Jerry Peyton

Marina proposal causes stir in Port Renfrew

Expansion of Pacific Gateway Marina upsets Pacheedaht band

Octavian Lacatusu

Sooke News Mirror

“Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown…” – Bob Dylan’s words in Times Are A-Changin’ paint a stark contrast to a recent community meeting in Port Renfrew in regards to some potentially-major changes to its waterfront.

One of the biggest is a proposed expansion by Pacific Gateway Marina of a year-round 150-boat marina located near the mouth of the San Juan river – which is due to replace the seasonal 55-boat marina that currently operates in the area under a temporary three-year licence. If approved however, the existing breakwater would be extended by 150 ft, and include construction of a new breakwater wall on the other side to create an enclosure.

But the new marina project has raised some serious concerns with local residents and the Pacheedaht First Nations due to its proximity to the San Juan river entrance and its location — which, according to Pacheedaht Chief Arliss Daniels, would otherwise sit on top of a vital fishing area where coho salmon sit year-round to adjust to the salinity of the water before migrating up the river.

The same location also happens to be an old log dump actively used to process logs for marine transport during the 1930s and the Second World War.

“The rivers are the arteries of our nation, they are our fishing grounds,” said Daniels, adding that this fishing spot has been a source of food for the Pacheedaht from the very beginning. She also pointed out that added sedimentation from the marina’s presence would completely eliminate the cohos’ traditional resting spots. “We’ve been trying for years and years throughout generations to keep our fish coming back and they do come back because of the rivers.”

The new marina, which is reportedly built for a 200-year storm period according to PGM, is set to include several parking lots as well as added facilities such as washrooms, a proposed helipad, a fish processing plant and fuel storage tanks.

According to Daniels however, the required rock blasting across the shoreline to accommodate all this would be even more destructive to numerous centuries-old First Nations burial caves, which remain sacred for the Pacheedaht to this day.

“We’re fighting for our aboriginal rights to protect our river and our burial caves; there are other burial caves out there that have been already destroyed,” she said. “We want healthy fish, not contaminated, and we want to keep our burial caves.”

Other Port Renfrew residents present at the meeting voiced concerns over their view being potentially blocked by the marina’s breakwater walls, as well as the marina’s ability to protect its boats against the region’s unpredictable and at times ferocious weather patterns.

A concern which, ironically, brought up the initial idea of expanding local moorage capability by way of a bigger marina, noted Andrew Purdey, CEO of Ruskin Construction and the developer of the Pacific Gateway Marina. Purdey, who was the lead developer behind the Mill Bay marina, said this would provide a “safe haven” for ships trying to ward off rough seas and that the new marina’s 0.8 per cent footprint over the area will not disrupt the passage of the fish.

“The sedimentation, the ponding of the coho, we’ve done exhaustive reports on all that information to the extent that we’ve had them done two or three times. I wouldn’t be proposing a marina if we didn’t have certainty that it meets all these concerns about the environment,” he said, adding that PGM will work with the Pacheedaht to isolate or protect the sacred burial caves in the process of the marina’s construction.

“I have no desire to come here to invest and build this and have an enemy across the river, I’m not into that, it just isn’t worth it for me,” he said. “I built a house here, plan to spend the next 25 years of my life here. This is not just come in, invest and move.”

That investment however, remains in limbo — while PGM owns the foreshore lease on its current marina (which allows it to operate seasonally under a three-year temporary permit) it has but one permit to expand, which is currently pending approval from the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who have the responsibility of issuing the water lot lease.

This complicates matters further, as there are multiple levels of government implicated in order to give PGM the green light for development: federal, provincial, and last, municipal; a factor which, Juan de Fuca Director Mike Hicks says has become mixed up in the community.

“PGM applied for an operating permit for the current 50-boat marina, in an area which is part zoned for private moorage and is part of the OCP (Official Community Plan),” Hicks said, adding the Capital Regional District (CRD)  granted PGM the three-year temporary permit (which expires at the end of next summer) to operate the small marina while the government considers the larger one.

Hicks was exempted from the meeting on grounds of conflict of interest due to his ownership of a fishing lodge, though he says there was no actual conflict as he is no longer operating the business and is selling the property as a property and not as a commercial business.

“They own the water lease, everything’s legal. They have not applied to us, but to the provincial government. All we’ve done is give them a temporary permit until the province figures out a foreshore lease,” he said. “The province will consult with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is federal, Ministry of Environment, and the Pacheedaht First Nations. We have no application in front of us.”

All of the frustration stems from lack of communication, said former Pacheedaht Chief Marvin McClurg, also present at the meeting, who pointed out the Pacheedaht First Nations were not consulted adequately on a new marina.

“I’m not against the marina, but I am against where it’s at; cause it hits on everything we depend on,” he said. “This bothers us because it just seems to be rammed right down our throat.”

McClurg also pointed out that the proposed marina could also affect the Pacheedaht campground by robbing it of it’s pristine views and polluting its surroundings.

A point which Hicks says could be a potential catalyst in judging the new marina’s fate.

“Concern of the view would be a huge factor in a rezoning decision if and when the new marina gets to the CRD,” he said. “The province is certainly going to look at that concern, because they’re obligated to make sure that no new development be put in at the detriment of the Pacheedaht economy, and if that’s a concern, they’ll take it into consideration, and so will I.”