Tuesday, February 06, 2007

They are Making More Land

I found this article quite interesting.
By Jeff Nagel, Black Press, Feb 03 2007

That old adage about land – they're not making any more of it – may not apply when it comes to the hunt for scarce waterfront property in Greater Vancouver. Port officials are now looking at creating a new island in the middle of the Fraser River by diking a muddy bank that has formed in recent decades and turning it into usable industrial land. The potential site is Sapperton Bar, a 1.8-kilometre swath of sediment that has been deposited in the river off New Westminster, between the Pattullo and Port Mann bridges. "It's an emerging island," says Tom Corsie, the vice-president of real estate development for the Fraser River Port Authority. "We wonder if it could be filled and become an industrial island." The concept is at an exploratory stage, but the port authority has talked to consultants about possible access routes. Unlike natural river islets, the bar has formed from human efforts to manipulate the river by installing a series of in-river structures over the last century. One of them – the Sapperton V-Dike – is a triangular outcrop that juts from the river just below the Port Mann and was built in 1936 to redirect currents and stop erosion of the New Westminster shore. But over the decades it has caused sediment to form downstream in Sapperton Channel, to the extent that some trees now survive atop the bar and log booms anchored around it have been pushed back in a widening perimeter. If Sapperton Bar is diked and turned into Sapperton Island – which Corsie says is geotechnically feasible – it won't be the first time the port has looked to the water for land. Annacis Island used to be three smaller islands in the river before they were filled in and developed. The port authority's automobile import terminal at the north end of Annacis sits on 120 acres of land reclaimed from the river. Various other industrial sites along the river have been reclaimed over the years as well, he says, along with farmland in Delta and even the new Vancouver convention centre that will rise on pilings in Burrard Inlet. The new look at taking land from the river is being driven by ever-escalating real estate prices. The port authority has been on a hunt for suitable sites for short-sea shipping terminals as part of a strategy to use the river as a goods-carrying artery and take trucking pressure off local roads. But the port is being outbid by condo developers and thwarted by city councils, which often favour more attractive and lucrative office or residential towers over heavy industry. Another chance for a major industrial site on the river died last summer when the Agricultural Land Commission rejected a developer's plan to industrialize Barnston Island. With a shortage of industrial land intensifying, the port authority is effectively being pushed off the land and into the river. "Land is becoming unbelievably expensive," Corsie said. He estimates about 300 acres could be reclaimed from Sapperton Channel. Building the new island would take much study and need the blessing of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Fish and wildlife habitat would have to be measured and any losses mitigated. Hydraulic studies would also be needed. Diking off a large new area to keep the water out would push up the high water line on other dikes along the river – potentially increasing the threat of a flood. Another big question is how the island would be accessed. A simple bridge from the New Westminster shore is one option. But Corsie sees a much bigger possibility. He thinks the island could support a new bridge replacing both the 71-year-old Pattullo Bridge and the 103-year-old New Westminster rail bridge, which is a major bottleneck for goods movement. "If this could support a replacement for the Pattullo Bridge, with access this island would be much more valuable to short-sea shipping," he said. The link could also create a needed connection between the planned North and South Fraser Perimeter Roads, he said. "It's an option we would like TransLink to study," Corsie said. The port authority won't likely spend more money on the idea until it gets a clearer sign of interest from TransLink and the province. TransLink, which owns and operates the Pattullo, has formed a steering committee with the port authority and neighbouring municipalities to study options for the bridge's eventual replacement. "We are aware of the concept," TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said of the Sapperton Bar site. "To us it looks interesting."

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