Victoria on track for fall removal of derelict boats from Gorge

Not a single boat owner has moved out of the Gorge Waterway, more than a month after City of Victoria staff passed out notices asking them to leave.

Staff began contacting boat owners in mid-June, asking them to move their vessels by July 18. About 25 vessels and four floating wharves remain in the waterway.

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“To date, no vessels or wharves have been moved voluntarily,” a city staff member said in an email to Mayor Lisa Helps.

The city will continue communicating with boat owners, but is moving forward with plans to remove the vessels through a court injunction this fall.

New zoning limits anchoring for a period of up to 48 hours, but not exceeding a total 72 hours in a 30-day period.

The city has also issued a request for proposals for a contractor to help remove two sunken vessels, as well as others abandoned in the waterway.

A contractor has not yet been selected.

“We’ve given everyone ample notice that this is happening,” Helps said. “We haven’t gotten compliance from many of the people who are still there.

“We’ll keep asking them to move.”

The city has offered to connect those living aboard anchored boats with services to assist them in finding alternative housing.

But that poses a challenge, Helps said.

“The honest answer is there’s not much housing available right now,” she said. “And we don’t know the living situations of many of these people. Some choose to live on the water because they like it, but could potentially afford to rent somewhere.

“The city is not a social service provider, but our role is to connect those who need it with services if they need help getting housing.”

The housing needs of the boaters must be weighed against the need to protect the ecology of the Gorge, she said.

An environmental assessment to identify potential adverse effects on human and ecological health in the area is still underway.

It will include options for mitigating impacts from the vessels.

The city is also considering installing mooring buoys, and the environmental assessment will help identify potential locations, Helps said.

Frank Rudge, who coaches rowing through the Gorge Narrows Rowing Club, said he was sympathetic to boaters, but thinks it’s time they leave. He was one of about 100 people at a Vic West community meeting in February.

At that meeting, boat owners said they felt they were being targeted, with the concerns of cyclists and kayakers superseding the rights of people trying to eke out an existence on the water.

“It’s heartwrenching to think they’ll have to relocate,” Rudge said.

“But on the other hand, we have high school students who will start rowing soon, and we’re just 400 metres from where the boats are.”

The students must swim as part of their training, and Rudge said he believes some boaters were dumping effluent directly in the Gorge.

“This is a tent city on the water,” he said.

“I really think these boats should be removed. Not only are they unsightly, but they’re unhealthy.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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