Alistair Crawford speaks at a Lake Cowichan council meeting about ways to restrict power vessels on the upper Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Jet skis towing tubers on the river? Lake Cowichan council concerned

A Transport Canada rep says there is support for the town if they decide on restrictions

Lake Cowichan council and some local residents agreed that something must be done to address the issue of jet skis on the Cowichan River.

The idea, which had come from a concern raised by Ken Traynor, of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society, was discussed extensively at the Jan. 21 council meeting.

Traynor said he had received an email from Tom Roach about “a new tubing company offering to use jet skis on the river to tow people back, so no shuttles.”

He asked if council knew anything “about the folks organizing the company?”

Roach had told him, “There is a notice up on 97 South Shore Rd. [a commercial space] saying that there is a new river tube company opening there which will have Seadoos towing the tubes back up the river instead of by shuttle bus. As you know, this would be terrible both in terms of gravel and salmon egg disturbance as well as noise. I assume they haven’t applied for their business licence yet but wanted to give you the head’s up”. Traynor thought the suggestion warranted a closer look from council.

Councillors, notably Coun. Carolyne Austin, have previously raised the idea of prohibiting jet skis on the Cowichan River, but the problem for the Town of Lake Cowichan is that higher levels of government have jurisdiction over the river, not the town itself.

While councillors wondered about the possibility of a bylaw prohibiting such a motorized vehicle, Coun. Tim McGonigle said, “we do not have jurisdiction on either the river or the lake and that’s problematic.”

McGonigle wanted council to see the whole issue.

“Having a tubing business is an allowed use within the zoning for that area so it is not within our authority to turn it down,” he said, giving an example. “For instance if cannabis retail is allowed within the commercial zone and we didn’t like the applicant and said ‘no’ then litigation could be possible. We can’t say how many gas stations there are in town or restaurants. Say, somebody asks, ‘Why do you need another restaurant?’ It’s not for us to decide. I just want to make that clear.”

However, Coun. Kristine Sandhu still wanted to see something done.

“I think it’s good to be pro-active when it comes to the river and to make sure the conditions are good,” she said, pointing to the difficulties coming from last year’s hot, dry summer. “With what might be forecast this year, we need to be pro-active about our environment.”

“And our salmon,” Mayor Rod Peters added.

McGonigle agreed, saying, “Absolutely. That was my intent.”

Vomacka said, “Two things that went through my mind when I read this was the safety of tubers and kids at the Duck Pond; the other is parking down in that area because there is no parking associated with that building. It’s road access only, and is already congested with another tubing company, and businesses, and a day care there.”

Peters said, “That is a salmon rearing area with gravel beds and so on. We don’t want any kind of boat with a motor on it. There are rearing areas all along there. There’s a spot right across the bridge there by the old Pallies Motel, that is a salmon rearing area. We must protect it.”

Alistair Crawford, a boating safety officer for Transport Canada, who is based in Vancouver, attended the Jan. 21 meeting to talk with council.

“There are three boating restrictions in place around the lake and river right now. The lake has a shoreline restriction from the shore to 6o metres out and within that range there is a 10 km/h maximum speed. From the mouth of the river to the trestle there is an 8 km/h speed limit and from the trestle all the way to the bridge in Duncan on the main highway that is a 9.9 hp limit. Those three restrictions are on the books right now. They are in play.”

He said he’d talked to Lake Cowichan CAO Joe Fernandez about signs.

“It’s not that hard to get the artwork to you if that’s something you want to do. It would certainly help with enforcement of those restrictions. I am going to train in Duncan tomorrow — the RCMP detachment there — and at least one or two people from the detachment here. I’ve also offered to come back and get the rest of the people that are located here trained as well. I’m your source if you have any questions around vessel operations or regulations. I’m also you’re source for the RCMP Conservation Service. DFO and other entities have the same enforcement capabilities as the RCMP have. There are more people that can do it. There’s Parks Canada and BC Parks have the authority as well.”

Look up the regulations at www.tc.gc.ca/boatingsafety or email alistair.crawford@tc.gc.ca for information.

“One possible solution is that from the mouth of the river to the trestle [the Greendale trestle], you could make that a ‘no power’ restriction. But, if you want to fish and drift and then motor back up the river then that’s going to impact people that use motors for that purpose,” he said.

He advised consultation with any businesses and fisherman that use the river. However, the idea of towing tubers up against the flow the Cowichan and also against the stream of tubes coming down was another problem.

“There’s a safety issue there. You’ve got a lot of tubers there, and other concerns. If there are fowl that are nesting at the water line, that’s another one. Wake can kill eggs. We know that. If that’s an issue, it could be addressed. There are different reasons to put restrictions in play but understand that if you do go as far as removing motor vessels that will affect other users. That’s something where we have to look at alternatives to make sure we are doing the right thing.”

Coun. Lorna Vomacka asked, “Would you be able to restrict seasonally? So as not to impede people who are using the river for fishing?”

Crawford said this could be a potential solution, adding, “You’d need to check with local fishing groups.”

He then answered a question from Coun. Tim McGonigle about horsepower, saying that “From the [Greendale] trestle to the bridge at the highway in Duncan there is a horsepower restriction of 9.9 hp. Seadoos would have 30-40 hp. They wouldn’t be able to operate beyond the trestle. They’re designated as a vessel, absolutely.

“Even a tube is a vessel; if you use your hands to propel it forward, you’re navigating.”

He also said that signs are probably available for the various levels of restrictions.

Austin wanted one saying “no jet skis” but Crawford told her it didn’t work that way.

“We don’t restrict by type of vessel but by speed or ‘no motors’. Those are the ways to restrict vessels.”

McGonigle said that there are “drifting companies” in the Cowichan Lake area. “We don’t want to restrict them.”

He also said that other tubing companies use shuttles to pick up their clients farther down the Cowichan River [at Little Beach].

“These are local businesses. We don’t want to restrict them. But transporting tubers while there are tubers on the river is a disaster waiting to happen,” McGonigle

Local resident Rosemary Danaher, speaking during question period about jet skis on the Cowichan, said, “I think it’s an asinine idea. On top of all the other problems you have mentioned, you also have erosion.”

Parker Jefferson of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society, who was also in the audience for the meeting, said his group was also worried about the important salmon spawning beds which are located in the river near the Greendale trestle, which could be seriously damaged.

Crawford said he could come over and hold education sessions about transportation on the river.

“I want to do that anyway with all the rental agencies, whatever they rent, but specifically the tubing,” he said.

No firm decision was made Jan. 21 but council will be continuing to investigate the best ways to deal with the use of powered vessels on the river.

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Alistair Crawford speaks at a Lake Cowichan council meeting about ways to restrict power vessels on the upper Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Salmon-rearing beds along the upper Cowichan River in Lake Cowichan should not be disturbed by jet skis, says Mayor Rod Peters. (Submitted)

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