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Barge loading returning to Mission

Mission is one vote away from reversing a bylaw that banned barge loading along the Fraser River in 2007.

Council gave third reading approval Monday night to amend a section of the district's industrial zoning bylaw to permit the activity following a public hearing.

Most speakers — including some who had businesses along the river — were in favour of the change, and a few spoke against it, citing environmental, tourism and noise concerns.

The Mission area, particularly the Big Eddy near Hatzic Slough has been recognized as a key rearing, and feeding area for juvenile white sturgeon, said Sarah Schreier, executive director of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society. She explained the white sturgeon population has been declining since 2005 and any more river activity could potentially decrease the riparian zone.

STS Guiding owner Vic Carrao says the sport fishing industry brings in tens of millions of dollars each year to the local economy and more tug traffic on the river would create conflicts.

There are five properties along the Fraser that were grandfathered when barge loading was banned seven years ago, leaving them legally non-conforming. Two of these properties are located in the old industrial area of town and three are in Silverale, but not all are operational. Currently sawdust, coal and aggregate are being loaded onto barges in Mission.

Dennis McKamey, who owns a chip operation, explained his company brings logs in, debarks them and puts them on barges.

"Most chips have to be barged," he said, noting his number one customer is in Howe Sound and chips cannot be trucked there.

"We cannot secure financing and create future growth for the company" with a legally non-conforming status, he added.

Using the river as a transportation system would decongest highways and also benefit neighbouring communities, while providing jobs, offered Patrick Catherwood.

"I see an opportunity to create more jobs — well paying jobs," said Steve Sharpe, adding the federal and provincial governments have guidelines in place to protect the environment.

"It's the responsibility of every taxpayer, whether they're working on the river or not, to enhance the economy and create jobs," said Wilson Seig, who noted topography maps 30-40 years ago show a free-flowing Fraser. "There's been a lot of talk about protecting the Fraser against itself, almost."

Seig explained as people tried to protect habitat in the Fraser, sandbars formed and trees began to grow.

"Now we call them islands," he said. "If we continue on the track we're on today … it won't be long before we totally choke off what used to be a working river."

Mission council began steps to bring barge loading back to the waterfront last summer. The initiative was brought forward by Mayor Ted Adlem, who stated at the time he wanted to give businesses tools to help create good paying jobs and improve the economy in the community.

The bylaw is expected to be up for adoption at the next council meeting on March 17.

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