Victoria council has taken another step toward removing derelict and liveaboard boats from the Gorge waterway near Banfield Park.
Following a public hearing last week in which several people on both sides of the issue spoke, Victoria councillors adopted a bylaw to rezone the waterway for recreational use only.
Liveaboards, float homes and overnight anchorage or moorage would not be permitted in the area.
The city still requires a licence of occupation over the waterway from the province before the bylaws can be enforced.
Coun. Ben Isitt was opposed. Isitt suggested that ,given legal rulings the city has faced over people sleeping in city parks, council should seek a legal opinion before passing the bylaw.
He also said he’s not convinced that the outright prohibition is reasonable. There are other places where private use of public space is regulated and allowed, he said, citing sandwich boards and restaurant patios on sidewalks as examples.
“I think we need a regulated approach to protect the ecology and also provide greater regulation around the social impacts of the moorage, but I do support regulation rather than an outright ban,” Isitt said.
Ecological issues could be best addressed with the installation of moorage buoys away from sensitive eel grass to reduce the impact of boats in the area, he said.
But Coun. Geoff Young said allowing liveaboards to use the waterway for free would not be unlike allowing campers to use open fields in parks as permanent housing.
(People are allowed to pitch tents overnight in parks when there are no shelter beds available. But tents must be removed in the morning.)
It creates conflict between those who want to use the space for public uses and those who want to “appropriate part of the public space for their private use,” Young said.
“That’s a conflict we can’t avoid once we consider this space a source of essentially permanent housing,” he said.
“I don’t believe we can solve the problems that have been identified — of pollution and wear and tear on the environment — with the unregulated approach we have now.
“And I think, frankly, once we reject that approach, the approach of no occupation of the area by boats is probably the best solution.”
The city has been working to find a way to deal with about a dozen boats, some derelict, anchored just northwest of the Selkirk Trestle off Banfield Park.
There have been complaints that some of the boats are in poor repair and leaking fuel and oil, and that boaters are dumping sewage and are careless with their garbage in the area, which is considered ecologically sensitive.
Mayor Dean Fortin disagreed with statements made during the hearing that council was only acting on the issue because “they don’t like the people” who are on the waterway.
“We have established our bona fides about being committed to dealing with the issues around homelessness,” Fortin said.
“We’ve gone from an estimated 1,500 homeless down to 350. This is work we’ve been committed to and really realize that it is a moral issue and a justice issue and we have been focusing on it.
“So please do not ascribe that motive to why I’m supporting this.”
Fortin said the bylaw strikes a balance, like what has been done in parks bylaw which prohibits campers from pitching tents in playground areas or ecologically sensitive areas.
“We are not providing an outright ban of people mooring throughout the Gorge waterway or throughout the Inner Harbour or Upper Harbour or any of those places,” he said. “We are directing our mind to something that’s been described as an extremely sensitive area.”
Fortin noted that were the city to establish a marine campground today it would not be located off Banfield Park.