital funding support for a Child Care facility in Uptown because we placed the need in Queensborough as higher priority, and dedicated our limited child care funds toward filling that need. That isn’t “the short end of the stick”, that is including Queensborough’s needs along with the other neighbourhoods of the City when directing limited resources towards where the need is greatest. This council has a record of fighting (and winning!) to keep Queensborough in the same federal riding as the mainland, and a record of fighting (and losing) to keep it in the same provincial riding. Queensborough has never been an afterthought at the Council table during my time there, but a neighbourhood we continue to invest in and be proud of.

The situation for Q2Q sucks, there is no way to dress that up or say it more elegantly. A set of projects was conceived a decade ago, and of them, this project does not appear workable in the current form. The work is ongoing right now to determine how the remaining DAC funds can best be used connecting Queensborough to the mainland, and I am hoping a new and viable plan will come along soon. Call the current set-back a broken promise if you must, but the decision to not move ahead with a $40 Million option right now is not proof of a City disregarding one neighbourhood, it is a matter of understanding our fiscal limits as a City of 70,000 people with dreams perhaps bigger than our reality.

The Q2Q quandary

No doubt the biggest let-down last Council meeting, indeed the biggest disappointment of my time on Council, was the releasing of the updated projected cost numbers for the Q2Q bridge preferred concept.

A short version of this project is that the City will receive “DAC” funding from casino revenues to spend on a fixed pedestrian link between the Quayside and Queensborough, based on a 2007 agreement between the City and the Province. Based on some very preliminary cost estimating, the project was put in the $10 Million range, so Council placed that amount in the budget to support the project. The idea has seen several rounds of public consultation, with several design concepts sketched out and debated. Ultimately, a design that would be acceptable to the regulatory authority that controls river crossings (i.e. a design that allows safe and unfettered barge traffic) and still allows reliable pedestrian use was developed to the point of doing detailed cost estimating. That cost came back at a little over $39 Million. The City doesn’t have $39 Million, and it is hard, with so many competing capital priorities, to see how we can get $39 Million to make this project work. I’m frustrated and disappointed.

However, regular readers (Hi Mom!) know I rarely stick with the short version, so I thought I would go into a bit more detail about how we got here, and where we may go from here, because I want to slay some of the social-media-derived myths about the project.

This project was not killed by NIMBYs. Over the last 10 years or so, the Q2Q project has gone through several iterations. The DAC agreement was in 2007, but it was always anticipated that the Queensborough Community Centre update, other park improvements in Q’Boro, and the MUCF (now called Anvil Centre) would be the completed before the Q2Q project began. The DAC funding did not arrive as one big cheque in 2007, but is allocated as projects come along, and as casino revenues come in. Q2Q was a little further down the timeline.

During those 10 years, preliminary planning work was done on a few concepts for a “fixed link”. At several times, early concepts with very preliminary sketches were bounced off of Quayside and Queensborough residents. For lack of a better term, these concepts were “focus grouped” to test public reaction and determine what potential concerns residents on either side and other important stakeholders may have. They were also run past pedestrians and cycling advocates (like me) to see if their needs were being met.

Three different “high level” crossings were evaluated about 8 years ago. These would completely span the navigable channel at a height that met regulatory requirements (and therefore be about the same height as the Queensborough Bridge). There were some concerned neighbours about the mass of the structure, and some were concerned about the fate of the “Submarine Park”, but there were also some functional and cost concerns with this early concept.

Cable stayed bridge Option 1, estimated cost $19 million.

At the advice of the Council of the time, staff stepped back a bit to take a look at options that didn’t go so high as to span the navigation channel, and would require a lift, swing, or bascule section to open and allow boat passage. This opened up a large number of potential options, including new alignments. For a variety of technical reasons, a bascule was determined to be the best option for a lightweight span with a limited footprint. This evolved, through a type of value engineering, into a couple of models of twin bascules – one at a moderate height (but requiring elevators to be accessible) and one at a low enough height that grades were accessible (but requiring more opening/closing cycles, due to reduced boat clearance).

These also saw some limited public consultation, and some neighbours expressed some concerns about the location of one of the “elevator” options. However, Council felt we had enough information to do a more detailed cost analysis of the most practical alternative. That alternative is the one that came back to Council with the $39 Million price tag. The concerns of neighbours were part of the considerations, but the $39 Million was the deciding factor.

Cost estimates are necessarily iterative.
Someone asked me how this project ballooned from $6 million to $39 Million? The simple answer is it didn’t.

