A mistake by construction crews last week sent the latest sediment runoff from the $85 million McKenzie interchange project into the Colquitz River.
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said on Feb. 13 about 80 gallons of sediment-contaminated water was pumped into a ditch along Portage Road, a common construction practice to allow small amounts of silty water to drain through the ground. However, it did not seep through the ground as anticipated and found its way to a catch basin, overwhelming the sediment protection that was in place at that location. The water then flowed down into the Colquitz River.
What irks local steward Dorothy Chambers, a longstanding environmental steward and outspoken advocate for the river, is that spills such as this have now happened multiple times. Crews broke a storm drain, then there was an illegal use of the sewer to drain excess water that ended up with raw sewage overflowing into the street.
Sediment turbidity in a river is a serious threat to the aquatic life, especially the spawning salmon and other fish currently in the Colquitz. The runoff could be setting back decades of protection and restoration work to the Gorge and the sensitive Colquitz ecosystem (which is also a federally protected bird sanctuary), if not completely undoing it, worries Chambers, pointing to the murky and yellow waters at the edge of the Colquitz.
On top of that, it wasn’t until the contractor was contacted by Saanich staff that construction crew blocked water from entering the catch basin (MOTI confirmed the water contained sediment only, and was without oil, sewage or other contaminants).
“Where the hell are the environmental monitors,” said Chambers, who has said she lost trust in the project long ago. “Look at the Colquitz salmon run, we had 1,100 last year and this year it had 315.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said that environmental monitors frequently visit the McKenzie project site. MOTI also said the contractor is taking full responsibility for the Feb. 13 incident and ministry staff are discussing further environmental protection plans with them for similar work in the future. However, they added, the type of work being carried out with CRD waterline installation and weather conditions on Feb. 13 did not warrant an environmental monitor to oversee the work, and therefore, there was no monitor on site that day.
Chambers isn’t the only voice protesting this.
Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming visited the site in 2016, local MP Randall Garrison has published an op-ed about it, while members of the Gorge Tillicum Residents Association have expressed outright fury.