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Climate change expected to increasingly shape Sidney waterfront planning

Coastline subject to same climate-related issues as Beacon Wharf say mayor, councillor
Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Coun. Sara Duncan said climate change will play an increasingly important role in planning the future of not only Beacon Wharf, but the waterfront at large. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith says the process around the future of Beacon Wharf not only provided valuable input from the community and information about the state of the facility, it also yielded what he called “difficult truths” about the wharf’s place in the community as climate change looms large.

His comments came after council unanimously voted for staff’s recommendation to maintain the wharf as long as possible – albeit leaving the door open to replacement.

“Planning for the future has forced us to consider some difficult truths and I think as we got into the public engagement that some of this information was new to the public,” he said at the Nov. 8 meeting.

“One, that a cherished landmark may one day be past the point of repair – and I emphasize may. And two, that climate change factors such as rising sea levels and more intense storm surges will increasingly become a factor in planning for the future along our waterfront throughout Sidney, as Coun. (Sara) Duncan referred to.”

Duncan said earlier the waterfront surrounding the wharf faces the same sort of risks as the wharf itself. And if municipality cannot borrow enough money now without approval from the public for the wharf, it certainly does not have a mandate to borrow the greater resources needed for the surrounding infrastructure, she added.

The public needs a “few years to cool off from COVID-19 and the high uncertainty generated by the past 18 months” to really recognize what is at stake, she said.

“This is not about how people feel about their town, but rather what is actually possible in the future,” Duncan said. “It’s not the same as the past, it’s not the same as the present, and giving us more time to consider that and to consider what is actually possible is going to be important.”

RELATED: Replacement of Sidney’s Beacon Wharf dead in the water, for now

McNeil-Smith said the municipality is dealing with a relatively old wharf structure built in and over the water, and two buildings housing businesses.

“We are all witness to the climate change that is here today in the form of more severe weather events and forecasts of greater challenges in the years ahead,” he said. “I believe that council was both proactive and responsible in starting a process this term to plan the future of Beacon Wharf.”

The process has shown the public is passionate about Sidney’s seaside character, he added. “And we, as councillors, and many of us as longtime residents share in that passion.

“We know there wasn’t a preferred option and we have heard that it needs more study,” he said. “There is time to take the information from the next condition assessment and revisit various options and again have broad community engagement.”

Ultimately, council’s action demonstrates that public input can shape decision making, he said.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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