Erosion that threatens Matsqui dike has council calling on senior government for aid

Local taxpayers could be carrying costs of erosion repairs to protect dike

A erosion arc has the potential to threaten the Mastqui dike in Abbotsford.

A erosion arc has the potential to threaten the Mastqui dike in Abbotsford.

Erosion on the banks of the Fraser River could threaten the Matsqui dike, and Abbotsford taxpayers are on the hook to pay for repairs unless senior government steps up quickly with $1.5 million, say city politicians.

A new erosion arc discovered over the summer has come within 30 metres of the dike near Beharrell Road, and city staff say repairs are only a short-term solution to bigger ongoing problems along the river.

Since the land belongs to Metro Vancouver’s park system, and the Fraser River is under provincial jurisdiction, the city is looking to higher levels of government for assistance, which some councillors are not convinced will arrive in time. They raised concerns Monday that breaching of the dike could compromise large areas of farmland and potentially the city, as well as impacting the railway and the Abbotsford-Mission highway.

As the coming spring’s freshet could compromise the dike, the city is seeking to complete the repairs by February.

The city was previously awarded a $1.1-million grant to fix a different erosion arc, and is now asking the province to use that funding on the new, higher priority arc, as well as provide an additional $1.5 million to fund the work.

The funding must be secured by Jan. 27 to ensure the repairs proceed in February, as necessitated by Fisheries and Oceans regulations.

Coun. John Smith said the city has no choice but to fix the eroding area, and without provincial funding, Abbotsford taxpayers will be stuck with the costs.

Coun. Henry Braun said that despite the issue falling under the jurisdiction of senior government, they “do not appear to be treating erosion arcs as seriously as they ought to.”

Braun said he is concerned that if water levels rise too high in the spring, the Matsqui dike has a high likelihood of failing.

“It would be far less expensive for the provincial and federal governments to fix these erosion arcs, compared to what it would cost if the dike was breached.”

Rob Isaacs, the city’s director of wastewater and drainage, added that repairing erosions arcs is a “band-aid solution,” as more will form unless something is done to address the causes. He said the issue is caused by the changing course of the river and its deepening on the Abbotsford side, which could be the result of sand bar formation. Isaacs said work must be done to alter the river course and save more in the long run.

“Where we need [senior governments] to take the lead on this, or we’ll be spending millions of dollars every year just reinforcing what we have right now.”

Mayor Bruce Banman said that the situation is now an emergency and the public needs to write to their MLAs and MP for assistance – or else the city will be on the hook for the costs.

“We’re going to do what we have to do to protect this in the short-term – we have to.”

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