Cloudy Shores

Oct 2009

By Doreen Marion Gee

On September 22, Denise Savoie held a public meeting about the proposed new Victoria International Marina. Representatives from all three levels of government attended to inform the public of their respective roles in the process of evaluating and deciding on the fate of Robert Evans' vision. The public then queried the panel on local concerns. It was a well attended and informative meeting. With new developments both during and after that public event, some see sunny skies but others predict stormy weather.

It was a lively meeting in a hot, packed room at the Leonardo Da Vinci Centre. Most of the people attending seemed opposed to the marina. The big surprise of the evening was the latest new plan by Evans introduced at the public event. To accommodate the safety concerns expressed by kayakers, the developer has modified his plan so that kayakers will now be paddling underneath the marina away from those huge yachts. Brian Henry of Ocean River Sports, a vocal critic of the marina, is not impressed: "No matter what they (the developer) do, they will still be in the middle of our access to and from open water making it too likely that paddlecraft will lose their right to navigate our waters."

The applications by the developer are still under review by Transport Canada and the Integrated Land Management Bureau of our BC Government. No decisions have been made, and the public can still express their feedback about the marina to all of these agencies and to our own City Hall. At this stage of the game, a lot hinges on an environmental assessment by the feds - a big factor in the final decision. A major development at the big meeting was a formal request by Irene Faulkner, lawyer for the South Island Sea Kayaking Association to the federal environment ministry. She wants them to refer the environmental assessment to an independent Review Panel with a full public hearing. She believes that an independent review is needed due to the "potential significant adverse environmental effects of this project and the deep and widespread public concerns associated with this project."

The evening was full of surprises. The Victoria Harbour Defense Alliance expressed an interest in giving some competition to the developer. The group, composed of Peter Pollen and friends, wants to make its own bid on that Crown water lot lease so that the scenic area can be preserved in its present state as a natural marine park. Pollen gave a passionate talk in opposition to a luxury yacht marina saying that government officials are not taking a realistic look at the project. He showed pictures of gigantic yachts dwarfing everything around them and questioned the logic of that vision for our harbour. He reiterates his concerns in his Opinion Piece in the Times Colonist of October 1: "Are we so naïve that we can be manipulated into buying into this outlandish project?... A mega-yacht marina is neither necessary nor will it be a financial bonanza for anyone but the developer."

Elizabeth May, a federal Green Party candidate, gave a lively show in opposition to the marina. She presented two legal precedents that show that "loss of viewscapes" can definitely be part of any environmental assessment, and she questioned the position of the feds in not including that important factor in their review. Another question was asked about the practicality of dredging the sea bed of sediment to accommodate the yachts. Estimates predict that 4000 truckloads of sediments will be removed from the seabed. An important concern is how and where this sediment with toxic materials will be deposited.

There were supportive voices on September 22: Anthony Utley, owner of Raven Marine Services, said that the marina would be much the same as the one in Sidney and would reap economic benefits for our community.

According to Monday Magazine (Oct.1-7), government support for the project is not as strong as the developer suggests. FOI documents obtained by UVIC's environmental law clinic state an opinion by Rob Ogden of Transport Canada: "The location of the marina would be disruptive to both commercial marine vessels, rowers, kayakers, and commercial aircraft activities...it is unclear if the 'Public Interest' would be served by this project."

There are a very complex array of factors to consider in this development proposal. Let's hope that our elected officials keep a clear eye to that horizon, noting the cloudy skies as well as the sunny ones.