Residents along the Gorge Waterway are watching in anticipation to see if any of the boats that have been permanently anchored in Victoria’s waters will show up in the Saanich or Esquimalt end near Gorge Bridge.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in March that the City of Victoria has the authority to regulate the waterway. That ruling took effect on Monday, meaning it was the first day the City of Victoria could start evicting boats, such as the derelict vessels or live-aboards stationed in the Gorge near Vic West’s Banfield Park.
As of Wednesday the City of Victoria reported 10 boats remaining, including two which have been signed over to the city, said Victoria city clerk Chris Coates.
“Victoria continues to work with vessel owners to support them to remove their boat,” he said. “Any vessels that are not voluntarily removed will require further action through the courts.”
As well, at least one boat had relocated to the Saanich section of the Gorge Waterway between Curtis Point in Gorge Park and the Gorge Bridge (Tillicum Road). The arrival of the boat has president Gabe Epstein and members of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association waiting for a game of jurisdictional whack-a-mole as the owners of the live-aboards move between different areas.
Saanich Bylaw, for their part, has said they’ve opened an investigation regarding the matter. Saanich has a 72-hour maximum for mooring along the Gorge. It was brought in at about the same time Victoria moved to change its own bylaws to improve the management of the Gorge Waterway by limiting long-term mooring to a maximum of 48 hours and not more than 72 hours in a 30-day period.
“The concern is the problem shifts from one area to another when what we need is an overarching authority,” Epstein said, suggesting something like a Gorge Waterway conservation society that is empowered by local organizations and municipal, provincial and federal governments.
“What should be driving this is the needs of the waterway itself, and its ecosystems, rather than political situations. It should have an environmental ethos at the core of it and you can build around that.”
It would take a significant cultural shift in terms of the way we do government but it’s not insurmountable, Epstein added, pointing to the success of the Veins of Life Watershed Society.
“They worked with the multiple jurisdictions over the years and pulled things together, so it’s doable,” Epstein said.
It’s not just the boats, it’s also the private docks along the public shorelines which are non-permitted and which the City of Victoria has said it would like to remove.
“It’s a proliferation of docks that showed up when none were allowed,” said John Roe of the Veins of Life Watershed Society, which was behind the Gorge’s miraculous restoration in the 1990s.
“It’s a mess and it depends on which municipality, as there’s a few with tenure in Saanich, View Royal and maybe 10 or so in Victoria. But there’s been a proliferation, about 60 [without permit] and they lead to the loss of habitat.”
Carol Greenwood has lived in the area for 40 years and has seen pleasure usage of the Gorge grow beyond anything in the previous decades.
She says there’s more kayakers, outriggers, dragon boats, paddleboards and swimmers now than ever, dating back to the Gorge’s height as a recreation destination the 1920s. And yet there are still motorboats and overnight live-aboards dumping sewage and other waste directly into the Gorge, a highly sensitive ecosystem.
“I’d like to see all motorized [watercraft] banned from the Gorge,” Greenwood said. “We know the eel grass is crucial in the food chain, there is rare sea asparagus and all types of sensitive sea life that people don’t realize are in there.”
Roe, who lives a block from the Gorge, felt the CRD’s Gorge Waterway Initiative was supposed to be the oversight authority the region needed but has failed to come through.
He said there are only about three live-aboards currently and the rest are non-seaworthy boats.
“It’s sad there isn’t marina [space] for them,” Roe said. “Historically there was but over time the people coming into the community have more money and they pay for the marina space, pushing these boats out.”
While the City of Victoria and Pacifica Housing have attempted to find accommodation for those who are living aboard a boat in the Banfield area of the Gorge, Roe said the remaining few will likely refuse.
“I’ve tried, I’ve talked to them. We tried to reach out with the Veins of Life Watershed. It’s said but it’s their own demise if they want to stay.”
As for the docks, Roe blames the ‘home-and-garden’ syndrome, the ‘perfect little lakefront cottage’ with trimmed grass and bare waterfronts.
”Saanich has a no-dock bylaw, and it’s not just that, every tiny bit of brush that overhangs along the water is a key part of the ecosystem, that’s where the fish collect and feed, but homeowners need it removed for the view and it’s not right,’ Roe said.