Saanich came under criticism Wednesday after a staff member issued a 376-word email on Tuesday to a concerned citizen about how to deal with derelict boats.
On that same day, that concerned citizen, Dorothy Chambers, called the Coast Guard about the same issue, a newly sunken boat that sat about 12 metres from the Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club, she said.
The Coast Guard responded to Chambers’ call within 20 minutes and within two hours, the sunken boat was floated and removed, added Chambers, a longtime activist for the Colquitz Watershed, Cuthbert Holmes Park and the Gorge Waterway. That was about the same time Chambers received the email from Saanich bylaw.
“Saanich could have just called the Coast Guard, it was that easy,” Chambers said. “Instead, they were dithering. Coast Guard should be recognized for their response. I just looked up the number [online].”
Chambers was told the Coast Guard had visited the boat about two weeks ago when it was anchored in the Selkirk passage of the waterway. At that time Coast Guard removed gas cans and a motor from the boat to minimize the potential environmental impact.
Shortly after, the boat showed up in Saanich waters. It would have had to have been towed, Chambers said.
On Sunday, Gorge Tillicum Community Association president Rob Wickson (also a member of the Dead Boat Society) witnessed someone visit the boat, which he guessed was the owner.
“He was hammering something on the starboard side of the boat,” Wickson said. “Two days later, it sank.”
Saanich bylaw 9358 was amended in 2015 limiting the use of a float home or other floating vessel as a residence, and does not allow anchoring or moorage of any vessel for a continuous period exceeding 72 hours within 300 meters of a Saanich shore.
Wickson said Saanich bylaw knew about the boat’s location and situation about a week before it posted a notice on it, Friday, Nov. 3.
“When the boat was noticed as sunken, Saanich should have called the Coast Guard, don’t rely on a citizen,” Wickson said. “I don’t know how often Saanich needs to monitor it but we need to let them know the reaction we expected wasn’t what we got.”
In the 376-word email from Saanich to Chambers (forwarded to Saanich News), Saanich bylaw responded to Chambers by detailing the jurisdictional quagmire and procedures Saanich must follow in the case of a derelict boat.
It’s time wasted, Wickson said, noting the current bylaw response is not the appropriate response.
“When a boat is left in the middle of the waterway with no visible registration, Saanich’s action is to post a notice on the boat and then go about tracking down the owner [which can be near impossible],” Wickson said. “To my mind that’s false, if it’s left in the middle of the waterway without registration it should be gone, take it away. When I reported it to Saanich I was told it would be dealt with, but nothing happened.”
Coun. Judy Brownoff, who has pushed for a derelict boat solution, said the response from Saanich bylaw was the appropriate one.
“Part of the problem is to be able to say, if you see a boat sinking in the Saanich waters, call this number,” Brownoff said.
Brownoff also clarified that the management of derelicts and abandoned ships is different in the Gorge, which is covered by a zoning bylaw, than abandoned washups on Cadboro Bay and other beaches are led by Saanich engineering.
A Coast Guard spokesperson said its response officers decided to remove the vessel from the marine environment altogether based on a set of exceptional circumstances.
“[It] included refloating the sunken vessel and confirming it had no pollutants onboard… the fact that the responding Coast Guard crew was not tasked to another response at the time, and the small size of the vessel,” said Michelle Imbeau.
In the meantime, Sheila Malcolmson, MP for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, is among those seeking a program that will deal with derelict and abandoned boats.
If the public believes there has been, or will be, a discharge of oil from a vessel into the marine environment, they are asked to report to Coast Guard at 1-800-889-8852.