Many in Saanich are keen to see what happens now that the City of Victoria has expedited the impending removal of live-aboard and derelict boats in the Gorge Waterway by posting an online request for proposals.
The tender, which went to the public earlier this month, sought marine assistance that Victoria will use to remove sunken boats. It also backs up the city’s commitment to clearing out the remaining boats off Banfield Park, where the current live-aboards are past due on a final warning that came in late July. Victoria and Saanich both took steps to amend their bylaws, which now limit anchorage to 72 hours at a time within 300 metres of their shorelines.
Victoria Coun. Geoff Young says he suspects people are looking at the experience of tent city, where months elapsed between when the province asked people to leave, and when they did leave.
“So far, there’s been no compliance on the warnings put out, we’ll have to take firmer steps,” Young said.
Victoria and Saanich border a good portion of the Gorge Waterway, and are making efforts to limit the environmental impacts that come with poorly managed boats.
“There’s no question a lot of municipalities across Canada are becoming concerned with these types of vehicles, and are restricting mooring,” Young said. “Between the sewage release and fuel spills, and the recovery expense for sunken boats, they simply are not acceptable.”
Despite speculation that some owners of the anchored boats will pull their mooring and move upstream to non-Victoria waters, Saanich CAO Paul Thorkelsson says it’s unlikely.
“Given the similarity of the regulations between Saanich and Victoria, we do not anticipate vessels will be relocating from Victoria waters to Saanich,” Thorkelsson said, adding staff will monitor as necessary.
It is rare that live-aboards or, what amount to derelict boats, are buoyed in the Saanich section of the Gorge. It’s partly because live-aboards have gone mostly untested in the Victoria waters of the Gorge, and because the Saanich section is above the tidal waters that make passing below the Gorge Bridge challenging. However, Saanich council did take the steps with staff to ensure the boats could only anchor up to 72 hours once in a 30-day period.
“Council has taken the approach to deal with derelict boats on a case-by-case [basis],” Thorkelsson said. “In general, Saanich has found it efficient and expedient to undertake the removals of specific vessels by our own forces.”
In the meantime, the Veins of Life Watershed Society has not heard back from Saanich staff regarding a letter it sent earlier this year about a prolific number of non-licensed docks along the Gorge and Colquitz River.
John Roe led the Veins of Life during its successful campaign to clean up the Gorge in the late 1990s and says Victoria will be surprised when they see how much junk is below the water where the current live-aboard boats in the Gorge, assuming they plan a cleanup following their removal.
“You’ll be amazed what’s under there,” Roe said. “I know there’s batteries and pieces of scrap metal, not just a bunch of sunken boats. There was one fellow who had what amounted to a scrap metal business on a self-built marina, and he chucked anything he didn’t need. People will be shocked, there’s washing machines, and more.”
Rob Wickson, president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association, says they are aware of the potential for boats moving to the water off of Gorge Park and have asked council to prepare measures to ensure the current residents on the waters at Bamfield Park do not simply move upstream.
“This is another example as to why there needs to be a Gorge Waterway conservation authority, similar to the airport authority,” Wickson said. “It needs [the authority] to monitor and control all the various influences and impacts on the whole watershed from Elk Lake to the Selkirk Trestle.”
When the residents of the boats near Banfield Park do finally leave, Young expects many of the vessels will be abandoned.
“Getting rid of an old boat is cumbersome,” he said.
It’s also expensive, as they would need to be towed, with minimal options for safe mooring in the region.
Cadboro Bay does provide an option, with many live-aboards already stationed there, though it is a risky place for moorage, as demonstrated by the numerous boats that washed up on Caddy Bay beach this past winter.