As two teenage boys scrambled along the boulders of Gonzales Beach they ducked under the plastic orange construction fencing to carry on their way.
The fencing surrounds the wood frame of a soon-to-be poured cement retaining wall just a few metres above the water level. It sits below the lot of 1871 Hollywood Cres. The site is vacant as the former house was recently demolished. Meanwhile, the temporary plywood frame of the new wall is hard to miss for beach goers.
John Craib, his wife and a friend, noticed the wall while enjoying some shade along the west end of Gonzales Beach.
“This shoreline has rocks coming out all along so does that mean [homeowners] can put walls in front of the other houses along here,” he asked. “I was under the impression you can’t build within 20 feet of high tide, obviously I’m wrong, that’s within three feet of high tide, so what are the limits?”
City of Victoria spokesperson Sheldon Johnson clarified that while it might appear the wall is being erected on Crown land, the construction is contained on the owner’s private property. No approvals are required from City council for the type of construction that is occurring. Furthermore, concerns regarding encroachment on Crown land are a provincial issue and in this case, a provincial natural resources officer has given the owner permission to proceed as planned.
The owner of the lot could not be reached.
Regardless of what is permitted, John Roe from the Veins of Life Watershed said this type of encroachment goes against a groundswell of inter-tidal restoration work and years of research to support the recovery of the Southern resident orcas.
Roe noted that to retain the views along bays such as Gonzales, the homeowners routinely remove marine plants such as shrubs and trees. Yet it is those branches and tidal pools that protect the marine life young Chinook salmon feed on.
“Years of research shows those little tidal areas get blocked when we put cement walls in,” Roe said. “There’s been years of work to remove seawalls in the Puget Sound and here we are putting them up despite Victoria, Saanich and the CRD knowing this since the 1990s. The critters that hide in those nooks and crannies are vital to the marine food chain.”
Graham Whitehead watched his grandchildren play in the sand and on the rocks of Gonzales on Wednesday.
“Often the kids follow the rocks along the wall line around,” Whitehead said. “So to me, it is restricting access for people to cross those rocks to the rest of the rocks. In the summer, especially on weekends, you’ll see people on the rocks all the way out to the point. If they’re going to block that access, that’s a very negative impact.
Both the City of Victoria and a recently drafted guideline for the Islands Trust Conservancy recommend minimal construction along water front at all times. The latter, instead, suggests removing seawalls whenever possible.
“This is nothing new,” Roe said. “Someone is putting a pool there, or a patio, right on the ocean so they can be right on the water to watch the climate change. Maybe they’ll etch [one of the dead orcas] into the cement wall.”