Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Fraser River clogs up, as does money to fix it

with one comment


The process of the Government of Canada getting out of the port business goes back a long way and is bi partisan. In the early 90s many shippers were surprised that the government would no longer build facilities for them at public expense, and not long after that ports became businesses run by appointed and not very accountable boards. Over time the major policy of the feds can be summarized as “cut spending.”

Now rivers are natural systems that humans have been trying to control for centuries, with varying degrees of success. Many human settlements are on river banks because of the fundamental needs of water, transportation and food. As ports have become ever more technical – ships always get bigger, cargo handling systems less labour intensive – the investment required in facilities has grown, leaving less available for tasks that can seem to be non essential to port operations, but which are critical to the wider community.

The Fraser has always transported huge amounts of silt from the interior towards the sea. As it slows it drops the silt – and normally the river gradually moves around. This is inconvenient for human land use, so we try to channelise and fix the channel in one place. Dykes and dredging make this system work, but both require significant amounts of maintenance. Lois Jackson obviously thinks the two activities can be separated. Delta builds and maintains dykes, but thinks that other levels of government should take on the dredging. Historically that is the way it was done – but not everyone need accept this as a normative. Of course, the ability of municipal government to do very much of anything when they only get 8% of the tax revenue – and all of that already committed.

The Port of course has become obsessed with growth – expanding its market share. That’s what businesses in the private sector do: they have been schooled to believe that increasing the bottom line is the only thing that matters. This means that jobs such as social obligations tend to be viewed as PR opportunities – not central themes like sustainability.

Both models, municipal and commercial are dysfunctional. The evidence is that we have lost the ability to manage our self imposed tasks – and the mess of the lower Fraser is a very good example. We imposed on ourselves the requirement of managing a major force of nature, and we neglect that at our peril. Arguing about “who’s on first” isn’t helpful

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2008 at 11:33 am

One Response

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  1. The growth paradigm that worships growth as an end in complete contradiction to the finite nature of Earth, is very much alive and well in Vancouver. I’m very troubled that Metro Vancouver talks about sustainability while in the same breath speaks of growth — utter hypocrisy. I’m very leery that we can save us from ourselves when it takes so much effort to simply stop using plastic bags or paper cups!


    September 26, 2008 at 2:13 pm

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