Group tackles contentious issues in Cadboro Bay

A new group aims to bring order to the chaos that sometimes characterizes Cadboro Bay.

“We just want to take the mystery out of this and make the bay a better place,” said Eric Dahli, president of the Cadboro Bay Residents Association.

It is one of more than a dozen groups that participated in the recent inaugural meeting of the Cadboro Bay Task Force. Other represented organizations included the District of Saanich, the District of Oak Bay, the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the Canadian Coast Guard, and a number of local businesses and non-governmental organizations representing environmental groups.

Multiple jurisdictions have a say in the affairs of Cadboro Bay, one of the busiest beaches in the Greater Victoria region, if not Vancouver Island. One side of the beach falls within Saanich, the other side within Oak Bay. The ocean floor is provincial responsibility, the water above it federal responsibility.

Popular with maritime users of every sort, the bay frequently bustles with sailing boats and other vessels. But the area has also attracted a fair share of derelict and abandoned vessels, from dinghies to ships with multiple masts, and everything in between. While undeniably contributing to the ambiance of the area, they also pose a long list of environmental and economic hazards.

The jurisdictional complexity has in the past also complicated efforts to clean up the area following the arrival of abandoned boats and contributed to an occasionally less than friendly climate among various users. Problems of this variety have popped up across the region, including Victoria, and most notably Brentwood Bay, where derelict vessels and other abandoned structures such as barges, docks, and poorly placed or barely visible mooring buoys and steering lines have clogged Saanich Inlet.

“This nautical congestion not only obstructs recreational navigation, but represents serious health and environmental hazards,” said a 2008 report from the Environmental Law Centre Clinic of the University of Victoria (UVic). Efforts to clean up the area remain on-going. This cautionary example looms large in the formation of the group.

“By being cautious and working with all levels of government, we are trying avoid the problems that plagued Brentwood Bay,” said Dahli.

For example, the group plans to educate boaters about best practices, such as tagging their vessels with their contact information to ensure authorities can contact them in case their vessels arrive on-shore, said Dahli. The group also plans to develop a neighbourhood watch that would help spot vessels of concern, he said. Participating members would have access to a list of relevant contacts, he said. Finally, the group plans to review the location and state of buoys, he said.

Several administrative details such as the legal status of the group still need to be worked out. But for Dahli, the group marks a new development in the history of the neighbourhood. By his account, it is the first time that a group unites all these various groups.

“All levels of government are taking this seriously, and we are hopeful this could be a template for other areas,” said Dahli.

Dahli made these points Tuesday morning, and as if to prove his points, Wednesday’s windstorm left two more abandoned boats in the beach, with one sitting beneath 11 feet of water, with only its mast sticking out.

“It just further emphasizes and puts a large exclamation mark behind what we are attempting to do,” he said.

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