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Granville Island tenants worried about rising sea levels

David McCann, whose consultancy has been headquartered on the CMHC-owned land for 30-plus years, said action is required now

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Does Granville Island have a long-term future, or will it slip under the sea like a modern-day Atlantis?

One long-time tenant, who said he speaks for many associates with businesses on Granville Island, doesn’t have faith it will have a future unless action is taken now.

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“We’re all evaluating our investments on Granville Island,” said David McCann, the owner of problem-solving consultancy Wiifm Management.

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Creekhouse, four Granville Island buildings that McCann manages, will leave when its lease expires because of the uncertainty, he said.

Granville Island is a 14-hectare site that was an industrial wasteland in the 1970s before it began its transformation into one of the country’s most-visited tourism spots and cultural hubs.

The site, which tourists are always surprised to discover is not an island, was a sandbar in the Squamish Nation village of Sen̓áḵw before the city of Vancouver began dredging the area in 1915. Fill was added to create the spit of land that exists today.

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Dave McCann on Granville Island. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103962A

Only a bit of decking and some riprap protect 340 businesses, which employ more than 3,000 people.

McCann’s concern is that current projections of rising sea levels seriously underestimates how fast sea water will rise, based on the latest information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body, as well as research done in part by an old university friend of his at University of California-Irvine in a report released on Wednesday.

That paper, published by a team of glaciologists who used satellite radar to measure warm sea-water intrusion kilometres below grounded ice in Greenland and Antartica, calls for a reassessment of current projections of how fast sea levels will rise in the coming decades.

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“The findings suggest that existing climate models are underestimating the impact of ocean and ice interactions in future sea level rise projections,” it says.

If the research team’s data holds up, sea levels would rise by one metre much sooner than the currently projected 2100, and by more than the half metre projected by 2050. That would mean the historic flooding during a “king high tide” in December 2022, the first in Granville Island’s history, would become common.

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People watch as Kits Beach and the surrounding area is immersed from a king tide Wednesday, December 28, 2022. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Granville Island is managed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which last week sent to tenants a brochure titled Coastal Flooding Guide, and a public meeting will be held next week.

The plan, Granville Island general manager Tom Lancaster said, is to bring all interested parties together, including Indigenous nations, three levels of government, and Metro Vancouver.

“For the last 15 years, (experts) have been predicting a one-metre rise over the next 100 years,” Lancaster said. “It’s going to be four or five times (quicker than) that.”

While Canada Mortgage and Housing, a federal Crown corporation, manages Granville Island, the land belongs to the federal government. But Ottawa provides no cash. Money is raised through business leases and paid parking.

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“We’ve been doing a bunch of vulnerability studies, what are we at risk of, and we actually have quite a bit of risk over the coming three decades,” Lancaster said. “We’re quite concerned.

“The big thing for us is to put all the parties together in a room and talk about what we’re doing for the False Creek basin because this is where a lot of it is going to be concentrated. We’re going to see a lot of flooding over the next 30 years.”

Whatever the solution, it better happen soon, McCann said.

“According to a United Nations report that came out last year, cities and landowners have two choices — you either abandon it or you defend it,” he said. “There’s no middle ground.”

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Granville Island
Granville Island Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10104813A

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