Cliff erosion proposal to seek public input

by Don Wells
Staff writer

Every day that Ceremonies Office manager Eilis Courtney goes to her office in Cecil Green Park Coach House, she wonders if this will be the day that the building crashes to the beach below.

Tides and storms, uprooted trees, groundwater seepage, storm water run-off and human activities have all contributed to the erosion of the porous sandstone and silt cliffs that wrap around the tip of Point Grey.

"It's a problem we became acutely aware of during some heavy rain last fall when a large piece of the cliff just fell away," she says, pointing to a fenced-off area only a few metres from the doorway to the coach house. "We used to park our cars there, but not any more."

A major collaborative effort led by UBC and the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) is currently under way to arrive at a long-term solution to the on-going problem.

The areas most critically affected are those immediately surrounding Cecil Green Park, the Museum of Anthropology and Norman MacKenzie House, says UBC Treasurer Byron Braley, a UBC representative on a committee struck to help address the issue.

The committee also includes representatives from GVRD Regional Parks, Musqueam First Nation, the Friends of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, the Fraser River Coalition, the Alma Mater Society, the University Endowment Land Ratepayers Association, Vancouver Natural History Society, and the Wreck Beach Preservation Society.

UBC's Board of Governors has asked for an update on the planning process as early as this November.

A series of public meetings is tentatively scheduled to begin next spring, Braley says.

The committee hopes the meetings will generate options based on input from experts as well as from concerned community members and groups.

Once the public consultation process is complete, a final recommendation and implementation strategy will be presented to the board for approval.

"This is not only a very serious problem, but a complex one due to the number of groups concerned and the fact that we expect there will be a wide range of options to be considered," says Braley. "I'm optimistic about finding solutions that are affordable and acceptable to everyone involved."

Among the issues to be weighed are the protection of UBC property and buildings and the safety of campus users, safety and public access for beach users, Musqueam cultural values and archeological assessments, the maintenance of unobstructed views from the top of the cliff, as well as the preservation of the wilderness setting of the foreshore, and the natural flora and fauna.

Efforts to arrest cliff erosion started in 1936 when a large storm water drain was constructed to handle run-off. In 1974 a short section of experimental beach berm was created to reduce the erosion of Wreck Beach and the bottom of the cliffs with a second phase completed in 1981.

A large number of trees were also planted and extensive trail systems built to both improve access and to erect barriers to unstable areas.