Wednesday, February 8, 2023
February 8, 2023

New group promotes harbour walk vision

Completion of what is now known as the Ganges Harbour Walk project may face a number of hurdles, but a small group of citizens isn’t short on enthusiasm to overcome them. 

At an ASK Salt Spring session dedicated to the topic on Friday, Jan. 20, attendees heard about the desire for serious movement on the project, which is now in the hands of the Capital Regional District (CRD), and the launch of a website at gangesharbourwalk.com

The Chamber of Commerce-led committee aims to raise public awareness about the project, facilitate fundraising and push the CRD and other bodies to keep it moving forward.

“There’s too much history and not enough action,” said Darryl Martin, a committee member and past president of the chamber, in introducing the other speakers and the rationale for the new committee being formed.

The chamber became involved when the late Matt Steffich was a board member and pushed to get the long-abandoned vision rekindled again in 2014. The result was formation of the Ganges Harbour Walk Steering Committee under the umbrella of the Salt Spring Parks and Recreation Commission (PARC) and CRD, which Steffich chaired. It saw engineering and environmental assessments of the existing harbour walk infrastructure undertaken in 2017 and 2018, with a report completed by Salt Spring-based Aqion Water Technologies Ltd. 

At that time, Steffich stated at a steering committee meeting: “There is no deal breaker in this report.”

Efforts then shifted to determining how to acquire the needed rights-of-way from upland property owners. But the pandemic, other CRD priorities and Steffich’s death in June of 2020 combined to prevent the committee from meeting for more than two years. 

The most recent official action of that committee was a November 2022 recommendation that the CRD seek a consultant to work with community stakeholders and upland owners and develop detailed designs for two areas: a harbour walk structure on the foreshore connecting Rotary Marine Park and a CRD park area near the corner of Upper and Lower Ganges roads; and a roadside pathway on the harbour side of Lower Ganges Road running from the intersections with Rainbow Road and with Upper Ganges Road. 

Karla Campbell, the senior CRD manager for Salt Spring, said Monday that the design contract has not yet been issued or posted. 

The group leading Friday’s ASK Salt Spring session is not affiliated with the CRD committee, although Martin sits on it as a representative of the chamber. 

Bruce Cameron said he first got involved due to Steffich’s enthusiasm for the idea. Through his Salt Spring Insights public opinion research, he found that 92 per cent of people queried in 2022 supported the harbour walk concept as a community priority. In the survey it was described as one that would go from the Beachside building next to Ganges Alley all the way to Moby’s Pub. That’s what the chamber committee would ultimately like to see.

“Ninety-two per cent — that’s almost unheard of on Salt Spring, right?” 

How the harbour walk project would be financed is an unanswered question at this point. Some funds would be available through the Community Works Fund (gas tax), the ASK meeting heard, but it’s likely a referendum to provide borrowing authority would be required. 

Robin Williams, a past SSITC chair who has sat on both the CRD and chamber harbour walk committees, said people should not discount the impact of a community appeal, like the one that raised several million dollars for the new hospital emergency department.  

“I am regularly shocked with the support that the community puts behind things,” he said. 

In acknowledging the project’s challenges, Cameron recounted how a friend of Steffich’s told him, “You know, Matt wouldn’t be hung up on ‘We have to do this and we have to do that piece . . . He would say, ‘Listen, at least this is a first step. Let’s get this first step done. Because with the first step, you’re starting the journey. And you’ve actually got a destination in mind.’”

The group hopes community members will connect with them via the new gangesharbourwalk.com website. It includes a video that alternates footage of existing moss-covered, unmaintained parts of the boardwalk project built in the late 1980s, the overall area where a new structure could be constructed, and architectural images of what the harbour walk could look like. There’s also a link to a GoFundMe page for donations to the cause. 

Cameron said the website content will be “driven by the community. Anything and everything that’s said about this harbourwalk, whether it’s feasible or not, will be posted on there . . . It’s really about education and oversight. And I think it’s long past time for some community oversight on this, given the inaction that we’ve seen.” 

The Ganges Harbour Walk Steering Committee currently reports to PARC, but it will be part of Salt Spring Island Local Community Commission responsibilities once that body is created after election of four commission members at the end of May.

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