With enthusiasm that’s hard to contain, Scott Magri stands above the Katzie Slough and imagines a young boy fishing in it, like he did almost 40 years ago.
“It would be perfect,” he gushes as a frog leaps into the water, sending bubbles to the surface as it disappears amongst the reeds.
A waterway named for the First Nations people who thrived in Pitt Meadows before European settlement, the Katzie Slough isn’t anything like the one Magri remembers.
As a boy, he fished for cutthroat trout and coho salmon in its cool waters. Now, the 10.16-kilometre slough is little more than an irrigation ditch, split into channels. Some of its tributaries have been filled and few native plants remain on its banks.
The slough traverses the city, cutting through established neighbourhoods in the city’s south and eventually heading north across Lougheed Highway into land owned by mall developers SmartCentres.
In its heyday, it was a natural drainage and irrigation channel that flushed with the tides, was full of fish and big enough to canoe in.
In December, Magri got a cold reception from the city when he pitched his plans to restore the Katzie Slough to its former glory.
Undeterred, Magri has pushed on with his plans with support from the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
Those plans, however, are threatened by a proposed park, with undulating water features, set to be constructed on undeveloped land at the corner of Airport Way and Bonson Road.
“It’s just nuts,” Magri 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, tax-payer-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 site’s value as fish habitat is compromised by the generally poor condition in the Katzie Slough watershed,” wrote Mike Pearson, a biologist contracted by the ministry to conduct the study.
Pearson found alien plant species – such as reed canary grass, Eurasian water milfoil and parrot feather – are thriving, while native plants have failed to take hold.
Even wapato, or Indian potato, are on the decline. Pearson’s report noted 130 wapato were found in 2013, slightly less than the 136 counted in 2012.
The lack of fish and fish species were blamed on high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen concentrations due to algae blooms.
The city created a steering committee for the proposed park after hearing opposition from residents.
But committee members contend they were lied to about the scope and nature of the project.
On Tuesday, they crowded a council meeting to voice their displeasure with the process. The steering committee passed a concept plan and was assured that more details about the project would be given to members after the park design was complete.
The committee never got those details. In January, just before the departure of Coun. Doug Bing, council passed the park plan, along with its water features, despite calls from residents to put the project on hold.
The vote was close, with Couns. Bing, Gwen O’Connell, Tracy Miyashita and Mayor Deb Walters in favour of the project moving ahead, and Bruce Bell, Janis Elkerton and Dave Murray voting against.
Minutes from the January council meeting show parks staff promised to return with an update on the park project every two months, but council never received a single update.
Mike Stark told council he has been requesting detailed drawings about the proposed park and drainage channel for months, but only received them a week ago. He was angry to learn the project had already tendered and work was set to begin in early September.
Stark contends that if the committee had known what the final design was like, the vote would have been different.
“I am very disappointed that parks staff have chosen to look at this site in isolation of the surrounding ecosystem,” Stark added after the meeting.
“By doing so, they are only creating another environment that will extend the breeding ground for the already prolific invasive species resident in the blind channel and Katzie Slough that is American bullfrog, pumpkinseed, and largemouth bass, to name a few. Their money and focus would be better directed toward rehabilitating the Katzie Slough by restoring the fish habitat and eliminating the invasive species. This new park does little to resolve the core problem.”
Keith Nightingale, another committee member, echoed Stark’s comments and called for the whole project to be revisited.
“Two failed ponds don’t make a park,” he told council.
Lina Azeez, with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, which is working to restore the Katzie Slough, is also concerned about the park proposal.
“It ties very closely into the Katzie Slough. We understand that there are some options that are much cheaper that should be looked at,” she said.
Ken Joyner used to farm the land where the park is proposed and would prefer it be left natural.
“Why do you want to bring water into pristine soil – the best in the Fraser Valley,” he asked council.
“It makes no common sense to bring water in there now.”
Joyner asked O’Connell why she wanted the water feature in the park.
“Because I think [the water] will enhance it,” O’Connell replied after chiding Joyner for not addressing her as “Councillor O’Connell.”
She added: “I guess in Pitt Meadows now the rule of thumb is going to be, ‘Don’t do anything because it costs too much. Let’s just leave everything the way it is now because that’s what the neighbours want.’”
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows parks department insists the water features in the park will look nothing like the failing blind channel.
“The integration of the TransLink-funded channel into the park design will create visual interest for visitors through habitat and wildlife viewing opportunities in the park,” said Bruce McLeod, manager of parks.
To prevent algae blooms from spreading, more trees will be planted to shade the channel.
The Watershed Watch Salmon Society is organizing a rally to stop another drainage channel being constructed in the proposed park. The rally will take place at 5p.m. Sept. 6 at corner of Airport Way and Bonson Road. To learn about Scott Magri’s Katzie Slough Restoration Project, visit ksrp.ca.
Park costs questioned
Several members of Pitt Meadows council are questioning how much a proposed park will actually cost taxpayers.
The 35-hectare project has a budget of $375,000 – -a sum that includes a $150,000 from TransLink to construct the contentious drainage channel. Canadian Lawn Care Ltd. got the tender for the project at $328,251.42.
“I think the project is over budget,” Coun. Bruce Bell said Tuesday, as he expressed frustration with city staff who he claims have failed to update council about the project.
Bell was disappointed to learn from residents that the project was moving ahead. Some stumbled upon a pre-construction meeting for the park while on a walk last week.
Not included in the total costs are design and engineering work done by ISL Engineering. A collapsed culvert under Airport Way will also be replaced in conjunction with the park project, but city hall does not know how much the replacement will cost.
Bell says if all the costs were added, the project could total close to $500,000.
Bell, Janis Elkerton and Dave Murray would like the project to be put on hold and intend to propose that at a meeting on Tuesday.
“To extend a waterway that is already failing into the new park would not be prudent,” said Bell.