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Shellfish farmer wants bay cleaned up

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Thursday, March 04, 1999

By Gail Sjuberg

Al Hoskins is hoping some neighbourhood awareness can lead to the re-opening of Walker Hook Bay to shellfish harvesting. Although with the coliform counts which led to the closure, you wouldn’t want to go wading there, either. The area was closed by Environment Canada early this winter when a survey of the waters found fecal coliform counts of 540 parts per 100 millilitres of water in the sea near the beach at the foot of Grantville Road and up to 2,300/100 ml in the creek flowing down to the beach. “These are pretty scary numbers,” says Hoskins, “when you consider the ‘safe’ levels peak at 14/100 ml for shellfish and 200/100 ml for public swimming.”

He and Michael Riefman, a Capital Regional District (CRD) health officer, need individuals who live in the area to consider possible sources of contamination: faulty septic fields or animals whose feces may be ending up in the creek feeding the bay. Hoskins and Riefman believe the problem is likely not due to one major source. “It’s a little bit here and a little bit there and it all ends up in the same place,” says Hoskins.

There is no test which can specifically identify the kind of contamination, which leaves Riefman and Hoskins in the dark. As well, says Riefman, “It would take forever for us to go up and down every ditch and every property to locate (the source), if there is one.” Instead, Riefman would like every resident to ensure his or her septic system is working properly. Besides being aware of unpleasant odours, people should check for heavy wetness in the field area and for water running away from the field into nearby ditches. If a system has actually failed, the CRD can order it be fixed.

When Hoskins first acquired the shellfish harvesting lease for $60,000 in early 1993, he knew the heavily-populated Fort Street area posed a risk of fecal contamination closing his new business. However, as Riefman points out, septic fields may not be the cause of the high numbers. Even agricultural activity quite far from the bay is a possible source.

While Hoskins does have a significant financial interest in the waters being cleaned up - besides the initial investment his family will lose an estimated $23,000 in annual revenue - he is just as concerned about the effect of contamination on the bay itself and everyone who would like to enjoy the area. “It’s not completely hopeless,” says Hoskins, “but it’s a matter of drumming up public support.” He points to Baynes Sound south of Courtenay on Vancouver Island where the waters were closed for the same reason as Walker Hook but residents successfully rallied together to clean it up. Hoskins would like to hear from anyone who might have an idea about possible sources of contamination or notices foul-smelling groundwater in the area or any other helpful information or ideas. Tips will remain confidential.

People can also call Riefman at 538-4880 on Salt Spring.

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