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Contract awarded for crucial winter work to restore slide-impacted Fraser River

The site of a massive rock slide is seen on the Fraser River near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., on Wednesday July 24, 2019. .
The site of a massive rock slide is seen on the Fraser River near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., on Wednesday July 24, 2019. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The federal government has selected engineering firm Peter Kiewit and Sons ULC to do key winter restoration to clear a passage of the Fraser River damaged by the Big Bar landslide.

The contract is worth just over $17.6 million.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Bernadette Jordan made the announcement Monday, calling work to repair the slide area her government’s “top priority” in British Columbia.

READ MORE: ‘High risk’ many salmon species threatened by Big Bar landslide won’t be rescued, DFO says

Jordan said construction aimed at re-establishing a fish passage through the section of the river will “start shortly.”

Pacific Salmon Foundation says time running out for Big Bar slide work
Pacific Salmon Foundation says time running out for Big Bar slide work

Jordan will also be travelling to B.C. on Friday to visit the affected area and meet local First Nations who have been partnering in an effort to restore the passage.

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“I will also be making an important announcement on our next steps to secure the long-term sustainability of these key salmon runs, and for the communities who rely on the success of these stocks,” said Jordan in a statement.

READ MORE: B.C. salmon runs face ‘meaningful chance of extinction’ due to Big Bar landslide: officials

The slide, believed to have occurred in October or November of 2018, created a five-metre waterfall that was nearly impossible for millions of salmon to clear in order to return to their spawning grounds.

More than 2 million salmon at risk due to Big Bar landslide
More than 2 million salmon at risk due to Big Bar landslide

Just 275,000 salmon were able to make it up river in the 2019 season, down from an early season estimate of nearly five million.

Many of those who did clear the slide were unable to spawn, according to government officials.

READ MORE: Fraser River slide poses big engineering challenge for crews working to get fish moving

In December, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said time was of the essence in restoring the river, warning that “unless sufficient rock debris is removed” before water levels rose in the spring, early migrating salmon populations could be “significantly affected.”

The agency added that there was a “high risk” crews would not be successful at clearing enough rock in time.

DFO scientists have said at least three salmon runs are at risk of extinction, with three more facing “considerable risk,” depending on how operations to clear the slide play out in 2020.

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