An official-looking document circulating on social media has alarmed Salt Spring’s liveaboard boater community, and officials rushed to put distance between themselves and a citizen-crafted bylaw proposal — itself still in early draft form, according to proponents.
Islander Glenn Stevens said he had drafted the version of the Clean and Safe Harbour Initiative recently posted online, but that it was not a final document — and that it wasn’t an attempt to get rid of everyone living in boats at Ganges.
“That’s not the bylaw that we were going to submit to the Trust in June for their consideration,” said Stevens, who attended an evening town hall meeting held by Salt Spring’s Local Trust Committee (LTC) Wednesday, May 17. “It’s a very early edition. And it does not want to kick out the liveaboards, period. That is not the goal.”
The draft bylaw has not been formally presented to the LTC, but trustees were nonetheless peppered with questions from people who made their homes afloat in Ganges Harbour. Several expressed concerns, not just with the substance of the not-yet-proposed bylaw — which in its current form seeks to establish a fee permit system and strict regulations for boats staying more than 48 hours — but also with the lack of engagement with the liveaboard community.
While trustees acknowledged a familiarity with the proposal — Stevens first broached the subject of such regulations to the LTC in February, during a regular meeting’s public comment period — they maintained that reaching out to people who lived on boats was premature, while echoing the sentiment that no one wanted to remove them from Ganges.
“There is no bylaw before this Trust committee,” said trustee Laura Patrick. “There’s a citizen group that’s working on something, but that’s not legislation. This body has not asked for regulation of the harbour.”
“This isn’t from us,” agreed trustee Jamie Harris, who added that Ganges Harbour might represent “a huge opportunity.”
“I think we need more liveaboards in the harbour,” he said, “and to have it done cleanly and safely. We have a housing problem, and this is a cheaper way for people to be housed — and people might enjoy that lifestyle.”
Patrick also said that recent bylaw officer activity in the harbour was unrelated, and coincidental.
“I know that there was bylaw enforcement on the water, but they were out there because of complaints of commercial use on the water, not the liveaboards,” said Patrick. “They do not enforce the rule that we have that applies to liveaboards.”
That rule technically prohibits people from living on their boats within Ganges Harbour — or, more accurately, does not permit long-term occupancy at any of the water-covered parcels there under the authority of the Islands Trust. There has been little appetite for enforcement of those land use bylaws, partly because of the lack of lower-cost housing elsewhere on Salt Spring Island.
Capital Regional District (CRD) director Gary Holman, who represents the island’s electoral area and was also at the LTC’s town hall, said some form of regulation had the potential to increase housing security — if done respectfully.
“I think it’s worth pursuing the idea of secure tenure for liveaboards in the harbour,” said Holman. “Right now, liveaboards are not allowed, so you have absolutely no security at all. I realize it does raise concerns, so this means [the community] has to stay on top of it, if the Trust committee decides to pursue it.”
Stevens said the citizens’ initiative was born from a sincere concern about both the environmental health of the harbour and the wellbeing of those who live there.
“I think everybody wants a clean and safe harbour,” said Stevens. “We don’t want garbage in the harbour, we don’t want human waste.”
“There’s a whole pile of boats that have just been left, and nobody’s living in them,” said Harris. “And that’s a concern. Some are sinking. There are some docks out there that have industrial things on them that are very compromised, and there are reports of stuff being thrown overboard.”
But, Harris added, the people causing those problems were in the minority — and if legislation eventually appeared, he said he would be an advocate for liveaboards “doing it right,” possibly even expanding resources and services.
“As long as your sewage and garbage aren’t going into the water, then you’re completely going to be legal to live there,” said Harris.
“We want to work as a community to make sure that it’s safe,” said Stevens. “Of course, it’s only going to succeed if we’re all in this together.”
But even with robust engagement of the liveaboard community — something Stevens repeated was critically important to the success of any regulation — trustees admitted there was only so much the LTC could accomplish this term with its limited resources.
“We’ve spent some time trying to assess and prioritize the work we’re wanting to do,” said LTC chair Tim Peterson, speaking directly to the liveaboard residents in the audience. “That proposed bylaw by the citizens did not factor in that. So I hope that gives you some sense of security, that it isn’t high on our list at this point.”