Pitt park project comes to a halt

Council decides to scrap water features after protest organized by supporters of the Katzie Slough Restoration Project

A weekend protest by 30 people to stop the creation of a large park in Pitt Meadows achieved its goal Tuesday, when the city agreed to halt its construction.

Coun. Gwen O’Connell introduced a motion at a committee meeting to eliminate all aspects of the park from the project at Airport Way and Bonson Road, except expansion of the community garden.

She hoped the city could use its centennial grant towards the gardens, as another 100th anniversary “memorial” park project has been equally controversial and time to spend federal money is running out.

“Let’s come together as community and make this work,” O’Connell said.

The proposed 35-hectare park encountered stiff opposition from nearby residents soon after it was proposed last summer.

The city’s plans entail extending an existing community garden, as well as enhancing wetland and wildlife habitat with a low-flow drainage channel, which will connect to already drying Katzie Slough.

The park’s opponents have no issues with extending the community garden or adding a few trails to an area that’s already lush with trees and full of wildlife.

It’s the “low flow channel” and water features that confuse them.

The channel proposed by the city would mimic and link to a 260-metre-long (853 feet) “blind” channel and pond created by the Ministry of Transportation in 2011.

Initially touted as a way to enhance habitat for fish, studies show the blind channel – a half-million-dollar, taxpayer-funded provincial project – is a failure.

So far, 57 per cent of the riparian plantings have died, likely due to combination of heavy clay soils, drought conditions and competition with grasses.

The only fish in the channel are non-native species, not coho salmon or trout.

The proposed 35-hectare project has a budget of $375,000 – a sum that includes $150,000 from TransLink to construct the contentious drainage channel.

Canadian Lawn Care Ltd. got the tender for the project at $328,251.42.

The city will now face a 12 per cent penalty for backing out of the contract, a sum that could range between $36,000 to $40,000.

Couns. Janis Elkerton, Dave Murray and Bruce Bell stressed Tuesday that support for the park on council, especially its water features was far from unanimous.

They contend the project was pushed through in January, just before Doug Bing resigned from council to focus on his new job as Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

“It was a very narrow vote,” said Murray. “My big concern is there are a lot of residents out there who don’t want this.

“When we have so many voices, we have to start listening and I’m hoping tonight we can fix what we did back in January. I don’t think this going forward would be in the best interests of the community.”

Mayor Deb Walters clarified that the contentious “water feature” was proposed as a way to address drainage issues that have been plaguing homeowners in Wildwood Crescent since the construction of the Golden Ears Bridge.

However, many of those affected homeowners were vocal opponents of the park.

“It was to try to look at those problems and make that whole area accessible to all our taxpayers,” said Walters, who would like the trail components of the project to remain intact.

Council will formally vote on altering the project at a regular meeting next week after staff present how much the changes will cost.

• To learn more about the Katzie Slough Restoration Project, visit ksrp.ca.