Looking up the gangplank from the wharf towards land. A boat is tied up to the wharf

The future of 3 wharves within Area C

It has been nine years Transport Canada (TC) transferred administration of three wharves in Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets (Area C) to the Strathcona Regional District (SRD). The SRD was also given $2.9 Million for maintenance and upgrades that were to be completed before November 2024. The work was not done and now the cost of upgrading the wharves Owen Bay on Sonora Island, Surge Narrows on Read Island, and Port Neville on the northern shore of the Johnstone Strait, has risen.  

Regional Director Robyn Mawhinney of Area C – screenshot form previous SRD video

The SRD hoped to recover the shortfall through the area’s property value taxes, ‘the annual requisition not to exceed the greater of $137,187 or $O.0935 per $1,000 of net taxable assessments.’  

On June 29, 2023, the SRD Board decided to gage the electorate’s support through an Alternative Approval Process. This would allow the District to proceed unless 10% of the voters state they are opposed. A minimum of 242 negative responses would suffice to defeat the motion. By the time the process ended, there were 418 elector responses, 385 of which were deemed to be valid. The motion was defeated.

Transport Canada informed the SRD they will not take either the wharves or the funds back. 

Staff drew up a number of possible options, including:

  • transferring the wharves to Area C’s parks service,
  • divest the wharves to First Nations, community groups or private entities,
  • or using the funds to demolish the wharves

At their September 13 meeting, Robyn Mawhinney, Regional Director for Area C, told the Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC):

“I’ve had many conversations and emails, which indicate that Port Neville is the sticking point, with folks highlighting that Port Neville wharf does not serve a remote community in the same way that Owen Bay and Surge Narrows do. It certainly seems to serve mariners, transiting the coast, particularly in times of high winds.” 

She suggested, “Placing the wharves in the park service for Area C will allow engineering to begin the necessary upgrades for Owen Bay and Surge Narrows.”

This would require approval from the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs. 

Chief Administrative Officer Dave Leitch stated that they might be able to find out if the MInistry has any objections when the Union of BC Municipalities meets next week. 

“If we could track down someone from municipal affairs, we’ll  get maybe some line of sight on that. I don’t think that would take a long time. Let’s say a month maybe.” 

RM: “The reason that I was asking that is because I know that there are some pretty tight timelines of these things called fish windows. And actually getting the work done and was hoping that your answer would be the right one.”

Director Mawhinney expressed interest in either divesting or demolishing the wharf at Port Neville. 

CAO Leitch stated that Tlowitsis First Nation may be interested in obtaining the wharf. 

“They use the Port Neville  Wharf regularly. When I say ‘regularly,’ they use it multiple times a week. So they do have an interest …  I think a good trade off, if possible, may be if we invested that money in the Port Neville wharf to suit the Tlowitsis, if they’re interested. I don’t want to contaminate or put words in their mouth, but I think that would be a good exchange.” 

EASC Chair Gerald Whalley added,  “I wonder, from my point of view, if you might present the option of either doing that or we demolish it.”

Director Mawhinney made two motions, both of which carried with no opposing votes:

  • “I would like to move that work began to move Surge Narrows, Owen Bay and Port Neville into the Area C Park Service.” 
  • “I move that investigations into the possibility of divesting Port Neville are begun with any interested parties and that a report of these investigations is returned to the Electoral Areas Services Committee for consideration before wharf works are begun.” 

Top image credit: Wharf at Surge Narrows on Read Island- Photo by Roy L Hales

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