Unpaving paradise: Former Courtenay mill site becoming part of estuary

Unpaving paradise: Former Courtenay mill site becoming part of estuary

In Courtenay, a four-hectare property between Comox Road and the Courtenay River at 17th Street is undergoing a transformation from an industrial sawmill site back to nature.

“It will be a great part of the estuary,” said Project Watershed Executive Director Caitlin Pierzchalski. “It will connect with the Hollyhock flats at the south end and it will really help support a thriving estuary.”

The site is in the heart of the Comox Valley and was once a busy sawmill that processed trees from across the island since 1949.

It closed in the early 2000s and after the mill structure was torn down the land sat there for a decade and a half.

Remediation was completed in 2011 and Project Watershed purchased it in 2020.

“The K’omoks First Nation and Project Watershed saw the opportunity for this site to become more than just a development and really be an eco asset for our community so that’s when we kind of stepped forward and looked to that as a solution for the site,” added Pierzchalski.

The project is called Kus Kus Sum, an acknowledgement of the deep First History in the area.

“It turns out there was a village on the other side and at the bottom end of this site there was some tree burials and stuff there and that’s sort of where this site gets its name from,” said K’omoks First Nation Guardian Watchmen Manager Cory Frank.

New plants have been planted at the north end of the property this spring and large-scale earthworks will begin this summer.

“The land will get entirely re-contoured. A lot of it will be brought down to almost sea level and then the back part of this site will be bermed up,” said Pierzchalski.

“I love to see the progress so when I do drive by I do slow down quite a bit and just have a look and see the progress going on. Yeah, it’s all coming back to life step by step,” added K’omoks First Nation Guardian Watchmen Assistant Manager Krissy Brown.

The most notable part of the old property is still a 400-metre-long steel wall separating the river and the property.

It will be the last part to come out when the project is finished in about 2024.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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