Derelict or abandoned vessels are all-too common in Oak Bay waters, and in a bid to combat the concern, district staff suggested council consider foreshore leases from the province.
While council won’t pursue foreshore leases just yet, members agreed to consider derelict, abandoned and live-aboard vessels during the the strategic planning process.
Abandoned, derelict and sunken vessels in coastal waters are caught in a quagmire of responsibilities. Derelict vessels fall within the jurisdiction of both the provincial and federal governments and in many cases local governments end up dealing with them.
The foreshore is provincial, but Environment Canada and Transport Canada are currently among those responsible for cleanup if pollution or navigation are concerns.
“Right now the province isn’t regulating that area and we end up bearing the cost when a boat comes ashore or is left in the bay,” said Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, during the committee of the whole meeting where the staff report was discussed.
Municipal staff recommended pursuing foreshore and water lot leases to allow Oak Bay to regulate uses. As part of the application process, consultation would be required with neighbours, Oak Bay Marina, Victoria Yacht Club, First Nations, the Coast Guard and others.
The application process would be lengthy and if approved would likely still require zoning bylaw amendments to put regulations in place. The major concerns outlined by staff include sewage discharge, aesthetics, fuel discharge, navigation and costs.
Boaters are required to hold their sewage and pump out.
“One of the issues you’ve brought to our attention in the report has to do with sewer discharge and there is no pump in Oak Bay,” said Coun. Tara Ney.
Staff confirmed, the closest pump out is in Victoria.
Reiterating staff’s environmental and cost concerns, Jensen lamented the longstanding problem of irresponsible owners, those who leave vessels with batteries, oils and gasses aboard to wash up on shore, or sink into the waters “creating shipping hazards as well as environmental hazards.”
“There needs to be a collaborative effort with stakeholders … and over time perhaps that can result in some assistance from these people in a self-regulatory, self-policing of the responsible owners, because there are responsible owners down there,” he said.
He pointed to action in spring 2014, when the municipality and Transport Canada, with help from Oak Bay police and the RCMP Marine Division removed five non-compliant buoys and two derelict vessels near Oak Bay Marina.
“Other communities are turning to looking for some kind of control over the water leases. This is worthy of consideration by us. We have water leases already that don’t seem to create the burden,” Jensen said, adding a wide range of concerns could be addressed.” This is something new and something that needs to be tried.”
Municipalities incur the cost when boats end up on the shore. In the wake of the costly removal of the 40-tonne concrete-hulled vessel this winter, a Saanich councillor floated pushing for a federal program to deal with derelict and abandoned boats.
“There are a lot of issues related to this topic that need to be more fully explored,” Ney said. “We need to troubleshoot. There may be remedies other than getting foreshore leases … you get unintended consequences if you start piece-mealing this.”
Coun. Eric Zhelka mused whether the foreshore could be considered for infill housing, such as float homes in James Bay and Fisherman’s Wharf. Coun. Michelle Kirby took the other approach, noting the live-aboard is a current form of affordable housing in a city where the vacancy rate is low and cost of living high. “This is an interesting time to be bringing this forward. I will have trouble supporting any movement on this issue at this time,” she said.
Oak Bay should take the approach it does with deer, she suggested, urging the provincial and federal levels to step up to the plate.
“I thought our efforts were to be reaching out to the province through UBCM and negotiating that and urging them to take responsibility,” Kirby said.
“If this is our attempt at managing the issue of derelict boats that I think we could do a much better job. There is a missing element. … We could do far better for the community as a whole if we approach this more collaboratively.”
The decision to not apply for foreshore leases came down to a narrow 4-3 vote; Coun. Kevin Murdoch, as committee chair, broke the tie.
Murdoch hesitated to start another project that would take considerable work and consultation, with with Uplands sewer separation, infill strategy and multiple bylaw updates underway.
“It’s a chronic issue and concern,” said Murdoch. “It’s not an acute issue we have to jump at.”
The issue drew a plethora of speakers. Douglas Prentice told council he wasn’t sure whether he qualified as live aboard, as the district has no definition of the term. He does spend some nights on his trimaran and served as spokesperson for a group of those who live on the water.
“We do not object in principle to the idea,” Prentice said. “In fact we would welcome it because, as mariners we are familiar with maritime law. We see owners abandoning their vessels and being negligent operators of vessels as defined in the Criminal Code of Canada and we would like to see that enforced.”
Among those who spoke was the Commodore for the Royal Victoria Yacht Club that holds foreshore leases and has dealt with family moorage handed down through generations.
“We have a century of experience dealing with moorage,” said Dunnery Best, adding treading carefully was the “best advice you’ve had tonight.”
“Once you initiate that process you have less flexibility.”
Council opted to send the issue of derelict vessels to a future strategic planning session.
All decisions made during committee meetings are recommendations that go to council. The next council meeting is Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. at municipal hall.