Second update: Work on the project resumed on Wednesday, June 29.

This article was updated at 10 a.m. after receiving information from the Town of Comox regarding the work stoppage.

Work stopped almost as soon as it began on the Cape Lazo shoreline stabilization project because the Town of Comox failed to get all the necessary permits. Workers started to dig a two-metre deep trench on Monday, June 20 and shut down operations late Thursday of the same week.

According to the town, the project received notice on Thursday, June 23 at approx. 4:55 p.m. to stop works ‘beyond the natural boundary’ until an appropriate permit was in place. As this limited  general construction, staff elected to stop all works until the permit from Ministry of Forestry, Lands & Natural Resource Operations was obtained.

The town voluntarily stopped work above the natural boundary but the remainder, or the bulk of the project, was issued a Stop Work Order.

The town has now applied for permission to do what Mayor Paul Ives says is “a small portion of work to be done outside the road allowance.” The necessary permit also requires consultation with the K’omoks First Nations.

The town is attempting to slow the erosion of the large, vegetated back shore dune that comprises the Cape Lazo shoreline. It’s known as a Coastal Sand Ecosystem (CSE), and is part of the of the Quadra Sands glacial deposition that includes Willemar Bluffs, Goose Spit and the Tree Island complex.

The one segment of shoreline in the Comox area that still contains a remnant natural back shore dune is currently being destroyed by the Town of Comox, who have decided to armour that last remaining segment with rip rap.

According to Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, CSEs are rare in the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound-Salish Sea region.

“Erosion and redeposition of sand within an active dune complex is a common phenomenon on an annual cycle, but sand deposition is typically net-positive over the long term,” Ennis wrote in an email to members of the Land Trust and Project Watershed.

“Wind blown dunes are particularly rare in the Georgia Basin, with only two known occurrences of remnant, semi-stabilized dunes remaining extant: Savary Island and Cape Lazo (Point Holmes),” he said.

To many people, the accelerated erosion at Cape Lazo comes as no surprise. It stems back to a decision by the Comox Valley Regional District’s Sewer Commission in the mid-1980s to bury a sewer pipe beneath the Willemar Bluffs. That disturbed the shoreline, causing property owners to sue the CVRD, which resulted in the placement of rip rap (large, sharp-edge rocks) to slow the erosion.

But after the construction of the sewer pipe and placement of rip-rap below the Willemar Bluffs, other beaches began to erode. Homeowners to the north of the bluffs began to lose shoreline. So those residents installed rip-rap to save their property.

And that moved the accelerated erosion action further up the shoreline to the popular tourist beach at Cape Lazo/Point Holmes. Increasingly large chunks of land disappeared with more intense winter storms.

To fix that problem, the Town of Comox has chosen to spend about $1.6 million to add rip rap from where the homeowners stopped to just south of the Point Holmes boat launch.

Accelerated erosion of Comox Valley shorelines has only occurred where the CVRD buried sewer pipes or tried to remediate the effect of the pipes. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

“The one segment of shoreline in the Comox area that still contains a remnant natural back shore dune is currently being destroyed by the Town of Comox, who have decided to armour that last remaining segment with rip rap,” Ennis says.

The town had other options.

Judy Morrison, a former Alberta Land Surveyor with a Calgary engineering firm, and a Lazo Road resident, has advocated a soft shoreline restoration, as opposed to the hard stabilization project chosen by the town. She says a “green shore” would cost about $600,000 less and be more effective.

“The town’s solution means that the residents of the Comox Valley, as they walk
along this stretch of beach, are now going to see 640 metres of rip rap, instead of limited green growth,” she says.

Ennis says the town’s rip rap project “will likely function for only a short period of time,” due to the increasing severity and frequency of winter storms. A provincial report recommends flood construction levels of five metres or more for the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Based on experience, it’s possible the new rip-rap will shift erosion further up the shoreline, and may accelerate erosion of the bluffs at the end of the CFB Comox runway, which stand above the sewer outfall into the Strait of Georgia.

It’s also likely that the impacts of climate change on shorelines will eventually threaten the sewer pipe buried beneath the Cape Lazo beach, not far from where the town is digging.

Meanwhile, the rip rap project has stalled. Mayor Ives believes the missing permissions will be granted shortly. More will be known later this week.

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