(Jack Emberly photo) Locals reported sediment from 232nd Street roadwork threatened spawning salmon.

Along the Fraser: The lines of communication

Steamkeepers want to be consulted.

If you and I called the hotline to report pollution on the Alouette River, nobody would show up – streamkeeper Nat Cicuto.

Nat Cicuto is the watchdog of salmon-bearing Yorkson Creek in Langley Township. He’s consulted with Langley to mitigate the effect of urbanization on fish habitat.

Recently, when the Alouette Valley Association told me of sediment from 232nd Street road work entering the river, I called Cicuto. He suggested pumping water from filtration ponds along 232nd continually rather than waiting for heavy rains to fill them.

Maple Ridge biologist Mike Pym replied that pumps were ready.

Timely communication between city staff and streamkeepers builds public trust.

The city responded, says Terri Dumas, of the Alouette association.

“Turbidity is now within acceptable (or lower) limits, even during heavy rainfall.”

Feedback was less effective in 2017, when the city approved a landowner’s application to drop five cottonwoods over Coho Creek, where Doug Stanger and Joe Jurcich of ARMS count spawning salmon. The wildlife trail they used was impassable.

“I was shocked,” says Stanger, who emailed the city environmental department.

“Do you fall trees across a salmon creek?” he asked planner Rod Stott on Sept. 14.

Stott forwarded his concerns to a city staffer to see “what was and wasn’t permitted.” Stanger says he didn’t hear back that year.

“Speaking for myself – not ARMS,” he says, “I can’t understand how someone can cut trees across a salmon stream. It bothers me.”

Jurcich took questions to city hall: was the permit application posted? He didn’t see one. Were conditions named met; why wasn’t the trail reopened; ARMS not consulted?

He did not get answers.

In September, Jurcich and Stanger returned to Coho Creek to count spawners.

“We assumed the debris would be cleaned up,” Stanger says, “but it wasn’t.”

On Sept. 14, they asked the city for help with access “where ARMS compiles spawning data for DFO, and Pacific Stream Keepers train.”

Oct. 31, the city relayed some details to ARMS manager Greta Borick Cunningham.

There was no formal tree risk assessment performed on the trees, just a visual assessment based on proximity to buildings, likelihood of risk to the structures. It was a risk the city was willing to take.

Is a visual assessment the norm for the city?

Arborists are pressed for time by development. On Nov. 7, the city tells me two staff have to process “400 to 500” permit applications a year.

But crushed greenery at Coho was shade and insect feed for fry.

The point is – all streams matter.

“There’s been a communication problem, but it’s not for lack of trying by the city,” says ARMS president Cheryl Ashlie. “They’re trying to do all this work DFO has downloaded to municipalities.”

Going forward?

“If we can’t get DFO boots on the ground, we need a new model,” says Ashlie.

She hopes to meet the city to find one that improves the line of communication.

“What’s that process, what tools do we need? During this age of computers, we should be able to tap a city link online and see if there’s a permit. Anyone with concerns could contact the city.”

Hopefully, they’ll pick up. No one did for Cicuto, recently.

Sept. 10-14, firefighters attended a fire at a wood storage facility near Yorkson Creek in Langley.

“It could impact the creek,” Cicuto told me.

“I found an oil slick, soot, ash, burnt chunks of wood washing away from the site. I phoned the provincial pollution hotline.

“Send somebody down,” I said. “The operator said they didn’t have an available officer, but he’d contact the appropriate authorities.

“No one called back,” Cicuto says. “Three days later, I got a call from Environment Canada asking for details. Then nothing.”

Cicuto has questions for Langley Township.

“Why weren’t the stewards of Yorkson Creek notified of the fire?”

There are more.

Like Ashlie, Cicuto wants a new model.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local

author and environmentalist.

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