‘Damage of a different order’: Seawall’s future unclear post-storm, says Vancouver official

Click to play video: 'Still no timeline for repairs to Vancouver seawall'
Still no timeline for repairs to Vancouver seawall
The City of Vancouver Parks Department says it's still assessing the damage to parts of the seawall, and there's still no timeline as to when it might be repaired. Grace Ke has the latest. – Jan 12, 2022

The future of Vancouver’s beloved seawall remains up in the air, says one municipal official, as crews continue to assess the damage from last week’s storm.

Powerful winds, storm surge and a seasonal king tide battered the iconic structure last Friday, and more extreme weather is expected in the coming months.

“Our focus right now is removing a lot of the debris, the big rocks, the coping stones from the wall, the logs,” said Ian Stewart, manager of park development with the Vancouver Park Board.

“What happens is those objects sort of roll around in the waves and cause further damage.”

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The Third Beach area and the stretch of seawall between the Teahouse Restaurant and Siwash Rock bore the brunt of the storm, with pavement that was buckled or outright washed away in some sections of the seaside path.

City engineers and consultants have been in Stanley Park daily, conducting drone photography and a rapid damage assessment, but it will be “some time” before a cost estimate is released or a reopening date is announced.

“This is damage of a different order than we’ve seen,” Stewart explained. “What we need to do is work with our community partners, work with the First Nations and our community consultants to determine what we do.

“We’re all asking ourselves, ‘How do we build this back and what is the right way to do that with increasing frequency of these types of severe storms and higher sea levels?'”

Click to play video: 'Experts warn seawall damage sign of things to come amid sea level rise and climate change'
Experts warn seawall damage sign of things to come amid sea level rise and climate change

According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the global sea level has already risen by between 16 and 21 centimetres since 1900 — and the rate is increasing. About seven centimetres of that rise accrued in the last 29 years.

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Estimates vary on how fast oceans will continue to rise, but the federal 2019 Changing Climate report projects the Vancouver area will likely see more than 50 cm in growth over 2000 levels by century’s end.

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The city must now decide whether to continue “incremental improvement,” like restoration, or make a “quantum leap,” said Stewart.

“The order of magnitude of cost is really next level to talk about raising these elements up to a flood construction level that could sustain these type of reoccurring events,” he explained.

Parts of the seawall are between 70 and 80 years old, Stewart said.

The portions that have been restored fared well in the storm, but those that fared poorly were impacted in particular, by debris in the water from the catastrophic floods of last November.

“Many logs that had come down from the Fraser and other rivers that were on the coast from those atmospheric river events — they become projectiles in the water that just sort of bash against that seawall,” he explained.

“They have really been the cause of the greatest damage that we’ve seen in this most recent storm event.”

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Click to play video: 'B.C. braces for another atmospheric river'
B.C. braces for another atmospheric river

Asked whether it’s possible the seawall may never reopen, due to the cost of repairs, the cost of a makeover, or ongoing safety issues, Stewart responded:

“It’s possible. I think there’s nothing that’s not on the table at this point.”

Reopening Stanley Park and repairing the seawall, however, will be the Vancouver Park Board’s top priority, he said, as the city appreciates the role it plays in the health and hearts of British Columbians.

Meanwhile, the municipality is asking the public to avoid closed areas as there could be safety risks that aren’t easily visible.

— with files from Simon Little 

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