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Critics float marina worries

NANAIMO – 30-year lease proposal has some users concerned about access to facility.
A private company’s proposal for a 30-year lease on Nanaimo’s aging downtown Boat Basin and a $9-million investment to revitalize the facility is drawing concerns and criticisms from some users.

A long-term lease of Nanaimo’s 72-year-old harbour marina to a private company could lead to an improved facility for boaters and an economic boost to the city, but several user groups have reservations about the impact.

In May, Nanaimo Port Authority announced it had reached a deal with Sidney-based Pacific Northwest Marina Group to lease the Boat Basin.

The company proposes investing $9 million in upgrading the existing 4.45-hectare marina, which would include replacing creosote pilings with steel piles and wood floats with concrete finger slips that would increase moorage capacity by 40 per cent.

“We’re excited about the future of Nanaimo’s harbour,” said Ryan Nicholson, the company’s VP Finance, and a former Nanaimo resident. “We want more people down here and see Nanaimo as ideal location for boaters to stay for a few days and then explore the middle Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound.”

Since the beginning of July, Pacific Northwest has operated a storefront information centre next to Harbour Air open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We’ve had a lot of positive response from people wanting to know what’s going on,” Nicholson said. “They’ve also asked about special interest groups and expressed concern that some areas of the marina will be off-limits.”

But Nicholson says the change in the Nanaimo harbour will increase public and recreational boater access and not interfere with such events as the annual dragon boat and marine festivals.

Other marina users such as community activist Brunie Brunie and Michelle Corfield, representing commercial fishing operators, are circulating petitions to stop the 30-year lease to a private company.

For Brunie, the main issue is the transfer of water rights to corporate interests. For Corfield, a major concern is loss of the ability to offload harvested seafood for shipment to processing facilities and markets.

Long-time Protection Island resident Larry Iwaskow is uncertain how PNMG’s investment and role as lessee of the marina will affect his community and its dependence on the facility as a place to moor when accessing city shops and services.

Iwaskow owns and operates a community moorage facility on Protection Island and has moored his 14-foot boat at the Nanaimo marina for 30 years.

“We’re already paying double the moorage rates charged in Victoria Harbour,” Iwaskow said. “How is adding more capacity to the Nanaimo Marina going to work when it is half empty for most of the year?”

Iwaskow says the Port Authority is moving forward with a lease agreement without a solid plan in place.

“The Gabriola ferry brings more people to Nanaimo everyday than carried by most cruise ships. Let’s build them a $12-million facility.”

Pacific Northwest held two public meetings in June with Nanaimo and Protection Island residents and also met the commercial fishing sector.

“We’ve adjusted our design to reflect the comments of Protection Island users,” Nicholson said, adding the company is open to giving presentations to stakeholder groups that request them.

Renovations of the marina would begin once the conditions of the PNMG’s agreement with the Port Authority are fulfilled, senior government agencies are satisfied and consultation with Snuneymuxw First Nation is complete.

Construction and installation of new slips could involve Nanaimo suppliers and would be undertaken in two phases from October to April with a 16-month timeline.