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Environmental initiatives take flight

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall walks along a new cycling trail that circles Victoria International Airport. - Sharon Tiffin/Black Press
North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall walks along a new cycling trail that circles Victoria International Airport.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/Black Press

To a newcomer, it may seem odd to learn that Victoria International Airport has completed 6.7 kilometres of its paved bicycle and walking trail around the facility’s circumference, with 0.9 km currently under construction.

The plan is to complete the 9.3 km loop by the end of this year. And according to James Bogusz, director of air side operations with the Victoria Airport Authority, when this occurs they will have spent “many hundreds of thousands of dollars” on the project.

In most sizeable cities in the world, airports are not places where people choose to take a bike ride or a stroll. But that’s the sensibility that makes this community different.

Business concerns have little to do with the project, or any of a number of other environmental improvement initiatives underway or completed. But environmental enhancement has been a priority of the authority since it took over operating the airport in 1997. Its motive, Bogusz says, is simply to be good neighbours, particularly to people living nearby in Sidney and North Saanich.

And it’s appreciated, said North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall.

“It’s a wonderful community contribution. People are delighted to walk there; and yes, conversations are entirely audible,” she says. “It’s beautiful up on Hospital Hill and down Mills Road. The views are superb.”

The airport’s green program goes far beyond the trail.

In November 2010, it installed a domestic solar hot water heating system, for example. The prompt was being able to cleanly – and cheaply – heat 25 per cent of the water the facility requires in the winter, and nearly 100 per cent in the summer via solar technology.

A larger initiative is stormwater management. Of prime concern here is heavy rainfall on impermeable surfaces, from runways and aprons to parking lots and roads. Such water picks up a wide range of pollutants, which for years ended up in Ten Ten and Reay creeks, which border the airport property.

Today, rain gardens capture much of the runoff. Still-water areas with selected natural vegetation, aided by bioswales, filter out many pollutants by natural means over time, before the water eventually flows on.

The VAA’s current showpiece is the Reay Creek remediation project. The sizeable, fish-bearing stream runs through the airport’s east industrial area, then on through Sidney and into Bazan Bay.

The goal is to improve stormwater quality, in historically contaminated areas of the creek that date back to the Second World War. Specifically, the remediation will reduce concentrations of heavy metals and other pollutants washed into the creek from the industrial grounds.

It will also incorporate fish and riparian features for habitat restoration in the creek’s upper reaches – salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout are now back in the lower reaches, thanks to community efforts; Reay Creek was dead for years.

The current project also includes the removal of present contaminated materials from the creek channel and adds water control gates as a protective measure to capture any unforeseen contaminant spills that may occur.

Planting in the area will begin next fall.

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