Editorial: Living together by the harbour

Ships have been repaired at the Point Hope site in Victoria’s harbour for 140 years, and that will go on for many more years if the shipyard goes ahead with expansion plans.

As the area becomes increasingly gentrified, more and more residents are sharing the waterfront with a working harbour. It creates an exciting dynamic, but it also means the city, businesses and residents must be ready to talk about the inevitable conflicts.

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Ian Maxwell, president of the Ralmax Group of Companies, says Point Hope Maritime has applied for federal approvals to build a $50-million graving dock at the facility near the Johnson Street Bridge. Point Hope is part of Ralmax.

“This is the community’s shipyard. Somebody needs to build it out. This will generate jobs,” Maxwell said. “The reality is, if we build a good graving dock and maintain it properly, it is there for as long as ships float. As long as they need to come out of the water, it’ll be there and people will get employment from it.”

The expansion would mean a big jump in employment, from about 90 employees and 30 to 40 contractors, to about 400 employees and contractors. The graving dock would allow the firm to take vessels up to 560 feet long or work on two shorter vessels at once.

Business has been booming since Maxwell bought Point Hope in 2003, reviving the site on Harbour Road.

Across Harbour Road, plans are underway to restart development of Dockside Green, which is turning 15 acres of waste ground into condos, townhouses and businesses. About 500 people already live there, with another 1,000 units expected when the site is built out.

The shipyard was there long before the homes, but what will the new residents think of seeing and hearing a heavy industrial operation between them and the water?

Contrasts are nothing new to Victoria’s harbour. Farther up the waterway, the Selkirk site of a former lumber mill is filled with offices, businesses, condos, a rowing facility and a trendy restaurant. Many of them look out on a scrap-metal operation where crushed cars are piled high on barges.

Just across the water from other condos and offices, a gravel and cement business is nestled beside the Point Ellice Bridge, a few hundred metres from historic Point Ellice House. After years of remediation, the Rock Bay industrial site is ready for development, which could include both industry and residences.

Ensuring all these users get along is going to require patience and understanding on all sides.

Victoria’s Inner Harbour was once heavily industrialized, but almost all traces of that are gone. Where Bapco Paint once stood is the Inn at Laurel Point. Petroleum tank farms were swept away to make room for Songhees condos and the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort. The Pendray soap factory is long gone from the water’s edge. Still, a working harbour is a vital part of Victoria’s waterfront — and yes, that includes heavy industry.

The Inner Harbour is a gem, but lots of activity continues, with marinas, ferries and floatplanes. And that still brings conflict.

The new marina for large yachts, under construction off the Songhees, sparked anger from residents who did not plan on having their views obstructed by floating palaces and new shoreside facilities. Kayakers and other harbour users have also fought the plans.

But the marina is going ahead, and the opponents will share the harbour with yet more users.

The city needs the jobs and the economic boost from industry in the harbour. It also needs homes for the many people who continue to come here. Housing those people close to downtown makes sense on many levels.

While there will be tension, we can make it work.

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