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Brentwood Bay cleanup takes major step forward

Cleanup could begin as early as mid-October if plan passes
An example of derelict boats on the Saanich Peninsula. This one washed ashore during a storm. (File)

Hugo Wong/News staff

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 11, Central Saanich councillors voted 5-1 to endorse an action plan for the long-polluted Brentwood Bay and Mayor Ryan Windsor expects it to proceed.

The document outlines a one-year plan to co-ordinate with different governments to begin cleaning up the bay, which could begin as early as mid-October. It also outlines the steps required to ensure the Bay does not become dirty again, which is good news for Michael Simmons, vice-chair of the Saanich Inlet Protection Society (SIPS).

“We’re very very hopeful about what’s going to happen,” said Simmons. “We’re going to have significant improvements in Brentwood Bay.”

In May, Transport Minister Marc Garneau pledged $5.6 million over five years to remove derelict vessels in Canada. Central Saanich has applied for a portion, but Simmons says applications close in October and he is unsure when the District will learn the final results. Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson has criticized the plan, believing it to be insufficient, and has tabled legislation to make the Coast Guard solely responsible for removing derelict vessels.

Even if it does pass, Windsor says: “I don’t think quite frankly that that’s going to take all the pressure off of local governments.”

In December 2016, Central Saanich approved spending up to $18,000 to remove two vessels, and Windsor says it would likely not be the last time this happens.

“I don’t imagine there will be costs in the millions, but there may be some cost associated with this but it seems that the community is accepting of those costs,” continued the mayor.

Windsor acknowledged that Central Saanich has limited resources, but he does not want to leave this issue entirely in the hands of the federal government.

“I’m not trying to speak negatively about Transport Canada but they obviously have a lot of coastline and we only have this coastline. It means more to us as citizens than perhaps it would mean to Transport Canada. And there is a local desire to see something happen.”

A public consultation of Brentwood Bay residents in July and August of this year indicated a strong desire for action, particularly on sewage dumping and derelict vessels, and 86 per cent of respondents supported more funding from Central Saanich for long-term solutions like bylaw officers and sewage pumping facilities. The seabed is considered Crown land, and if passed, the action plan would ask the municipality to apply for a license of occupation which would give it increased responsibility for enforcement, subject to provincial approval.

Central Saanich is also trying to make Brentwood Bay a Designated Sewage Area which, ironically, is meant to prevent boaters from emptying sewage tanks into the water. Windsor says current federal regulations allow marine sewage to be dumped from boats in the area because of the distance from shore to shore, but if the area became a Designated Sewage Area, only treated sewage could be discharged, and according to Windsor, almost no private pleasure craft have such facilities. There are two pumping facilities in the area. Simmons says the Humpty Dumpty, a mobile sewage pumping boat run by SIPS, can no longer be safely operated because of its age.

The plan involves several levels of government, including the Tsartlip First Nation, who have in the past allowed the use of their boat ramp to aid in the cleanup but could be involved in other ways.

“We would like the Tsartlip to play an integral role, obviously, given that this is their traditional territory. They are used to shellfish harvesting and have an interest in the bay being that it has been their home for many many centuries. What that looks like now is hard to say other than the commitment is absolutely there.”

There is a lot of work ahead, but Windsor says that boaters in the area should not feel threatened.

“We’re not trying to eliminate boats from Brentwood Bay. We’re trying to create order, if you will so we address things like safety concerns and pollution and all of that.”

A ratifying vote on the plan is expected early next week.