Ogden Point breakwater safety sparks handrail debate

James Bay resident Redner Jones thinks of his safety and that of others on the Ogden Point breakwater. He has been a long-time proponent of installing handrails along the walkway - an issue the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is looking into.

Redner Jones slows his pace, and carefully moves around two people walking side-by-side in front of him on the Ogden Point breakwater.

He eyes the drop on either side of the granite and concrete structure that was completed in 1916 to protect Victoria’s harbour from rough seas, but now also serves as a popular walking path.

“It’s pretty unforgiving without railings,” said Jones, a James Bay resident.

Jones has long argued that handrails should be installed along the structure which attracts pedestrians, even when winds are high and the path is soaked from sea spray.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is in the early stages of considering installing handrails along the breakwater, which it owns.

“It’s really just about looking at safety and access to the breakwater,” said Rebecca Penz, GVHA spokesperson.

Wheelchairs and strollers, which currently can’t fit through a chainlink gate with a slim zig-zag entry way where the breakwater begins, will factor into the GVHA’s handrail study,  said Penz.

The GVHA will seek answers to a number of questions as it moves forward on the issue: “Will (handrails) make the site safer, will it make it more accessible, will it potentially bring new safety hazards that we haven’t thought of, what’s the cost, can we afford to pay for it? If we can’t, who else can partner in paying for it?” Penz said, adding that they will also examine how far handrails should be installed along the breakwater.

“Nothing’s on paper. We’re just gathering information right now,” she said. “We haven’t figured out where it fits in our priorities yet.”

Last year, black metal handrails were installed on both sides of a path leading up to the breakwater gate.

“If we put them in (on the breakwater), they would be the same as those handrails. We already have a sense of what those might look like,” Penz explained.

But Victoria resident Brent Carney considers handrails a waste of time and money, and believes a warning sign at the start of the walkway is enough.

“There’s certain things that should be understood,” he said. “We can’t police everything or guard against everything in the world. When does it stop?

“There’s always going to be stupid people either way.”

Safety at the breakwater last emerged in December 2009 after a Saanich man’s body was found floating in the waters near the concrete structure. Although Victoria police couldn’t pinpoint where the man entered the water due to tides, the incident sparked community concern over safety along the walkway.

Still, police are rarely called to the breakwater for accidents, said Const. Mike Russell, Victoria police department spokesperson.

emccracken@vicnews.com

 

 

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