The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (FFSBC) announced last week that it is moving into the design phase for a conservation facility in Vanderhoof that could be the saving grace for the endangered Nechako white sturgeon.
The announcement comes after six years of effort by the non-profit to try and secure long-term funding for the sturgeon recovery facility.
While the total amount of funding needed to build and maintain the facility has yet to fall into place, President of FFSBC Don Peterson says he is feeling optimistic.
“We’ve been trying to sort out the funding issue for six years now.
“We’ve had some ups and down – mostly downs – but I believe we have a reason to feel optimistic at this time and so we are moving forward,” he said.
He added that given the low numbers of sturgeon left in the river, the FFSBC and its partners in the project, didn’t want to waste any more time.
“Because of the dire straits that this sturgeon population is in, we don’t want to wait till the final word that we have every last dollar that we need lined up, because who knows how long that would take.
“So we’re feeling confident enough now that it’s not too far off, so we’re going to spend some money and get the designs all done so that we’re ready to put the shovels into the ground when we get the final word, rather than costing the strugeon another year without any work being done,” said Peterson.
The design phase of the project is being funding by a $1.5 million grant from the provincial government that was set aside for the project four years ago.
At the moment FFSBC is working on getting various consultants into place for the design phase of the facility including a construction manager and representatives from architectural and enginerring firms. Peterson hopes the design phase will be completed by April 2012.
Original estimates for the cost of construction of the facility were approximately $3 million. However, plans to give the facility some educational features as well as the sturgeon recovery features, may put the costs up considerably.
“A barebones fish culture facility is our primary interest because that is what will help recover the sturgeon stock,” said Peterson.
“But there are many that would like to see the facility be more than that – there are hopes that it would have some public interpretation or educational qualities to it, and that costs more money,” he said.
While FFSBC are leading the way on the project, other key partners involved include the District of Vanderhoof, the Nechako White Sturgeon Initiative, the Province of B.C., Rio Tinto Alcan and First Nations groups such as the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and Saik’uz First Nation, among others.
“I’m really pleased to see that everybody’s working towards the same goal and at least we are going to get the design work done for a new facility,” said Brian Frenkel, Chair of the Nechako White Sturgeon Initiative.
“That is really significant. Hopefully we can get that done and start with the construction next year – I don’t know how long the construction will take, but I would hope that we could get most of it done within the year so that by the spring of 2013 we could be capturing fish and spawning them in our own facility – that would be amazing,” said Frenkel.
The District of Vanderhoof originally offered up a parcel of land located near Rainbow Christian School for the facility when the idea was put on the table a number of years ago. Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen says the offer still stands.
He added that the NWSI will play an important role with the design and construction of the facility.
“This is a way bigger project than just a mayor or council – the NWSI and Brian Frenkel have done a lot of work and they will play a prime role with what we do on that site,” said Thiessen.
“We met with freshwater fisheries and Paul Henning, Vice President of Rio Tinto Alcan, as well as provincial government recently so that we could work together to try and find a solution for the funding problem.
“Nobody wants to see this species fall by the wayside and it’s been a real encouragment to us to see this go ahead.”
Thiessen added that he hopes the community will get the final word on funding before this Christmas.