Odai Sirri, spokesman for Nanaimo Marina Association, called for council to support an effort by the Greater Nanaimo Waterfront Association to work with other parties on forming a new non-profit to steward water lot properties. Council approved the request. FILE PHOTO/News Bulletin

Odai Sirri, spokesman for Nanaimo Marina Association, called for council to support an effort by the Greater Nanaimo Waterfront Association to work with other parties on forming a new non-profit to steward water lot properties. Council approved the request. FILE PHOTO/News Bulletin

Council supports effort on non-profit steward of waterfront

City council supported efforts to form a non-profit steward of water lot properties

Nanaimo city council will support efforts to form a non-profit society to replace Nanaimo Port Authority as the official steward of water lot properties, despite calls by several politicians for more information.

Nanaimo Marina Association, in dispute with Nanaimo Port Authority over foreshore lease rates, called on council last week to support efforts to work with the Snuneymuxw and other parties to form a new non-profit to steward waterfront properties. Council agreed in a 5-3 vote Monday.

Odai Sirri, with the Nanaimo Marina Association, told council it’s much larger than a rate issue, but speaks to the “very nature of the kind of harbour governing model we want to have in this community” and that the question is about creating an entity. The non-profit doesn’t automatically become a steward and it’s a very long process, taking months or years, he said, adding “we have to set the groundwork.”

Nanaimo city council previously made an in-camera motion to for staff to explore and report back on the issue, which hasn’t happened. Victor Mema, the city’s chief financial officer and deputy CAO, said it’s complex and there are jurisdiction issues. The marina association and port authority have been on this for awhile, he said, but the city hasn’t and is being asked to take a position, but it’s a “position of ignorance” from staff’s perspective. He told council that staff need to do a study and doesn’t have the resources to advise council on this file.

To fulfill this motion, Mema estimates staff members will need more than $50,000 in funding.

Nanaimo city coun. Bill Yoachim, who supported the motion, said council is being responsive to a broad group of interests to see if they can’t create an option together, with the public and for the benefit of the public.

“If we are the Harbour City, which we are, I don’t accept the idea that our staff is ignorant of the fact of these issues. We have heard enough concerns and seen enough inaction, it’s time to take this initiative to safeguard the public’s interest in our harbour and ensure it stays in the hands of the people of Nanaimo,” said Yoachim. “This model puts it more in the hands of Nanaimo than the present-day governance model.”

Coun. Jerry Hong doesn’t think it’s to overthrow anybody, but “clarification.”

“If the federal government is interested in getting out of the harbour business, we should jump on it,” he said. “If we hear from them otherwise to say that they are involved and they aren’t going to give this up easily unless we try to overthrow the port authority then I think we should reconsider our decision.”

But Mayor Bill McKay disagrees it’s not to overthrow the port authority.

“I believe it really, truly is, it’s just the start,” he said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe and Diane Brennan did not support the motion, both wanting more information and advice from staff.

“I’m not prepared to take an important first step on a very important initiative on the basis of 15 minutes’ discussion tonight…” Thorpe said. “I still feel very strongly that I need a discussion with our city staff about the ramifications of this first step and where it might lead us.

“I am not saying I wouldn’t support something in the future, but I need more information first.”

Mema told the News Bulletin the motion is challenging for staff on many levels and they will take it one piece at a time until they can put it together and are able to advise council. Part of the challenge for Mema is understanding what ‘support’ means. He raised questions about whether the group wants to assume everything the port authority provides and what that means for the city.

“We have to sit as staff and make sense of the resolution and make sense of where that process is at … Then we have to understand the implications of changing governance for the city,” he said, adding there’s funding and operational agreements between the city and port authority. The city also has to understand where the province and the federal governments are.

There was no staff report the motion, which came from the marina association. A city funding request tied to the motion is expected in May.

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