An accidental diesel fuel spill in Ucluelet’s harbour last month has shone a murky spotlight on a trapped cove.
The spill occurred at a private dock on Jan 30 and an accumulation of oily residue was still visible on the harbour side of the causeway connecting Hyphocus Island to Ucluelet on Feb. 11.
“When there’s an oil spill like this, or just generally, the harbour is dirty because there’s no flushing action through here,” Hyphocus Island resident Roy Wilmin told the Westerly News on the causeway before pointing to the cove on the other side of the de-facto road. “All the silt is building up and there’s trees floating in, there’s garbage floating in, but it’s never pushed out because there’s no flushing action. We need either a bridge or a culvert here to open it up again.”
The causeway was built by a logging company around 1964 to allow trucks to access Hyphocus. That company allegedly promised to remove the causeway when the logging was done, but never did so.
“They logged the whole island and left and now they’ve left a mess with the inlet starting to silt up,” Wilmin said.
He added there is also a sewage treatment facility on Hyphocus and grey water is occasionally released.
“It comes into the inlet and it stays in the inlet. It sinks here. So, at that side of the causeway, there’s a lot of black sludge and that doesn’t get flushed out. Basically, where the road is in the Spring Cove inlet is full of sewage and sludge,” he said. “In 10 years time this won’t be here. This will just be a swamp full of smelly, old sewage…It’s an environmental disaster; it really is.”
Wilmin has lived on Hyphocus for the past three years and has resurrected a decades-long push from residents to remove the causeway and open the cove.
“There used to be a committee called Spring Cove Committee and they’ve been trying for years and years to get this opened up, so I just thought I’d bring a fresh voice to it,” he said.
He said local residents remember the area being rich with fish, including salmon and herring, and a popular swimming spot for youth before the causeway was built and he believes replacing it with a bridge would allow water to flow around Hyphocus once again, restoring the area’s lost vibrance.
“We’ll keep going for grants…It’s a case of just finding the money,” he said. “Council don’t have a lot of money, so we appreciate they can’t help us that much.”
Wilmin has reached out to MLA Scott Fraser and MP Gord Johns about the issue and was part of a delegation to Ucluelet’s municipal council, along with the Central Westcoast Forest Society, in 2018 that led to the district providing a $4,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study on replacing the causeway.
The CWFS is nearing completion of Biophysical Overview Assessment that will be presented to district CAO Mark Boysen next month.
“Obviously, there’s concerns that the causeway has impacted the natural tidal flows and sediment deposition, water quality, and has potentially caused the degradation of fish habitat and this concern has been raised all the way back to the 1980s,” the society’s executive director Jessica Hutchinson told the Westerly News. “We’ve done a very high level air photo analysis looking at imagery dating back to the 1950s and we’ve seen that, yes, it does appear that sediment has deposited in northern Spring Cove near the causeway.”
She added that there is potential benefit to removing the causeway, however the CWFS believes “much more study and monitoring” is needed before the construction of any replacement takes place.
“We’re recommending a lot of assessments to be done prior to its removal, because it could result in all this sediment that’s built up over the years flushing out, so there’s got to be some mitigation measures put in place prior to its removal,” she said. “Although, generally speaking, it does look like it would be a good idea for aquatic habitat.”
She cautioned too that replacing the causeway would be an expensive endeavour, noting that the channel is roughly 50 metres and a culvert would not be effective.
“It would probably clog up and probably not allow for tidal flows or the flushing of sediment. So, you do have to look at a sizable opening to actually, effectively, restore this channel,” she said, adding the CWFS is recommending an opening of around 15-20 metres.
“To put in a free-spanning structure, like a bridge, the structure alone would cost around $200,000 and then you couple that with all the construction costs that go along with it and we are looking at roughly a $1 million project.”
She added that the area has the potential to be a valuable habitat for juvenile salmon swimming from nearby creeks on their migration north.
“But, because the causeway is there and it’s impermeable, it has absolutely no connectivity…they don’t even have the opportunity to go into Spring Cove anymore to utilize that estuary habitat,” she said.
She said the CWFS is also recommending water quality sampling in the area.
READ MORE: Spill contained at Ucluelet fuel dock