Six down, 19 to go in Gorge Waterway boat removal project

The final deadline for owners to remove their derelict boats and floating vessels from the Gorge Waterway has now come and gone.

The final deadline for owners to remove their derelict boats and floating vessels from the Gorge Waterway has now come and gone, but as of Tuesday only six vessels have voluntarily been removed.

Last month, the city issued a second round of notices to those still anchored in the Gorge, reminding owners that they are occupying the area contrary to the city’s zoning regulation bylaw that allow anchoring for a period of up to 48 hours, but not exceeding 72 total hours in a 30-day period.

Friday was the final deadline before the city begins enforcement to remove the remaining vessels and seek an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court, if necessary.

On Tuesday, city clerk Chris Coates said there are still 19 floating vessels and one sunken boat in the waterway. A marine surveyor went out this week to take a look at the remaining vessels to help formulate the city’s action plan for the next stage of enforcement.

At least five to seven of the remaining vessels are being used as residences. Unless the officials gets the owner’s consent to tow them, Coates said the city will have to seek an injunction.

“Some of them are still trying to sort out another place to take their vessel where they can afford the moorage. There’s some complicating factors there, but this is something that has been ongoing for quite some time so most folks should be aware this was going to happen at some point and we’ve reached that now,” said Coates, adding the vessels that are removed will be stored on land and the owners will have a certain amount of time, depending on the value, to reclaim them.

“I think the reality is that this process is going to take some time. It’s been a very complicated process all along, but we are in the final stage and will still take a number of weeks before there’s clarity and a conclusion.”

A number of derelict boats and floating vessels have been permanently anchored near Banfield Park for several years, sparking complaints from many area residents about leaking sewage, oil, fuel, noise and garbage.

In 2013, Victoria council began floating a plan to deal with the boats, but ran into a number of hurdles since the province owned that portion of the water.

In June, notices were issued to all boats in the area as part of an education and voluntary compliance phase. Owners were asked to remove their boats and vessels by July 18, but only three left the area.

Mayor Lisa Helps doesn’t want the city to have to take anybody to court, but noted people are expected to follow the bylaw.

“That’s an environmentally sensitive ecosystem. The community has rallied over the last year, cleaned up the Gorge and it’s becoming a swimming place again throughout the summer,” said Helps, who hopes the removal of the abandoned boats first will encourage others to move along as well.

“There’s no point in making a new bylaw if we don’t expect people to follow them.”

The city has set aside $120,000 for enforcement of the Gorge. Outreach workers with Pacifica Housing continue to work with those living on their boats to find a solution.