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Damaged Vancouver seawalls will be a massive repair job, prompt re-think of how to deal with shores as tides and sea levels rise

January 11th, 2022 · No Comments

My first story of the new year. I hope it’s not going to be a year of just one disaster after another.

After a severe winter storm that crumbled portions of Stanley Park’s seawall and hurled logs and other debris across area beaches last week, the Vancouver Park Board says it has no idea how much time or money it will take to undertake repairs of long stretches of waterfront.

The damage from the king-tide surge that coincided with high winds last Friday is prompting the city’s park commissioners to consider what to prioritize as they expect a multimillion-dollar repair bill. Those choices include delaying or abandoning a planned restoration of the Jericho Pier on the Kitsilano shore, which had been closed already because of previous storm damage.

It will likely also lead to a longer conversation about how the park board should plan for all of its shoreline, given the likelihood of even bigger king tides and damage as climate change accelerates and sea levels rise.

“People are going to have to have patience. It’s going to take some time to get the seawall open again and think what we can do to mitigate climate change,” said Stuart Mackinnon, the Green Party commissioner who is the park board chair. “And we’re going to have to take a good look and consult with the public about what amenities are important.”

“We’re in for some tough years,” added Green Party commissioner Dave Demers.

John Coupar, a commissioner with the minority Non-Partisan Association, said he thinks the repair period could be a good time to spend the money on upgrading the Jericho Pier, as has been planned for years.

But Mr. Mackinnon said there will be questions about that. “Do we want to reinvest in the pier?”

The shore and infrastructure have been damaged at a time when there is acknowledgment from all levels of government that cities will need to come up with a plan to accommodate rising sea levels. But there is a debate about how to do that.

Federal and provincial strategy plans in the past have suggested raising seawalls and dikes as one option.

However, others say that hard walls are an ineffective solution and also damage the ecology of both the ocean and the shore. Instead, they argue for a “build back softer” approach by creating shoreline pathways that are adapted to being underwater sometimes, as well as working on other ways to mitigate storm and king-tide damage.


Those are the kind of measures that B.C. towns such Gibsons and Campbell River are doing, says Alison Shaw, the executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Action on Climate Team.

People have said, through surveys, that they’d rather have a more natural-feeling shoreline than a big, moat-worthy seawall that would be an obstruction, she said.

Those lower-impact walkways could be somewhat protected through engineering strategies, like having large boulders, other artificial breaks, or netting placed close to the shore, along with efforts to enhance shorelines by encouraging natural vegetation.

The problem with hard seawalls and dikes is that they create surging and violent water sloshing that erodes the beach in front of them, eradicating the possibility of regular sea life that might exist in a calmer environment. “It’s destroyed intertidal marine systems in the Lower Mainland,” Prof. Shaw said.

In the meantime, engineers and consultants are out looking at the Vancouver and West Vancouver damage figuring out what to do.

“I’m going to stay away from an estimate,” said Ian Stewart, the board’s manager of park development.

He also wouldn’t give a projected time for reopening. “The engineers are out right now and were working over the weekend.”

Mr. Stewart said there was very heavy damage around Third Beach, in the middle of the closed stretch that goes from Sunset Beach near the Aquatic Centre to where the seawall passes under the Lions Gate Bridge.

The seawall in front of Kitsilano Pool was damaged but fortunately, Mr. Stewart said, water didn’t get into the pool’s mechanical room, even though the tide flooded into the pool itself.

He also expressed concerns about the cost of repairing the Jericho Pier, which had already suffered damage after two storms in 2021 in January and November.

The last storm took out railings and substructure and more. “This caused heavy, heavy damage.”

In West Vancouver, a spokesperson said crews are also out trying to figure out the scope of the damage and cost of repairs.

“As the cleanup moved along, more damage was found than had been originally suspected, so we know we need to wait until cleanup is complete before we can accurately estimate damage,” Donna Powers said an e-mailed statement.

The seawall is closed from 19th to 25th avenues. Workers are removing logs and garbage, moving granite blocks back into position and repairing and rewiring lights. The district’s two piers are closed. Two facilities on the waterfront were spared significant damage because the district puts Tiger dams (inflatable bolsters filled with water) around them.

Like Vancouver, West Vancouver is also looking at long-term planning for climate change.

Richmond, which is a set of islands in the Fraser River, did not report any damage to its dikes and Metro Vancouver said the main shoreline damage it saw was on Sea Island.

“The entrance road into Iona Beach Regional Park suffered erosion due to storm surges and king tides, causing a road closure on Friday,” said an e-mailed statement from Richard Wallis, supervisor of park operations in Metro’s west. Emergency repairs started Friday and are continuing this week.

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