By GLENN STEVENS and other CLEAN AND SAFE HARBOURS INITIATIVE MEMBERS
In response to the Driftwood’s July 12 “Testing the Waters” editorial, Clean and Safe Harbours Initiative (CASHI) members would like to make the following comments.
CASHI members think it’s terrific, as does the Driftwood, that the June 21, 2023 Island Health/CRD fecal matter water test results show that at Centennial Park bulkhead and Churchill Beach enterococci levels are “safe for swimming.” This does not mean that there is no fecal matter in the water, as the Driftwood points out, but that it is not “unsafe” for swimming. A regular water quality monitoring program for Ganges Harbour is long overdue, of course, given that our harbour is permanently closed for shellfish harvesting because of the risk of sanitary contamination.
As the Driftwood points out, no doubt human waste and garbage are being dumped into our harbours and that this pollution comes from both liveaboards and transient vessels. The Driftwood also notes there are derelict boats in our harbours at a high impending risk of sinking. We all know this and know this has been going on for far too long. Derelict boats have sunk and can readily be observed actively sinking. Some, but unfortunately not all, sunken boats are removed every year. The navigational charts underscore that Ganges Harbour has dozens of sunken derelict vessels, and we can readily observe their debris littering our shorelines. Ganges Harbour is a junkyard. There are perhaps a dozen shopping carts at the bottom of the harbour off the seaplane dock and even sunken dinghies off our dinghy docks. You don’t have to be a waterfront property owner, or even on a waterfront property, to observe any of this.
Given these facts, we submit that the CASHI is even more urgent: we have an opportunity to prevent further fecal contamination, along with other waste and other pollution if the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (SSILTC) adopts the proposed CASHI bylaw!
Instead, the Driftwood says we should not adopt CASHI to regulate liveaboards because “Even taking the highest estimates for the numbers living afloat, their impacts are surely dwarfed by countless numbers” of other vessels using our harbours year-round. So, the Driftwood concludes, since “There is no practical way to determine the provenance of every sack of garbage” between a liveaboard and a transient vessel and “by the time a vessel becomes derelict and sinks, the owner is usually long gone” and “given the context of an affordable housing crisis” “we should aim elsewhere” “to incrementally address pollution in our harbour.”
With respect, we submit this makes no sense. Two wrongs (illegally dumping in our harbours by both liveaboards and transient vessels) do not make it okay for anyone to pollute our harbours. That there are two or more groups of offenders underscores that we should be actively enforcing regulations against illegal dumping. Why would we tolerate anyone dumping in our harbours? Why would we allow a bigger mess to be passed along to future generations to resolve? Frankly, this is a poor excuse for doing nothing about this without even one constructive suggestion being made.
Please consider that SSILTC Bylaw 355, Section 3.19.1, currently prohibits all dwelling on vessels, except in two very limited circumstances. However, our local Trust committee has resolved not to enforce that bylaw or any other bylaw making any dwelling illegal on Salt Spring Island but with some significant exceptions when enforcement may occur: “the resolution does not apply to regulations intended to protect ensuring health and safety, appropriate sewage disposal, pollution, location in environmentally sensitive areas, and unpermitted campgrounds” (Reference: Salt Spring Islands Trust Fact Sheet).
Thus, you are now allowed to live on a vessel, but enforcement may occur if you are dwelling on a boat and do not dispose of your sewage as required by law or cause pollution that is illegal. While this approach by the Trust appears balanced with our community needs given the ongoing the housing crisis, that unfortunately is not the case. Why? Because the Trust has not been enforcing Bylaw 3.19.1 against illegal dwelling on vessels no matter what illegal dumping or pollution may have come from liveaboards, visiting vessels, sea shanties or any occupied structure in the harbour.
So, we now find ourselves in a worse situation. Although still illegal, the Trust effectively allows you to live aboard a vessel in Salt Spring harbours without any concern of being held to comply with any laws for keeping our harbours clean and safe. What do you think is going to happen once word gets out that this is allowed in Salt Spring Island harbours?
You cannot build a house on Salt Spring without an approved septic system, but it is open flushing season in the harbour. And our problem is getting worse. It is well known that illegal liveaboards and derelict vessels have been moved out from other areas due to the same concerns regarding their active pollution and deteriorating condition. Unfortunately, a number of these have found their way to our harbours. Where other water bodies are being cleaned up, our situation is deteriorating.
We cannot aspire to a “preserve and protect” ethos if we turn our back to clear and active environmental damage. Rather than a heal the bay or save the bay initiative, the sentiments in the Driftwood opinion piece offer a shoulder shrug and condone a “damage the bay” laissez faire policy.
CASHI’s proposal makes living on vessels legal — in return, it reasonably requires compliance with laws to ensure our harbours are clean and safe. The proposed bylaw would regulate both current liveaboard vessels and all other vessels that enter our harbours year-round and stay for more than 48 hours in any seven-day period. Permits are required in both situations. There would be no fee for a permit, but the vessel owner/user must provide proof that the vessel meets certain clean and safe requirements, i.e., has legally required waste containment equipment; does not impede navigation; is registered; and properly disposes of waste.
By requiring such permit compliance proof, the Trust does not have to inspect every vessel. The bylaw would also regulate placement of docks and moorings (like a parking lot) to avoid navigation issues, as well as addressing abandoned and derelict vessels. Importantly, it would also allow the Trust to limit the number of permits it issues for living on vessels.
Is this proposal perfect? Perhaps not. But it offers a means to allow the reality of what is already occurring in terms of living in the harbour while actively addressing the environmental damage we are suffering. Importantly, the proposed bylaw provides a practical solution for enforcement of the proposed regulations because if a vessel owner/user cannot supply compliance proof, a permit will not be issued; in this situation, the owner/user will be given reasonable time to cure the compliance issue, but if it cannot be cured within such time, the vessel will have no right to remain in our harbours.
Please read the proposed bylaw. It may be found on the Trust’s website about our June 22, 2023 delegation presentation.