Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Future of the Snye

(the Snye, looking east toward the Clearwater from the dyke road, summer 2012)

Its pretty rare that I comment about local political issues, let along alone blog about them, but in this case I (and I hope many others as well) have an interest.  One of my favorite places, a great spot for a stroll, to spot interesting waterfowl and an oasis of solitude in the midst of the city, is under threat.  It's dying.  It's been slowly dying for some time.

The Snye, a small channel of water (which is the actual geographic term for this feature) joining the Clearwater to the Athabasca, is slowly becoming overgrown with weeds, threatened through the use of water-based aircraft and has had its shoreline sullied with garbage.  At one point in time, the Snye directly connected the two rivers until the 1960's when a dyke road was built at the western to allow access from downtown to MacDonald Island.  Even then the move was not without controversy.  While advocates of the dyke wanted access to Mac Island and argued such access would prevent Mac Island from being turned into private residential lots, others were concerned a dyke would lead to the Snye silting up over time and lead to increasing flood problems: most of downtown is on the Clearwater's floodplain and the Snye provides a second conduit for run off into the Athabasca.

(As an aside, one of my earliest memories of Fort McMurray was of standing on the dyke road back in the fall of 2002 and watching as a float plane flew directly overhead, coming into land on the Snye.  I captured the plane with my camera as it passed over and still have that photograph somewhere in my collection.)

Part of the city's redevelopment plan for Mac Island involves construction of a pedestrian bridge (an idea I'm a bit antsy about) from the mainland to the island over the Snye and plans to rehabilitate the area.  A proposal to limit vehicular traffic on nearby Morimoto Drive, which gives access to the Snye, has a few people up in arms.  The float plane base, rowing club and anglers would all be affected by this move.  Indeed, I did see a couple signs downtown yesterday to the affect that access to the area would be rather limited over this holiday long weekend.

So where do things go from here?  We shall see and I will be following this issue with great interest.  We are quite fortunate to have a natural gem right in the middle of downtown.  I can think of few other places of comparable size where Mother Nature is so close.  This privilege, comes at a cost, however.  We have to protect this delicate ecosystem and respect it.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who has walked along the the south shore of the Snye and witness all the human detritus strewn in the bush.  I have to admit to being rather appalled....and disappointed.  We need to do better.

I don't want to see the death of the Snye.  Personally, I wish the dyke were gone, replaced with a bridge of some sort.  No, I'm not planning to head down there with a block of C4 though I see this dyke a major part of the problem, literally chocking the life out of one of my favorite places in the city.  At the very least, the culvert under the dyke should be much bigger as its obvious the current set up isn't working.  Motorized watercraft should be banned, as I believe they already are.  I look forward to seeing the plans of what all this proposed area re-development will look like.  I really hope we can keep this tiny, yet historically important waterway in as close to a natural state as possible. I cringe to think of its shorelines overrun with concrete, vendor stalls and more bridges.

In many ways my viewpoints are shaped in part due my experiences in Nunavut and other places remote from human development.  You see a mountain, a cliff face or a fiord much the way it has always Mother Nature intended, with its own beauty and raw power....without human "improvement" or re-development".  Now, I know it would be naive to think that there won't be some human impact on the Snye, regardless of what course of action is taken.  The Snye has large apartment buildings on one side and a multi-million dollar recreation centre (along with golf course) on the other.  At the same time, part of me yearns for a return to as natural state as possible.  For this reason, I'm pleased that access along Morimoto Drive is being limited (at least for now).   Let's extend the Snye a lifeline and then come up with the best possible plan for it.  If there is money and time to invest in bridges and rec centres (and don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Mac Island as much as anyone else), then surely this waterway deserves the same amount of attention.  We can always build another bridge or building.  We only have one Snye.

For more thoughts on this issue see another local blogger's post here.

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