Derelict-boat tiff crosses municipal lines

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The Cadboro Bay Residents Association says it’s high time Oak Bay clear out several unsightly derelict boats the group says are despoiling Cadboro Bay beach, and visible from the Saanich side.

Association chairman Eric Dahli cites “at least five beached and abandoned boats within Oak Bay municipal jurisdiction on the south end of Cadboro Bay beach” near the Uplands and the Victoria Yacht Club. He requested in a letter to Oak Bay’s mayor and council that they take “immediate steps” to get rid of them.

“For a municipality like Oak Bay that prides itself in anything that they do, they seem to have missed the boat,” Dahli said Wednesday.

It’s a stance endorsed by Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver, whose riding includes Cadboro Bay beach. Oak Bay would be pressuring Saanich if the situation were reversed, said Weaver.

Some of the boats have been there for an extended period, especially “a burnt-out steel hulled houseboat with the engines still in it,” Dahli wrote. He said oil and other toxic materials pose an environmental and safety risk to the public, including the children of the neighbourhood.

Derelict boats are “a jurisdictional nightmare,” Weaver said, but Oak Bay should follow the Saanich lead and seek cost-sharing with the province.

“It’s all about priority. If this were a priority for Oak Bay, this would be done,” he told the Times Colonist. “The reason it’s not a priority is that you don’t see them every day.”

Weaver said he’s not sure most Oak Bay residents are aware of the situation. But at low tide, nothing is stopping children from reaching the wrecks. “Oak Bay has dropped the ball on this, without any question,” Weaver said.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said he was surprised that Weaver would blame the municipality when it’s the province that needs to step up. He said the boats are not on Oak Bay property — “our jurisdiction is above the tide line.” But Dahli said some of the boats are half in provincial jurisdiction, the inter-tidal zone, and half in Oak Bay’s bailiwick, which is above the tideline.

Weaver’s suggestion that Oak Bay has dropped the ball is unfair, Jensen said, adding that the province should pay for cleanup. As an MLA, Weaver should be pressing harder for measures to address the derelict boats, suggesting a tax on boats at point of purchase as in Washington state.

Jensen said he has met with provincial cabinet ministers over the past few years trying to get more action on derelict boats and that he was among 20 mayors pressing the province on the issue. “It’s a very slow-moving process,” he said. “It’s the provincial government that has dropped the ball. It’s not Oak Bay.”

Dahli said abandoned vessels are “arguably the subject of over-lapping legislative jurisdiction” and the most cost-effective solution lies at the municipal level —and the sooner the cheaper.

Last February, Saanich public works staff used an excavator to cut up a 40-tonne cement hulk on its Cadboro Bay Park waterfront that had washed up in December 2015 and cleared away a sailboat washed up at the park in the same storm.

Last December, Central Saanich agreed to spend up to $18,000 to remove two vessels fully or partly underwater in Brentwood Bay and planned to send an invoice Ottawa.

This week, Oak Bay council endorsed a regionwide approach to dealing with derelict boats, Jensen said, following up on a December staff report by the Capital Regional District suggesting a “consistent and co-ordinated approach” to deal with derelict boats.

Dahli said the trouble with the regionwide approach is the speed at which the CRD moves — “slow or stop.”

Beached vessels qualify as wrecks within the meaning of the Canada Shipping Act, and may be dealt with through the Receiver of Wreck by any person or municipality, as provided in the act, he said. That would bypass jurisdictional issues, he said.

Also needed is an assessment for environmental hazards, which may never have been done, Dahli said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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