The original DAC funding formula envisioned a ~$10.5 Million crossing. I can’t speak to how that number was arrived at (I wasn’t even a local blogger in 2007!) but I can guess it was a simple bit of math: pedestrian bridge, 200m span, look at a couple of recent examples around the country, don’t worry too much about details (the City can always make up a shortfall if needed from their capital budget), and since we aren’t building it for another decade, any estimate we make now is likely to be off anyway. The point wasn’t to plan a bridge at that time, but to earmark parts of this one-time funding source towards worthy projects.

The City then went to work on some of the other DAC projects: the Anvil Centre, the Queensborough Community Centre, and other waterfront improvements in Queensborough. To better make the financing work without having to enter too much long-term debt, they re-allocated some funding between DAC project areas. Consequently, the DAC funds for the Q2Q are now only a little over $6 Million, but another $5 Million in capital reserve funds was earmarked to cover the difference, meaning we still have the ~$11 Million originally earmarked.

As far back as 2009, order-of-magnitude cost estimates for the high-level crossing were in the $15 – $22 Million range. This is when the City went back to the drawing board to see if there were more affordable options, and also started to look around for sponsorship and senior government grant opportunities to see how much of a funding gap could be filled. By 2013, preliminary estimates for the first bascule concept were given as cost of $10.4 Million.

Fast forward to 2016, after Council asked staff to spend a little money on getting some detailed cost estimates on the more refined design, where $11 to $15 Million was still the general thinking, as we became aware of some of the significant engineering challenges. These included the need to install pillars in the river (not just on shore), the barge collision at Queensborough back in 2011 which definitely triggered a closer look at the safety factor for large vessels through the north arm, and the mechanical and operator costs for a bascule bridge. It seemed likely these would offset cost savings that might be realized by not going 22m high and building 1km of ramps. Add a few shifting project priorities as the public consultation and interest in the project increase (Strong enough to carry an ambulance? Wider than 2m for greater pedestrian comfort? Offset to reduce impact on vulnerable riparian habitat on the Q’Boro side?) and things start to add up.

That said, cost estimating for engineering projects is a complicated business, and like most engineering, you get what you pay for. Early estimates were preliminary, in that a lot of the project definition we not yet completed. After working to refine a project enough that we could confidently define important parts of it, Council recently directed staff to get a Class ‘C’ cost estimate, which is considered to be accurate to about 30% variance (i.e., costs are unlikely to be 30% higher or lower than the estimate). We could spend a lot more money to get that estimate down to Class A level, but when the estimate we have is well outside of our affordability range, we need to decide whether the extra design work required would represent money well spent.

I can’t speak too much about the decisions and work done before I was elected, but this webpage has links  to the reports that have come to Council since 2013, where you can (if you care) walk through the public process planning for the Q2Q has been.

q2q5

This project only appears simple
I wrote a blog post a little while ago that talked about some of the complications and compromises required to make this project work, then followed up to answer a few questions, so I don’t want to go through all of that again. This is not a simple project to build, for a variety of reasons, and it is very different than a simple pedestrian overpass. Strapping a sidewalk onto the side of the existing train bridge raised other issues that seemed insurmountable. Many other proposals I have heard (a bridge to Poplar Island then a second to Queensborough, for example – why build one expensive bridge when you can build two at twice the cost?) have also been similarly evaluated, and either didn’t make sense at the time, or had significant issues that seemed to prevent it happening. If it was easy, we would have done it already.

Q2Q is still a good idea!
This is a serious setback, but I want to make it clear that I am still a big supporter of this project concept. A fixed pedestrian link between Quayside and Queensborough makes so much sense at so many levels. It has a certain tourist appeal (especially if you can build something aesthetically pleasing), but it isn’t for tourists. It is to connect people and businesses on both sides of the North Arm better, it is to connect the great pedestrian and bike routes on both sides of the North Arm, it is a vital piece of transportation infrastructure for the people of New Westminster, and for the region.

Is a passenger ferry a good substitute?
No. I do not think a passenger ferry service is a substitute for a fixed link. As a vital piece of transportation infrastructure, a fixed link provides certainty and reliability that a ferry service can’t. I think of it like a bus route (which can always be cut at the whim of a government) compared to a light rail line (which is a fixed asset difficult to remove). There is reason the bus lines running down Hastings have not resulted in the kind of development that the Skytrain running down Lougheed has – the latter is something people can count on still being there and reliable 20 or 30 years down the road – certainty is an incentive to investment. There is also the strange psychology of having to schedule/wait for a ride, vs. just being able to hop on a bike and spin across at the drop of a hat. The former “feels” like a tourist attraction, the latter more like a transportation link.

However, in the meantime, I think it is worth trialing a ferry service to determine the interest, and perhaps to argue the need for a more permanent link. Or maybe (I sincerely hope) the trial will prove my skepticism wrong. These cannot be the little aquabuses that run to Granville Island – currents and logs and heavy industrial traffic mean the Fraser needs a somewhat more robust design. We will need to invest in some dock upgrades and look for a partner to run the show. It is highly unlikely that a ferry can be made accessible for people with mobility issues. However, with luck we can have something running in the late spring.

