Marina operators make case to city

Association believes Port Authority’s lease rates too high, seeks new model.

Nanaimo Marina Association has turned to city council in its plight for relief from high foreshore lease rates imposed by the Nanaimo Port Authority and Transport Canada.

Odai Sirri, association spokesman and director of operations for Waterfront Holdings Ltd., which owns Waterfront Suites and Marina on Stewart Avenue, appeared with Don Prittie, president of the Boating B.C. Association, before city council Monday to propose solutions to rapidly rising foreshore lease rates, which Sirri said are financially crippling marina owners operating on portions of Nanaimo’s shoreline under Nanaimo Port Authority jurisdiction.

Sirri first made the issue public in September.

Foreshore lease rates are based on upland real estate appraisals that have pushed lease rates charged by the federal government to some of the highest in Canada, which forces marina owners to charge high moorage fees that drive away customers.

B.C. Ferries Departure Bay terminal, Stones Marina and other businesses on the north section of the Newcastle Channel shoreline, Ladysmith Harbour and other ports under provincial jurisdiction pay a flat rate of four per cent of annual revenue potential of each property.

“The simple solution, and all we’ve been asking for, is to follow the model that the rest of the province uses and it’s an income-based approach,” Sirri said. “It’s what virtually every other marina in the province pays. … What we’ve said to the port is we’re not Vancouver. Stop comparing us to Vancouver.”

Sirri said the Port Authority also does not charge itself foreshore fees at its downtown boat basin, allowing it to offer cheaper moorage fees other marinas can’t compete with.

“There are other models that work much better than this,” Sirri said.

Suggestions made to council included bringing current port authority land under provincial jurisdiction and forming a not-for-profit society partnership between Snuneymuxw First Nation, the city and marina operators with fees paid to the society to keep dollars in the community, similar to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, created in 2002 to steward Victoria’s inner harbour.

“Generally there was certainly support and sympathy for what they presented,” said Ian Thorpe, city councillor.

“It seemed as though there is quite an unlevel playing field for marina owners along Newcastle Channel and certainly there’s recognition that our marinas and waterfront are very important to protect and make sure they’re developed properly.”

Bernie Dumas, Nanaimo Port Authority chief executive officer, said he and other port authority representatives will meet with Transport Canada in Ottawa next week and has also been in discussion with other ports to look at ways to re-evaluate lease values.

“We’re not here … to put people out of business, so we’re seriously looking at measures that can change the current practices and procedures on evaluating Crown land when the activity used through the lease is having some marginal returns,” Dumas said.

Council voted to have city staff review the association’s proposals and supported a motion by Coun. Diane Brennan to draft a letter from the city supporting a switch to provincial lease rates, to be sent with Nanaimo Port Authority representatives to present to Transport Canada.