Bubbling with excitement, nearly 100 middle school students recently hopped into four dragon boats and headed onto the Gorge Waterway for a friendly rowing competition.
It was the first time many of the students had ever been on the water. But as Erik Ages steered one of the boats past a sunken vessel near the Selkirk Trestle, their attention shifted to the 20 or so derelict boats that have been bobbing on the water for several years.
“The kids were asking what are all those boats doing and why are they sunk? It’s a complicated issue you can’t explain to a 10-year-old all that easily, but it should be something we can explain and it should be something that’s not acceptable,” said Ages, general manager of the Fairway Gorge Paddling Club.
“This water is heavily used by recreational users and it should be a safe, clean body of water.”
Ages is among a number of area residents who’ve grown frustrated and impatient with the derelict boats and floating vessels that have been permanently anchored off the Selkirk Trestle near Bamfield Park for several years. The boats have sparked several complaints about leaking sewage, oil, fuel, noise and garbage since they aren’t hooked up to proper services, but the City of Victoria is forging ahead to eventually have the boats removed.
In 2013, Victoria council began floating a plan to deal with the boats, but has run into a number of hurdles since then. Now the city has finally managed to rezone the current Gorge Waterway regulations to allow anchoring for a period of up to 48 hours, but not exceeding 72 total hours in a 30-day period.
City officials are currently in the process of issuing notices to all boats in the area as part of an education and voluntary compliance phase. For those who don’t comply, the city would have to apply for an injunction.
“I’m sure we’ll hear back pretty quickly and see very quickly whether people are moving or not and I anticipate that some people will,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, noting a September target for the boats to be removed is not set in stone.
“We’ve seen something about the injunction process with regards to tent city…Certainly we’ve indicated a very clear path to the public and we’re going to be following that path just as we’ve laid it out.”
According to one area resident, the number of boats anchored in the Gorge has decreased slightly and no more have arrived for the summer months like they usually do. Two boats, however, are still fully submerged in the water.
Like many people who live near and use the waterway on a regular basis, Ages is curious to see how the process will unfold during the next few months. He’s aware how much effort the city has put into changing its bylaws and getting the appropriate licensing from the province, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the boats are still in the water come September.
“The effort to get them out is going to be insurmountable. We’re certainly willing to pitch in and do our part. We need them out of there for the general good of the community and the environment,” said Ages, who runs paddling camps for kids throughout the summer.
“The majority of the people who are around this water every day believe that those boats have caused environmental damage and they’re impacting the general recreational enjoyment of the water for thousands of people…My sense of safety and the ability to run our program will improve when those boats are gone.”