Dan Bowen sheds some light on the work being done at the old Field Sawmill site

Turning Fields Sawmill into Kus-kus-sum Park – First Steps

Project Watershed is working towards securing and restoring Kus-kus-sum, the former Fields Sawmill site, in the K’ómoks Estuary. If you are unfamiliar with the Fields Saw Mill the site is the large cement area that runs along Comox Road on the south side of the 17th street bridge, across from Locals Restaurant. The original salt […]

Project Watershed’s Community Forum on Field’s Re-Envisioning Attracts 150

(Scroll down to find the petition at the bottom of this page – Petition open til Nov 3rd)

Audience at the November 3 Community Forum in the Stan Hagen Theater of North Island college (Photo credit: Pieter Vorster).

Audience at the November 3 Community Forum in the Stan Hagen Theater of North Island college (Photo credit: Pieter Vorster).

On November 3, 150 Comox Valley residents including four City of Courtenay Councillors, two regional Directors, Chair of the CVRD Board and one Town of Comox Councillor participated in a Community forum where Project Watershed presented its ideas for restoration of the decommissioned Field Sawmill site. The doors opened at 6:30pm and participants viewed a number of displays and slide shows featuring community volunteers involved in restoration activities. After a welcoming by Cory Frank on behalf of the Chief and Council of the K’ómoks First Nation, Cory mentioned the new KFN Guardian program. North Island College and President John Bowman was acknowledged and thanked by the chair of Project Watershed Board, Paul Horgen

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Fields Sawmill Restoration Vision

Comox Valley Project Watershed Society (PW) has launched an initiative to acquire and restore the old Fields site to a natural state to meld into the “Hollyhock Flats” conservation area adjoining the south end of this industrial property. Our vision incorporates one large contiguous conservation area with streams, wetlands, trails and signage for public education about estuary ecosystems. Important habitat for rearing and migrating salmon would be created and safer passage for spawning fish provided to replace the “killing zone” along the steel sheet piling which currently exists.

The restoration work would also include naturally sloped shoreline and saltmarsh vegetation, as exemplified in Hollyhock Flats, to help prevent erosion and mitigate flooding and storm surge events. Saltmarsh is also known to have superior carbon sequestration properties (Blue Carbon). It is important to note that much of the agricultural land east of Comox Road in this area is in the RD and owned by Ducks Unlimited, BC Nature Trust and NCC for conservation purposes.

We have been working with Artist Robert Lundquist to make our vision more tangible. With our input he has created the image at the top of this page as well as the video below. The video was created using footage captured with drone technology.

We feel that a safe and enjoyable walking/cycling route between Courtenay and Comox could begin with this project and, with the cooperation of all jurisdictions and stakeholders, become a reality in the future. We have unanimous support in principle from the City of Courtenay to pursue this initiative and they have assigned two councillors to work with us. We have been having full discussions with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) throughout this process and are optimistic about their partnering in this extensive project. We have had an initial meeting with International Forest Products (Interfor), the owners of the site, and continue to communicate with them regarding the property.

If you are interested in funding our Fields Sawmill work don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Donations can be made directly to this initiative! Contact us at projectwatershed@gmail.com or call 250-703-2871.

Courtenay Council Candidates Consider Field Sawmill Site

With an election coming in a few days, all of the candidates running in Courtenay are firming up their platforms. One of the important issues facing our beautiful community and is on the minds of not only citizens of Courtenay,  but all of us who have chosen the Comox Valley as our home, is the old Field Saw Mill site.  In November of last year, Project Watershed presented some preliminary ideas about the site and published them in local papers.  They included feasibility of restoration.  We have recently submitted our most current thoughts in another article submitted to local papers in the first week in November.

 
I can tell you as a speaker that has talked to Rotary clubs, Probus clubs, Newcomer groups and courses that I have taught on the Estuary at NIC Elder College, that a question that comes up at every talk or course is, “What is going to happen to the old Field Sawmill Site?”
What to do with the Fields Saw Mill
 
The Project Watershed Board of Directors believes that this should be an issue discussed during the fall campaign. Consequently during the first week in October, Project  Watershed invited or attempted to invite all of the candidates running to meet and discuss the issue.
 
To date  we have had replies /or and met with Jon Ambler (mayoral candidate) and Council candidates Doug Hillian, Bob Wells, David Frisch, Bill Anglin, Starr Winchester, Rebecca Lennox, George Knox, Eric Erickson, Stu MacInnis and Marcus Felgenhauer.  All agreed that this issue should be put on the table for consideration. What a great start!
 
We look forward to involving the entire Comox Valley in discussions related to restoring this site. What a legacy it would be for future generations.
Yours sincerely.

Paul Horgen

Reclaiming Field Sawmill

Project Watershed and the Estuary Working Group have been developing restoration possibilities for the Field Sawmill site since 2009. “It is our belief that this property has the potential to become a highlight of a restored K’ómoks Estuary, itself a signature feature of the Comox Valley” states Don Castleden, Chair of the Estuary Working Group.

