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2001 Water — Co-winner 1

City of Abbotsford, British Columbia

Making way for a transit garage while protecting the environment

Population: 125,000

By constructing its new transit garage with minimal disruption to watercourses that cut through the area, the City of Abbotsford was able to develop an otherwise unusable piece of land, avoid the cost of acquiring an alternate site, and protect the environment. To achieve this, the city diverted existing watercourses around the development site and constructed a new stream channel with protected spawning areas. These changes actually improved conditions for fish by providing 6,300 square metres of new habitat. Completed in January 2001, the project was a collaborative effort among municipal government, regulatory agencies and community groups.

Background

British Columbia (B.C.) Transit, a crown corporation, has an operating agreement with Abbotsford and the District of Mission to service the transit needs of the region's urban and suburban areas. For 10 years, B.C. Transit's contractor, Township Transit, leased a private-sector garage to repair and store its buses. By 1999, because of rapid population growth and the resulting bus service expansion, Township Transit realized it needed a larger, updated transit garage.

Abbotsford owned a 3.6-hectare site in the city, 1.2 hectares of which it wanted to use for this new development. The site was bounded on one side by a two-lane rural road and on the other by a hillside, from which groundwater drained into two fish-bearing watercourses. The presence of the habitat was an immediate obstacle for the proposed project; federal regulations require a 30-metre setback for any development near a watercourse. The initial environmental assessment showed that with the setbacks factored in, the site would be too small to use. Abbotsford decided to solve the problem rather than look for a new site.

The city knew it faced a lengthy negotiation process, but was determined from the beginning to show federal and provincial environmental regulatory agencies that it could develop the site in an environmentally responsible way. Not only would Abbotsford's development avoid adversely affecting the watercourses, it would go a step further and actually improve conditions for fish at the site.

Results

  • Abbotsford saved money by developing an otherwise unusable piece of city property. Without the transit site innovations, the city would have been forced to buy property elsewhere.
  • The project provided the Marshall/Lonzo Creek system with new spawning areas, which was a significant environmental gain. It also led to revegetation of the areas adjacent to the watercourse.
  • The collaborative aspect of the transit garage initiative has created a new level of understanding among the project partners. Furthermore, it has strengthened the credibility of elected municipal officials and community leaders with respect to environmental matters.

Lessons Learned

  • The city found it useful to meet with local interest groups such as the Marshall/Lonzo Creek Streamkeepers to share project information and receive public input before construction began.
  • A critical element in the city's success was its decision to hire a field biologist to oversee the construction phase. The biologist helped the contractor to comply with environmental permits and authorizations, and thereby avoid making costly mistakes.
  • Abbotsford did not fully appreciate the time it would take for a new watercourse to become stable. Winter rainstorms caused some slope instabilities next to the new stream, which led to the deposition of fine silts in the spawning gravels. These silts need to be removed and some of the spawning gravels replaced.
  • It was important to maintain communication with public interest groups throughout all phases of the project. The city did this by inviting groups to watch the progress at the site. Said Blaker: "We kept everyone in the loop so that if people thought there was a problem they would come to us instead of making it a political issue."
Page Updated: 21/12/2015