A Sidney councillor is encouraging residents to submit their ideas about the future of Beacon Wharf as the deadline for giving feedback approaches.
Coun. Terri O’Keeffe said she has heard from residents who think council has already decided to replace Beacon Wharf with a floating wharf under a public-private partnership with Marker Group. “So some people might be reticent and ask ‘what’s the point about giving feedback?’”
But that is not the case, she said. “It is really important for citizens to provide that feedback and I feel that council is keeping an open mind on this. This is a really important project for the community. We need to hear from them what they like and what they don’t like.”
O’Keeffe made these comments as residents have until Oct. 15 to respond to a survey seeking feedback on the future of Beacon Wharf. The survey is part and parcel of the municipality’s public engagement process around the future of the wharf. Members of the public also had a chance to participate in two public engagement sessions last month and have also submitted feedback to the municipality and individual members of council.
The municipality has presented the public with two official choices: removal of the structure with no replacement or its replacement with a pontoon that was once part of a floating bridge in Washington State.
Information released by the municipality describes the latter option as a public-private partnership that would see Marker Group transform the pontoon into a floating wharf, which would have a two-storey building featuring a restaurant and two commercial spaces (one reserved for the municipality) on the main floor and eight hotel units above.
O’Keeffe, along with Coun. Barbara Fallot, formally voted against limiting the public consultation process to two options in calling for additional options. Supporters of having just two options said at the time that the municipality would hear about other potential options during the process.
When asked about her impressions of the engagement process, O’Keeffe said it is hard to know where the public stands. “We haven’t seen all of the feedback yet,” she said. “What I have personally heard in the engagement sessions and the letters sent in so far is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support from the public for either of the two options, from what I have seen so far.”
O’Keeffe said she personally opposes the pontoon option, but reserves judgment about future direction. “In terms of what we do next, I’m not sure yet because I want to see what the public comes back with.”
O’Keeffe said the committee charged with overseeing the process around the future of the wharf did, what she called, “a pretty job” explaining why a rubble structure or a piled structure has some challenges. “So it may be that the floating option is the best option, but we didn’t seek other proposals.”
Ultimately, council owes it to the public to look at other options, she said, while readily acknowledging the economic, environmental and emotional aspects of finding a solution.
Coun. Peter Wainwright, one of three council members on that committee, agreed with O’Keeffe’s statement that the town did not seek out other proposals. “We became aware that this floating pontoon was available for sale and we contacted Marker to follow up and confirm that it was still available (and) find out more information about it,” he said, noting the committee did not put out any other requests or seek proposals.
Following that conversation, the group expressed an interest to put forward a proposal, he said, which the committee allowed. While considering putting out a request for proposals, the committee was reminded the town has done so in the past, but only received one submission from the Marker Group. “And the circumstances have not changed in terms of the likelihood of anyone else putting in a proposal.”
The option of going to tender is still open, but would involve significant time commitments, Wainwright added.
As for O’Keeffe’s comments about looking at other options, Wainwright said the two options before the public were the survivors out of multiple options reviewed by the committee. “It’s not that there are only two options and we did certainly look at more than two,” he said.
While Wainwright has not seen all of the feedback, what he’s seen so far suggests roughly one-third support taking out the wharf, roughly a third support the floating option and roughly a third want something else. “And we need more than 50 per cent to want the same thing,” he said.
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