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Battling the derelict boat issue

Derelict boats, like this one currently ashore at Goose Spit, have been an issue of contention for decades. Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns is among a conglomerate of politicians seeking federal legislation to deal with the problem. - Erin Haluschak
Derelict boats, like this one currently ashore at Goose Spit, have been an issue of contention for decades. Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns is among a conglomerate of politicians seeking federal legislation to deal with the problem.
— image credit: Erin Haluschak

Erin Haluschak

Record Staff

A derelict boat sitting on the shores at Goose Spit has caught the attention of not only park users and local government, but also members at the federal government level.

Local resident Todd Dickson says he has been keeping his eye on derelict boats around the spit for a couple of years, and the problem increases in the winter following storms.

"Right now, we've got three in visibility, two on the outer side of the spit, and two I believe that are still sunk out here," he explained, and motioned to the inner tidal area.

"We've talked to the coast guard, and nobody wants to take responsibility for it unless they're leaking fuel or a hazard to the environment."

He noted if owners can't afford to moor a boat, they should have a boat that is trailerable, and added it's frustrating for beach users as no one wants to take responsibility for them.

"… boats have numbers on them … and they should be able to be traced if registered, and they should be registered when they're purchased.

"Look after your gear .. don't expect anyone else to look after it."

Doug DeMarzo, manager of parks with the Comox Valley Regional District said the one boat in question falls within its water licence area, and recently washed up on shore during a January storm.

He said the CVRD considers itself quite fortunate in this particular incident, as the owner has come forward and they have been working with him.

"The boat started off as a catamaran, and he's since removed the two pontoons and is slowly working away on it."

The CVRD has set a 'drop dead' date at which point they would move in and remove the vessel, and would charge the owner for removal costs.

DeMarzon wouldn't confirm a specific date, but noted it is sometime in April to align just before the RD's fire season.

While he said other communities have had similar issues, it is the first vessel to wash up on Goose Spit. Three other boats nearby are on Department of National Defence property.

During next month's Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Convention, members will vote on an Abandoned and Derelict Vessels Program, and a Vessel End of Life Disposal Program, said Christianne Wilhelmson in an email to The Record.

The resolution, brought forth by the municipality of Saanich, aims to address the safer and environmental risks posed by aging recreational and commercial vessel fleet.

Funding would come through vessel purchase, registration, insurance and moorage to support local municipalities and waterfront property owners.

Wilhelmson added Washington and Oregon states have a similar program in place.

Via video conference from Ottawa, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns told Comox Valley media derelict vessels are an issue which runs from all coastal areas of the country.

"It's an issue because it's a huge impact to the environment especially if there's a fuel leakage and for navigational purposes it could be a problem. And certainly it can be a huge eyesore, not great for aesthetics, not great for tourism and not fair to the local residents."

He noted Bill C-638, which was brought forth by former NDP MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan Jean Crowder, offers federal leadership on derelict vessels and includes a comprehensive strategy which includes coastal communities.

"We've been hearing about this issue from local governments for more than 15 years, and it's an issue that needs to addressed."

He added the bill has been reintroduced by Sheila Malcolmson, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and will take some time to work through the process, and it was stopped by the Conservative government and defeated.

"… we're very hopeful the Liberals will take this bill and support it. Although looking at the federal budget that was just introduced, there was no money set aside for that. Right now, we haven't seen leadership in this issue."

Johns said the bill would make the coast guard a "one-stop shop" for abandoned vessels, so that people would have one number to call. The coast guard would then be able to talk with the various agencies that are needed to take control over the situation as to where it lies and its impact.

"Right now, if it's a navigational hazard, then it's (on) coast guard. If it's an environmental hazard, then it's on Ministry of Environment, and if it lands on foreshore, then it's provincial. So if it's not in harm’s way, then it doesn't usually get tended to, and it's not fair to local residents, and not fair to mariners."

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