More than eight years have passed since Transport Canada (TC) transferred administration of three wharves to the Strathcona Regional District (SRD). Owen Bay on Sonora Island, Surge Narrows on Read Island, and Port Neville on the northern shore of the Johnstone Strait are all within Area C. The SRD was provided with $2.9 million for maintenance and upgrades that were to be completed sometime during the next decade. These upgrades have not yet occurred. Nor has a service to carry out operations and maintenance been established for Area C. Robyn Mawhinney, the new Regional Director, hopes to have this work well underway before the November 2024 deadline.
RM: “The wharves are important. They need improvements. Outer Discovery Islands residents rely on these wharves for their day-to-day life, and they have a high desire for this to get underway.”
“There was an attempt at an alternative approval process for a wharf service in 2022, and it did not pass. There were definitely some folks last time that had concerns about the wharf service. I do think a lot of it had to do with the lack of communication. That’s why this time I am really focused on making sure that there is lots of communication. So this time, I am having town hall meetings to answer questions, and hear concerns. I initiated this community consultation on Quadra Island and at Surge Narrows before a bylaw is written because I want a wharf service to meet the needs of the community and find the community support needed to become a reality.”
“I was really pleased that the Strathcona Regional District (CAO David Leach and two staff engineers joined me at the town hall meetings. I think that the folks on both Quadra and the Outer Islands were really pleased to have that conversation, be heard and have their questions answered.”
“At these meetings, SRD engineers stated that they have done Class B estimates on the costs for wharf upgrades and are optimistic that the existing funds will be adequate.”
CC: Were most people positive?
RM: “I think most people were curious.”
CC: Can you get it done in time?
RM: “That’s another good question, and was one of the questions that came up at the meetings. Marine work, such as pilings, can only be done at certain times of year. Something the SRD engineers have referred to as fish windows, because the timing is approved by the Department of Fisheries, oceans as the least disruptive to marine life.”
“Which is why I’ve been pushing this forward and seeking community engagement prior to a wharf service bylaw being drafted, because timing is important.”
“Apart from the Transport Canada funding deadline, there is the lived reality for folks who are using these wharves as their sole connection to their broader community. The wharves need work. There are plans in place, and the service must be created in order to spend the federal funding. Officially, the funding expires in November 2024. Dave Leitch, the Strathcona Regional District’s CAO, said at one of our recent meetings that he thought if the work was in progress, an extension wouldn’t be unusual.”
CC: Personally, I would think that if they wanted to get rid of them 10 years ago, they don’t want them back.
RM: “There’s some language in the divestiture agreement. It says, ‘If Area C residents do not approve a service, the divestment funds must be returned to Transport Canada’ — which has stated they make no promise to continue operating the public ports.”
CC: Are you putting the work out for tender?
RM: I don’t really have anything at all to do with that part of the process. That’s more of a staff engineer project than a ME project. I can answer that question in that I believe it will be out to tender once the wharf service has been approved by the residents and ratepayers of Area C.
CC: The second component of the SRD agreement with Transport Canada, setting up a service to carry out operations and maintenance for Area C, could be for more than the three wharves that were transferred.
RM: “In our islands’ rich electoral area, wharves provide a vital transportation link for residents of the Outer Discovery Islands, as well as safe haven for mariners traveling the coast.”
“The wharves in this initiative conversation include three which were divested from Transport Canada, Owen Bay, Surge Narrows and Port Neville, and the three wharves currently in the Park Service which are Granite Bay, Hoskyn Channel on Quadra Island and Evans Bay on Read Island. There has been no decision made about which wharves will be in the service. That was one thing which came up at the townhall meetings.”
Top image credit: A sunny summer day at the Surge Narrows wharf – Photo by Robyn Mawhinney
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