Waterfront walkway expansion was something Nanaimo’s previous city council wanted and community members supported, but the new council isn’t so sure about it.
As they work on a preliminary five-year financial plan, city council members say walkway work is something that will be at least reconsidered. The $43-million project, which would extend the walkway in phases from Departure Bay Beach to the Nanaimo River estuary, has $29 million earmarked in the 2019-2023 financial plan, including $5.2 million in 2019.
“I think all of us question the expense versus the public benefit of the waterfront walkway…” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog. “When we’re looking at community infrastructure that would benefit citizens, whether it’s around sports and recreation or whether it’s around attracting tourists, we want to look very carefully at that project again. That is a big-ticket item.”
“That’s certainly something that we can look at again and determine what portions of that we see as priorities or in fact if there’s other projects that we feel should supplant that,” he said.
Councillors Jim Turley and Sheryl Armstrong both told the News Bulletin that they support the project, but think the scope and timelines should be examined.
“Could that $40 million be used better at this particular time? How far do we really need to extend that walkway?” Armstrong asked. “To me it’s a great thing, it’s a nice-to-have right now … I would like to know what the different options are and I know there are other councillors that feel the same way.”
Turley said the section in the 1 Port Drive area would be the walkway work he would prioritize and he’s concerned about the costs of the Departure Bay section.
“Unless there’s a strong will from the community to pay a bunch more taxes to get that done, then I would think it’s one of the long-term projects,” he said. “At some point in time it will happen, but we’ve got a lot of requests for other capital projects that seem in my mind to have priority.”
Coun. Don Bonner said the new council wants to examine a number of existing projects when it determines its strategic priorities in the new year. He said all options are on the table – working on the walkway now, later, or not at all.
“I do believe that it’s a great project, but many of us on council are just not sure if it’s a great project right now,” he said. “So I think that’s where the conversation needs to be.”
Meanwhile, city staff is proceeding with work until it’s advised otherwise. Five “quick wins” section of walkway work were identified last year and of those, the 1 Port Drive interim walkway section is furthest along with design work, said Bill Corsan, deputy director of community development.
“We’re not past the point of no return. [Councillors] can re-examine the whole project, they can set different priorities, they can choose different sections to work on,” Corsan said. “We just need their direction, I guess, as to what they want to do.”
He said the walkway had been considered a priority project and he’d hoped the city would have been further along on the quick wins sections by now, “but with our current resources it’s somewhat difficult to do that.”
The waterfront walkway draft plan was presented in November 2017 following five open houses, two public surveys and a design workshop, and according to the draft plan document, 82 per cent of residents who participated in the engagement supported development of the waterfront walkway and 75 per cent felt B.C. Ferries to Departure Bay should be the top priority.
“Through the process we definitely received one of our biggest turnouts for consultation and probably the most positive feedback I’ve received as a staff member on a project,” Corsan said. “Lots of people were were really interested and a key message we got was please proceed as quickly as possible. So that’s why we kind of set the plan up to be delivered in a 10-year time horizon.”
Coun. Erin Hemmens said council is “not going to just blindly adopt” the previous council’s priorities and projects, even ones that underwent thorough public consultation.
“We want to have a look at that consultation. Does it still resonate? Is it a project that we think we can get behind?” she asked. “It’s due diligence. We’re just going to look very carefully at all of our decisions, especially ones with a price tag like that.”