What now?
To me, the fixed link dream is not dead, but it is definitely suffering a bit. I am hoping for a miracle some really creative thinking to come along that makes the transportation link more accessible and permanent. I am interested in looking at a more stable and reliable ferry option (like a fixed cable ferry), and wouldn’t turn my nose up at urban tramway ideas (could we connect to New West station?), or a pedestrian tunnel as is common in England, and would get us out of our 22m clearance issue. There may even be more efficient and elegant bridge designs that haven’t seen complete costing analysis but may thread the needle between what is acceptable to the river users and what works as urban transportation infrastructure.

It breaks my heart that we don’t have an immediate path forward on a bridge. I think it is a really important idea for the City, I just wish I could responsibly say the cost as presented made sense for the City.

ASK PAT: Q’Boro watercourses.

Someone asked—

Hi Pat,
My partner and I live in Queensborough. We are both plant lovers and native plant specialists, and have come to love our little place by the river – such a magical mix of water, plants, and living things… We often take walks along the waterfront and up and down the tattered side roads with their open ditches filled with teeming plant and animal life. We are constantly enjoying the native plant life that has been cultivated and also occurs natively in the area, but have a number of concerns.

First and foremost, we recently noticed that in the last month or so, a large number of big trees and shrubs were removed from the riverfront with no notice. This is the side that faces Annicis Island, and I believe a lot of the trees were deciduous. Willows, Mountain Ash, and other trees were chopped down as well as the other herbaceous and woody plants. This is something we notice happening on a small scale along the ditches as well. Most importantly, we’d love to know why these large trees were cut down, most likely because of disease or pests, but absolutely no signage was placed on the path in the Aragon where all the cutting happened, and we are very curious about the city’s policy on controlling these wild areas, if any. Could you send some information our way please in terms of this? We’d also love to know what the plan is for the large biodiversity of plant and animal species that are consistently being eaten up by the growing development and if these open ditches and waterways will somehow remain untouched. We are looking forward to new development, the Q2Q bridge more than anything and additional retail, but it worries us to see so much changing too. We would also like to know what to do when we see ditches and waterways which are being clearly polluted by the nearby industrial?

Thanks so much for fighting for a better city for us all. We look forward to your responses, and finding a way to make Queensborough more of an example of environmental stewardship. There are few places like this left – water, plants, and living things together – that have the potential for so much life and health, and unfortunately there is much work to do still, and remediation to be completed on what was done long ago.

This is going to be one of those good-news bad-news answers, depending on how you feel about ditches/watercourses. I’m likely to go on at length here, as there are actually several questions here, and I’m going to try to hit them all systematically.

I also love the Queensborough waterfront, especially the south and east sides where the City and developers have invested in the restoration of the waterfront, and have effectively made it a comfortable human space and an ecologically productive space. We just had the 4th (5th?) annual shoreline cleanup along South Dike Road, and the impressive recovery of native species and ecology along the river is always inspiring.

qb4

The fate of inland ditches in Q’Boro is, however, one of those political hot-button issues, where someone is going to be unsatisfied whatever the City does. For all the people in Q’Boro who love the frogs, the dragonflies, the ducks and even the occasional stickleback, there is at least another who hates the murky water, garbage accumulation, loss of parking, and general untidiness of having an open ditch in their front yard. I’m not going to opine whether you are outnumbered or not, but you are definitely outvolumed by people demanding that the City get rid of the ditches and install “proper” sewers as soon as possible.

From an ecology point of view, some of the watercourses in Q’Boro are protected by the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR), a provincial regulation that is, quixotically, managed completely by local governments. Not all “constructed watercourses” are protected, however, as ephemeral and isolated watercourses and those already severely impacted are not determined to have high enough ecological value to receive full protection of their riparian areas. Further, the riparian protection need on some of the larger ones plays second fiddle to the need for maintenance to keep the water flowing and houses from flooding.

The City performed an ecological mapping exercise back in 2010 that, amongst other things, showed the classifications of the watercourses in Q’Boro. Several of the larger ones (Class A and Class B) are protected, and are not likely to be filled in the long-term. There are provisions on in the RAR for preserving and improving the quality of the habitat around them, including trees and shrubs, which can curtail development and prevent them from being filled. When you balance the need to maintain these watercourses as conveyances with the need to protect the ecology, I wouldn’t say they will remain “untouched”, but more that our engineering folks will try to protect the native species and habitats as best they can while keeping people’s houses dry.

