Working in the Shore Zone

Banner Photo Credit: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority; New Brighton Park

From the perspective of this guide, shore zone projects fall into two general categories:  those designed to achieve objectives primarily defined by human uses of the shore zone, and those designed to meet objectives primarily defined by ecosystem or environmental considerations.

While shore zone development projects are motivated by human needs, the project assessment and design process must consider ecosystem and environmental factors and impacts. Similarly, projects motivated by ecosystem objectives must consider possible implications and effects of and on human uses of the project area. Both types of projects must be based on sound analysis of the interaction between physical, biological, and human processes at the project site, design of a stable structure to support the project objectives, and assessment of the anticipated changes to the physical and ecological processes at the project site and in the surrounding area.

This section presents a generic framework for project delivery that applies to both types of shore zone restoration projects, i.e. those motivated primarily by human uses of the shore zone and those motivated primarily by environmental considerations. The generic framework for project delivery presented herein is based on the conceptual model for integrated management illustrated in Figure 2.

The focus of the following project delivery framework is on smaller projects on the scale of municipal initiatives, multi-family land development or residential properties, and localized habitat initiatives, rather than regional efforts such as large-scale estuary and delta management.regional efforts such as large-scale estuary and delta management.

The generic framework for project delivery consists of eight main phases or tasks as follows.

1.       Project Objectives

The first step in project delivery is to determine the project objectives and verify the need for the project. What is the existing problem? What are the specific functions that the project is intended to fulfill? What are the priorities? Some examples include:

  • Protection of the existing shoreline against erosion or flooding where justified by existing conditions or predicted future changes, such as the consequences of climate change;
  • Provision of better access to the shore zone for recreational purposes;
  • In situ enhancement or restoration of existing or prior habitat values in the nearshore and/or coastal uplands;
  • Construction of “new” habitat as a compensation measure for habitat degradation or destruction at a different site.

Specific, measureable criteria for validating the need for the project, assessing project objectives, and measuring project success should also be identified at this time.

In addition to assessing the project objectives, the major constraints limiting the feasible options for project design should also be investigated during this initial phase of project work. Project constraints typically include factors such as cost considerations, regulatory and zoning restrictions, time frame for project delivery, and physical limitations of the project site. Identification and preservation of archaeological resources and First Nations practices are also important considerations for shore zone projects in British Columbia.

2.       Basis of Design

The basis of design document sets out the project objectives and constraints in a more specific and quantified manner. Design criteria for the project objectives and factors influencing project design need to be quantified to acceptable levels of uncertainty at the location of the proposed project.

From a physical perspective, design criteria typically include parameters such as:

  • Water depths;
  • Typical and extreme water levels (tides, storm surges, etc.)
  • Typical and extreme wave conditions
  • Typical and extreme ocean currents
  • Site geomorphologic features, sediment properties and transport processes
  • Existing and predicted erosion and siltation patterns and rates
  • Other project hazards such as earthquake and tsunami risks

From an ecological perspective, designs should incorporate the following site criteria:

  • Species and habitat identification, classification, and distribution (for example marine or estuarine habitat and biota classification, and identification of species at risk and their associated critical habitat)
  • Target species that are valuable for commercial, recreational, or subsistence fisheries
  • Habitat use and productive capacity of subtidal, intertidal, and backshore zones
  • Resource harvesting efforts (fisheries)
  • Comparison of present habitat and productive capacity with historic resource and habitat use by species and humans

Physical and ecological parameters can be quantified through a combination of:

  • Analyses of historical data sets and available regional information
  • Site-specific surveys and longer-term data collection programs
  • Numerical analyses and process modelling

The relevant parameters for the human project criteria primarily involve the extent of shore zone use and dependence. These will vary depending on each site and project scope, and should be set out in a similar manner in the basis of design document for the project. Relevant laws, by-laws, design standards and guidelines should also be noted.

3.       Conceptual Design

The above analyses generally leads to the development of one or more design concepts that solve the existing site problem as well as meet the project objectives subject to the constraints imposed by the physical and biological site conditions, cost considerations, etc. For projects motivated by human use of the shore zone, the no-loss (i.e. no HADD of marine habitat) approach to project design should be implemented where feasible. If the no-loss approach is not feasible, the degree of HADD should still be minimized. Consideration should be given to the implementation of nature-based design approaches and features in the concepts under consideration.

Design schemes for projects that are motivated by ecosystem considerations and that have a primary objective of improving or constructing “new” marine habitat often include significant alterations to the physical and ecological characteristics of the project site. When these project site characteristics are to be altered through project implementation, the design process must ensure that the physical alterations are both structurally stable over the desired project life and do not create adverse impacts on the physical or biological processes at the site. Design work must be undertaken by appropriately qualified professionals as determined by the applicable provincial laws.

4.       Environmental Impact Assessment

A marine habitat assessment is typically undertaken as part of the development of the project basis of design. The habitat assessment then is used in conjunction with the conceptual design to determine if the project will likely result in any HADD or other adverse impacts to the marine environment at the project site.

If the anticipated level of adverse impacts is unacceptable, modifications to the proposed project design may be required. Modifications to the project design are best undertaken using a team approach with participation of the project environmental professionals in addition to the design professionals.

An expanded environmental impact assessment may be required for certain types of projects in order to meet the requirements of federal and provincial environmental laws. The expanded process typically requires consideration of issues additional to HADD, and assessment of project impacts over a wider area: changes to the physical marine conditions and processes at locations outside of the project boundary may be considered as adverse environmental impacts.

5.       Project Permitting

Shore zone projects, excepting those limited to upland activities, are subject to a number of federal, provincial and local regulations and laws (see section two). A number of these laws (e.g. Fisheries Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Navigable Waters Act, BC Environmental Assessment Act, Land Act, etc.) require applications for permits and/or project approval prior to project construction. Several of these Acts are currently under review and requirements may be changed in the near future.

Project proponents should consult with the appropriate government agencies and engage appropriately-qualified professionals to determine the project-specific requirements for government permits and/or approvals. The applicable project review and approval processes may result in rejection of the proposed project, requests for further information, approval with conditions and/or design modifications, or project approval.

6.       Detailed Design

Once the project conceptual design has been approved and permitted, the detailed designs and specifications for project construction can be developed. Design work must be undertaken by appropriately qualified professionals under the applicable provincial laws. The final design drawings and specifications must also be signed and sealed as per provincial laws and regulations.

7.       Project Construction

Once the project design has been finalized and all applicable permits obtained, the project may proceed to the construction phase. There are a number of options for project tender, construction and delivery that the project owner or proponent may wish to consider, although a discussion of these options is beyond the scope of this guide. The project developer can consult with qualified professionals for advice on this issue.

In general, the timing of marine construction projects is impacted by factors such as weather and limited construction windows for the protection of fisheries. Environmental monitoring during project construction is usually required to ensure no adverse discharges to or impacts on the marine environment.

8.       Post-construction Surveys and Monitoring

Once project construction is complete, a set of as-built project drawings should be completed. These drawings serve as the baseline for judging project performance going forward from the perspective of physical characteristics, processes and structural stability.

The project permits may require regular monitoring of environmental conditions and impacts for a number of years after project construction is complete. Monitoring requirements are typically specified in permit documents.

Additional post-construction monitoring is advisable to ensure project performance criteria are met and to assess ongoing performance of atypical or innovative project designs. Such monitoring programs should be designed on a project- and site-specific basis.