Encroaching on public land near Gorge ‘not acceptable,’ Esquimalt warns property owners

Esquimalt has weighed in on the problem of people encroaching on public land next to the Gorge Waterway, and has sent a letter advising owners of adjacent properties that it is “not an acceptable practice.”

“In the near future, the township will be conducting a cleanup of municipal land,” the letter said. “And any items that were not placed on municipal land by the township are subject to removal and disposal without compensation.”

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Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the idea is to let people know what is happening.

“They need to basically be aware of it should we wish to take action at this point,” she said.

“We wanted them to have the first crack at correcting things.

“We don’t want anyone infringing on bylaws, etc., and the Gorge is very precious to us.”

Desjardins said some people simply don’t know about the problem. She said they might have bought a home in the Gorge area and not been told about encroachment concerns.

The issue was brought to Esquimalt council by Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre. He also led a delegation to Saanich council in February, where he presented a document outlining concerns about encroachment on the Gorge and Portage Inlet.

Saanich councillors received a follow-up report from staff in April that said the municipality has a long history of dealing with such concerns as they become known. Resolution is sought on a case-by-case basis, the report said. “In most cases, resolution is removal of the encroachment. However, there are some trespass files that remain open which are unique in nature and have required more time and resources by the municipality to resolve.”

The letter to Esquimalt property owners said that the municipality owns a number of tracts of land that are undeveloped “and may lead to individuals believing that the land is open for occupation or perhaps even part of their residential lot.”

Any private property is prohibited on such land, the letter said, offering an extensive list that includes building materials, tools, gardening supplies, kayaks, canoes and bicycles.

“Should the township decide to develop or in any way use the township land, the owners of any built structures or other encroachment will be required to remove the encroachment forthwith and at their own expense.”

John Roe of the Veins of Life Watershed Society, which focuses on issues concerning the Gorge, said there are some positive signs in the approach Esquimalt is taking. “It’s a start, there’s no two ways about it,” said Roe.

Public access to the Gorge, blocked in some areas by private landowners, needs to be improved, he said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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