Filling in even the smaller, unprotected ditches creates yet another problem, this one purely engineering. An open watercourse can store and transport a lot more water than if a pipe was dropped into that watercourse and it was covered up. To replace the storm water management and flood protection capacity of all of the open watercourses in Q’Boro would require huge pipe infrastructure, and all of the associated catch basins, inspection chambers, and pump infrastructure. To make matters worse, the soils in Q’boro need just as much engineering and densification to hold up a sewer pipe as they do to hold up a housing complex, which significantly increases the cost. Don’t get me started on the shallow water table and the construction/maintenance problems it causes.

Therefore the City has developed a longer-term strategy to plan for, and pay for, drainage infrastructure improvements whee they are appropriate, and addressing the eventual filling of the smaller, disconnected ditches that are not protected by the RAR. New developments in Q’Boro pay into a special DCC earmarked for drainage improvements, separate from the mainland and dedicated to works in Q’Boro. When a developer builds in Q’Boro, we take advantage of the soil densification and drainage planning they are doing to make it more affordable to install new infrastructure.

Residents in the Single Family House neighbourhoods who wish to have the drainage closed on their block can do it through a “Local Area Service Plan”, where they get the work done in a cost-sharing with the City (and pay for it over time through their taxes), as long as it isn’t a watercourse protected by the Riparian Areas Regulation (i.e. Class C or worse). We received a report to council in September 2014 (see page 88 of this lengthy Council agenda if you are curious).

Now onto the trees. We do have a recently-adopted Tree Protection Bylaw that applies to new development, City lands and private lands. I don’t know the details of the tree removal you are talking about, but if it happened after the Tree Bylaw was adopted (January 13, 2016) and didn’t occur on Port-owned land, then there should have been a posted permit. If the trees were hazardous or dangerous (as determined by a professional Arborist) then they will be replaced on a one-for-one basis. If they were simply removed to facilitate development, they will be replaced on a two-for-one basis. It isn’t perfect (two young trees don’t necessarily provide the ecological benefit of one mature tree), but it balances the limits of power a local government can do when approving development on treed lots with our desire to have more trees in our community. When planning for trees, one must have a 20+ year vision.

What to do when you see industrial pollution in ditches? First off, you need to know if it is really “pollution”. The groundwater in Q’Boro is similar to adjacent Richmond, in that it is a product of being a former peat bog. The lack of gradient and boggy soils result in stagnant groundwater that, for a bunch of biochemistry and geochemistry reasons I won’t get into here (did I mention I’m an Environmental Geoscientist working in soil and groundwater protection?) has very low dissolved oxygen, low pH and lots of dissolved metals like iron and manganese. When that groundwater hits our ditches, it is exposed to atmospheric oxygen, causing those metals to precipitate out in to metal oxides (making it murky and rust-coloured), and in the presence of biology, more complex metalliferous organic compounds. What sometimes looks like and oil slick in the water may actually be a natural “metalliferous sheen

That said, all the ditches in Q’Boro connect directly to the Fraser River without any kind of water treatment, so real polluting substances going into the ditches will more than likely find their way into the river. Section 36 of the federal Fisheries Act says you can’t do that, and enforcement of that law falls on Environment Canada. However, response to smaller spills in to fish habitat is a multi-level cooperative effort between EC, the provincial Ministry of Environment, the Coast Guard (if it hits the river) and local governments. In that sense, who you should call first probably depends on the situation.

If you see something curious, but you are not too sure, either use SeeClickFix or contact the City’s Engineering folks, and they will check it out.

If you see what is clearly a spill, and are worried about fish or see potential impacts to ducks or any such concern for wildlife, you should contact the provincial spill reporting phone / app, and they will triage and determine the proper level of response and response agencies.

If you see a dangerous spill, such as an overturned gasoline truck or a dump of dangerous substances where there may be human health or property damage implications, you should call 911 and ask for the fire department. They will be able to determine a safe response strategy, can arrange for evacuations or road closures, and can coordinate with the City’s engineering folks and senior governments whose job it is to stop the spread and coordinate the clean-up in a way that keeps people from getting hurt.

Finally, what can you do to see more ecological protection of Queensborough, and New Westminster in general? You might want to make contact with the New Westminster Environmental Partners. They organize the Q’Boro Shoreline Cleanup every year, and are always looking for interested and knowledgeable people to help with environmental protection advocacy and works. You can also consider joining the City’s Environment Advisory Committee, which advises Council on topics environmental. The application period for 2017 is open right now, and we don’t generally get a lot of applications from Q’Boro for City Committees. Bringing your voice to the table may help the City make better decisions regarding ecological protection of your neighbourhood.

Whoo Hoo! Two ASK PATs in a row that end with plugs for joining City Advisory Committees! People should really apply!