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Protesters worried Malahat upgrades will harm ecosystem

“There are so many people that depend on the Goldstream River for food security through the winter.”
People check out the fall colours and salmon spawning at Goldstream Provincial Park in October. Changes planned for the Malahat Highway at Goldstream Park will damage the park’s ecosystem, protesters say. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Protesters opposed to planned Malahat highway upgrades at Goldstream Park fear the work will damage salmon stocks and harm the local ecosystem.

Organizer Carl Olsen, a ­Tsartlip First Nation member, said he plans to be near the park entrance at mid-morning Tuesday, as he was for the past two Tuesdays. “I think somebody needs to stand up and do something.”

Goldstream River is an important food source for members of W̱SÁNEĆ communities in the winter when salmon is smoked, he said.

“There are so many people that depend on it for food security through the winter.”

Chinook, coho and chum salmon are all found in the river, he said.

He is worried that a planned concrete wall near the park entrance will take up a “large amount of the stream” and remove salmon spawning beds.

As well, 700 to 800 trees including Douglas fir, cedar and maple, are expected to come down, Olsen said.

Birds nest in the trees, which provide shade for young salmon in the river and keep the water temperature cool enough for them to survive, he said.

“I can’t believe that they don’t think of these things.”

The province has explained it is making the changes because the Malahat highway is unsafe, he said, but “it’s not the highway that is unsafe, it is the drivers that are unsafe.”

Olsen said that support is growing for his weekly demonstration and that many supporters are not First Nations people.

Malahat construction has not yet reached the Goldstream area. “I want to act before I have to react,” he said.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a statement that the engineering, design and surveying work for safety improvements on the corridor within Goldstream Provincial Park is still being carried out.

Potential highway improvements are being designed to fall within the existing narrow highway right-of-way, it said.

“In order to mitigate encroachments into the ­Goldstream river waterline and associated spawning habitat, the proposed design includes the use of unique cantilevered ­structures to avoid the need for any foundations within the river.”

Any future work has to be done in a way that protects the high ecological values of the Goldstream area, the statement said. Protecting salmon would be part of environmental reviews and permits and measures would be in place when construction takes place.

The ministry did not respond to questions about trees which could be taken out.

Its statement said that it has been talking to the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council and will ­continue to do so. A ­spokesperson for the council, which has Tsawout, Tsartlip and ­Tsawout First Nations ­members, could not immediately be reached.

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