McKenzie interchange work raises fears for fish, birds

Residents are concerned construction of the McKenzie interchange is spilling mud and silt into the Colquitz River, threatening a sensitive coho spawning ground and migratory bird sanctuary.

B.C. NDP MLA Rob Fleming went to the construction site Monday after hearing from concerned residents.

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“I saw silt and mud running off through sediment fences that had clearly failed and getting into the Colquitz River, which is only 75 feet away, as the coho are making their way to the spawning grounds,” said Fleming, who represents Victoria-Swan Lake.

Fleming said Transportation Minister Todd Stone and others have provided assurances that they recognize the ecological sensitivity of Cuthbert Holmes Park, Portage Inlet and the Colquitz River.

“And they promised there would be no incidents and that construction would be managed without threatening the wildlife or fish and that the integrity of the park would be protected,” he said. “We’ve had some worrying signs that somebody dropped the ball.”

Janelle Irwine, deputy regional director for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said she was aware of residents’ concerns.

“We’re concerned ourselves that filthy water is entering the Colquitz River,” Irwine said.

“With that said, we’re also working very closely with the contractor trying to make sure there are measures in place so this doesn’t happen. Certainly when we were made aware of it, our contractor responded very quickly.”

Fleming said he was concerned that there didn’t seem to be anyone monitoring the construction site on the weekend.

“I’m concerned that this early into the project, the promises minister Stone made to area residents and park users have not been kept,” he said. “This should not be happening. It’s early days. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be done now.”

Since the complaints, the ministry has asked the contractor to ensure there’s a monitor at the site at all times, Irwine said.

“We’ve been poised to respond quickly as we’ve been made aware of the siltation in the Colquitz River. Now we’ll have someone out there 24/7,” she said.

The company is checking the silt fencing to make sure it is working. It has also put up more silt fences and brought in additional filtration pumps to “make sure we can handle any additional water that needs to be filtered before it leaves our site,” Irwine said.

Dorothy Chambers, an environmental steward for the Colquitz River, said she wants the project shut down while the contractor re-evaluates and improves its sediment control.

“They’ve had high concentrations of particular sediment of unknown concentration of unknown materials running into our salmon stream, and they are only testing for turbidity,” she said.

Chambers, who has been doing the salmon count on the river with Fisheries and Oceans Canada for 11 years, said 1,100 wild coho salmon have just come upstream and there are many more in the affected area.

People with concerns about the construction activities can call the contractor, Jacob Bros., at 250-480-9696 or the McKenzie interchange project phone line at 250-387-8700.

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