Kitimat group working to ‘reclaim’ the river

Reclaiming the Kitimat River is a group of people looking for plans of action regarding the collective use of the Kitimat River.

The issue of the use of the Kitimat River bank continues as a sore spot for some, but for others it’s an opportunity waiting to present itself.

A citizen-formed think-tank on the Kitimat River, and what to do with it, formed around a conversation made on Facebook, which lead to the creation of Reclaiming the River, a Facebook page dedicated to sharing thoughts about what to do about riverbank camping and other recreational use.

But if there’s one thing the group’s founders want clear is that they’re not a group intent on giving the boot to river bank campers. They just want a way for everyone to just get along.

“What we’re doing right now is coming up with a list of people who are identified as the stakeholders and we’ll try to meet with them either individually or as a group, after we’ve actually had a public meeting where we can get some idea of public input,” said Liz MacDonald, a co-founder of the group along with Maryann Ouellet.

“We want to find something that will be happy for all people to enjoy the river,” said Ouellet. “And come up with a sustainable plan that’s going to work for camping, for people who just want to just go down to spend the day. So right now we’re just taking people’s opinions.”

If there’s a sticking point to their concerns, it’s not that people are camping for free, but that people are camped for months at a time, which further begs the question what is happening to all the waste and sewage being generated by those campers.

“We’re not saying their necessarily dumping their refuge on the river bank, but if they’re not using their tanks they’re certainly using a washroom somewhere,” said MacDonald.

The Reclaiming the River group  is anticipating holding a public event to gather ideas about the river, and will meet with various river stakeholders, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the Haisla.

The organizers know that the process will miss this fishing season but they envision having a handle on some type of change by next spring.

Something, they say, does need to be done.

“There’s no other river in the province where you can actually camp on the river for months on end. Terrace has the advantage of Ferry Island. Other communities have provincial parks. There’s two outside of Terrace,” said MacDonald. “We do not have a provincial park in Kitimat. Yet we have thousands of campers that come here from all over the world, for months on ends.”

Ouellet said something, anything, needs to be done at the river.

“There’s lots of scenarios that are happening down there. It’s just not very good publicity even for all of the tourists that are coming to Kitimat. We want to maintain the people who are coming as well as the locals, so we’re looking for better solutions. This isn’t about shutting down the river bank,” she said.

Concern that the town may shut down the riverbank camping brought long-time Kitimat resident Mary Bouzane to the August 4 council meeting.

Bouzane was responding to an article she saw in the Northern Sentinel regarding the issue of riverbank camping.

She said people should have the choice to camp on the river.

“Everybody has the right of choice and this one, I find, people have the right of choice to visit our wonderful community. They come to the river bank, they employ people in the fishing stores, the grocery stores, the gas, everything,” she said. “And yet council says ‘well, they’re not getting any money…’

“Every year this issue wastes council’s good time and money. There was $12,500 spent on a survey at one time. That’s a lot of money.”

Mary Murphy did respond to Bouzane’s presentation, noting council’s lack of control at the river.

“We don’t have control right now who camps at the river and who doesn’t, and I look forward to all these people coming and visiting our community, and they do enhance our community.

And we do have Radley Park, and I know sometimes it gets filled and we are working on expanding Radley Park.”

She said the majority of feedback on this issue is against riverbank camping and is appreciative that Bouzane came to give her side.

Mayor Phil Germuth added that their ultimate goal is to ensure the environment is being protected.

“If we had enough camp sites I’d be all in favour of not having them there. At least charging them for something to make up for some of what we do put in to it,” he said.

He also added of the Reclaiming the River group, “I would commend a group for getting together to try to do something like that.

They’re not trying to kick anyone off.”