1931 Courtenay River Airphoto showing Future Site of Fields Saw Mill

1931 Courtenay River Airphoto showing Future Site of Fields Saw Mill

The sawmill that was located on this site in 1949 once served as an economic mainstay of Courtenay, however, that period was not without its cost to the health of the estuary, especially to our five major salmon runs. In fact, a governmental report made in 1976 Comox Harbor and later referenced in an article in the Comox District Free Press in 1977 stated that our estuary is one of the richest in Canada and the saw mill and log booming should be relocated. The sale of the sawmill site presents an opportunity to mitigate the damage done and to do what is humanly possible to restore salmon runs as well as other flora and fauna once abundant in the Estuary.

1958 - Field Sawmill in the background before sheet piling and in filling

1958 – Field Sawmill in the background before sheet piling and in filling

“Although we realize that the price at the moment is prohibitive we have encouraged the City to work with Interfor to acquire this property with a view to restoring its natural habitat. This could be a symbol of the commitment of the community to protect this important feature. Project Watershed has offered to work with the City and the community to help raise the money needed to purchase and restore this site” reports Paul Horgen, Chair of Project Watershed.

“The Chief and Council of the K’ómoks First Nation support the conceptual ideas presented by Project Watershed” states Cory Frank the K’omoks First Nation representative on the Estuary Working Group.

A Restored Sawmill Site

  • The sawmill site can be planted with indigenous plants and trees and would eventually blend in with Hollyhock Marsh with its beautiful stand of Sitka spruce which lies just south of the property.
  • A small stream can be created on the property that would connect the Dyke Slough to the river providing safe passage for migrating salmon in the Courtenay River (a channel is illustrated in the diagram accompanying this article). This channel would be too shallow for seals and therefore would alleviate predation and provide refuge for young salmon.
  • A riparian buffer and salt water marsh can be incorporated into this new stream and would provide rearing habitat as well as pools for migrating salmon fry that need to ‘hold over’ while they adjust to salt water before striking out into ocean waters. This restoration would tie in with the existing salt water marsh and slough adjacent to Hollyhock Marsh, an area which has been determined to be one of the most productive habitats for salmon in the estuary, of which there are very few.
  • Salt marsh could be planted in the area and would increase feeding and breeding grounds for bird species, act as a nursery for fish, filter and store pollutants from urban sources, anchor sediment and sequester carbon.
  • The steel sheet piling at the river’s edge of the property can be removed and naturally sloped banks restored, similar to Hollyhock Marsh. These banks could be planted with indigenous bushes to stabilize the banks and protect the area during floods. Removal of the steel sheet piling would greatly improve the river for salmon survival as seals currently use the corrugated feature of the piling to trap their salmon prey.
  • The concrete and pavement currently on the Sawmill Site can be removed and replaced with park space and walkways making the area accessible to the public for recreation, education and tourism. A bridge over the proposed creek would provide an ideal site for viewing salmon during their migration. One of the walkways could join with the walkway being planned by the Regional District between the Rotary Viewing Platform and Hollyhock Marsh. Kiosks, small vendors, interpretive signs, and benches would create an impressive gateway to the estuary.
Proposed channel at Fields Saw Milll connecting to Hollyhock Marsh

Proposed channel at Fields Saw Milll connecting to Hollyhock Marsh

In addition to the Estuary Working Group’s vision for a restored property, several professionals have reviewed the issues associated with developing this property for commercial purposes. It is important to note that any development would have to contend with:

  • height restrictions due to the Air Park and floatplane operations on the river. Any building on the property will have to be assessed by NAV CANADA and Transport Canada for potential impacts to the Air Navigation System and for marking and lighting requirements.
  • rising sea levels, storm surges, and flood waters as a result of severe weather events are to be expected in the future. Flood waters even now inundate the sawmill site during severe upland flooding and storm surges on the Strait. Provincial officials are now advising municipalities to plan for a minimum one metre rise in sea levels. It is estimated that this can result in much higher threat during the highest tides and extreme weather events. The best defences under these severe conditions are natural barriers – shrubs, trees, and aquatic plants that absorb the energy of ocean waves and fast flowing waters.

    2010FloodingFields_web

    2010 Flooding at Fields Saw Mill Site. Photo courtesy of Betty Donaldson

  • insurance issues as there is every likelihood that buildings in floodplains will be uninsurable.
  • setbacks which may be required for any building from both the natural shore and from the highway. When setbacks are factored in, the usable land may be very limited.

It also appears that the steel sheet piling along the west side of the property has encroached on the river and is a major hazard for salmon.

Acquiring this property for the benefit of all citizens will be a major undertaking but there are ways environmental groups, the community, local government, and local businesses can work together to achieve this goal. “We believe the community will rally behind this initiative and support the effort with volunteer time, money and materials” says Don Castleden. Possible tax deductions may be granted to the vendor and carbon offsets may be available to assist in the cost of restoration work. Funds can also be solicited from conservation trusts that support the restoration of estuaries.

The Project Watershed and the Estuary Working Group remain committed to assisting in this restoration. It will be a tangible way to follow through on our commitment to Keeping the Estuary Living.