Boathouse battle grips rescue group

Oak Bay Marina owners balk at plans to build new facility

A major battle, with a volunteer rescue society on one side and a multimillion-dollar corporation on the other, appears about to begin next week.

In the middle, will be the municipal politicians of Oak Bay, who must decide whether to support the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society in its bid to construct a new $90,000 boathouse and wharf over the objections of the Oak Bay Marine Group.

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Both sides were in talks on Friday. But a public hearing on the necessary bylaw is scheduled for tomorrow at the Oak Bay Municipal Hall.

For decades, The Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society has been parking its rescue craft for free at the Oak Bay Marina, 1327 Beach Dr. Written into the water-lot lease agreement the Oak Bay Marine Group has with the municipality is the requirement the company provide free space for the volunteer group to erect a boathouse big enough for one vessel.

But at a meeting earlier this month Oak Bay Sea Rescue president Brian deClare told councillors the society has been maintaining two boats since February. And it hopes to construct a new boathouse, big enough to take its new, improved vessel, with some wharf space alongside to park the old one outside.

But that second vessel has raised objections from the Oak Bay Marine Group, a company that in recent months made headlines evicting long-time trailer park residents in Metchosin and Ladysmith and for a $10-million donation to the University of Victoria that put the name of company founder Bob Wright on its new science building.

In a June 3 letter to Oak Bay councillors, the company accuses the rescue society of trying to evade paying rent. The Oak Bay Rescue Society is now paying the marina what amounts to $3,000 to $4,000 a year to park its spare vessel.

"It would appear to be a mischievous way of rafting a second vessel to the boathouse, thus avoiding paying rent," wrote Lanny Sawchuk, executive vice-president and chief operations officer for the company.

Sawchuk, who could not be reached for comment, also said in his letter the rescue society was planning to construct a "dog leg" extension that would compromise prime commercial moorage and create a safety hazard.

But in a telephone interview, DeClare said the rescue society and the Oak Bay Marine Group have been negotiating for about six years, in consultation with marine architects, to come up with a solution. And he took exception to the "mischief" accusation.

DeClare said the society's new boathouse is essential since the new vessel is too big for the old boathouse. But in recent months the society has also found the spare vessel invaluable to accomplishing the group's rescue mission. "We've been alternating between the two."

He said the society carries out, on average, 72 missions per year.

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