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The “war against boaters” and a five step plan for Mannion Bay

Over the winter the Bowen Island Municipality undertook what it is calling the “first wave” of the clean-up of Mannion Bay, removing eighteen mooring buoys, four vessels and one fiberglass hull from the Bay’s waters.
Black Eyes
The Black Eyes, a boat that has spent decades in Mannion Bay.

Over the winter the Bowen Island Municipality undertook what it is calling the “first wave” of the clean-up of Mannion Bay, removing eighteen mooring buoys, four vessels and one fiberglass hull from the Bay’s waters. The aim of this work is to “ensure socio-economic stability and environmental stability” of Mannion Bay. Brokenshire’s presentation outlining a long-term strategy to this end drew an audience to council, including a number of people who expressed concerns about the municipality’s approach.

Scott Birch told council that their plans for Mannion Bay were not well thought-out and would have a deleterious affect on himself and on his partner as well as other people who live on boats in the Bay.
Birch explained that he and his partner have been living in the waters around Bowen – at the Union Steamship Marina during the winter and in other waters around Bowen during the summer – for the past year.  He said that they have enjoyed this time, but feel uncertain about whether they have a future here because of the current and proposed bylaws.

“In my conversation with Bonny she told me that anchoring around Bowen is currently illegal… secondly Bonny stated that live-aboards are currently illegal around Bowen, including the proposed managed buoys and Government dock.”

“I asked her for the definition of live-aboard and she stated that she believed it was staying on a boat overnight, but that I should look up the bylaw. From Bylaw 57 definitions, live-aboard means the use of a vessel with an enclosed capsule as a dwelling unit, and dwelling unit means contained sleeping area, living area, kitchen etc. So given this definition, can we, or any other tourist come to Bowen and spend the night on our boat outside the marina? It would seem that we can’t, even if we pay the proposed fees.”

Birch continued on to say that this is part of a trend in British Columbia, part of the “war against boaters” whereby live-aboards are associated with derelict vessels.

“These are not the same thing and should be separated. We spend quite a bit of money and effort to maintain our boat. We try to be good sea-men and are very careful about how we do things. We are the full time guardians when we are at anchor, and I have personally saved some derelicts before they’ve sunk. We were also at the Government dock for the better part of eight months, and during that time helped out boaters by giving them information about Bowen, including ensuring that they knew they had to pay [to be there].”

In conclusion Birch stated that the definition of a “live-aboard” needs to be changed, and that people who live on boats in Bowen’s waters “can be part of the solution.”

John Olivier, a Bowen resident for twenty-eight years and a boat owner for half that time, told council that it’s plans would strip boat owners of their exiting rights.

“Please consider using existing regulations to deal with problem boats, perhaps requiring them to comply with safety and environmental protection measures,” said Olivier. “Perhaps boats able to prove viability could be given the right to spend twenty-eight days per month in the Bay. To ban all boats from anchoring and mooring would put boating out of reach financially for some. Is mooring going to be allowed for the few, waterfront owners, but not to others?”

Michael Chapman told council that the municipality already had bylaws in place that could be effectively used to manage Mannion Bay, and by expanding on those, the municipality runs the risk of turning into a marina operator.
“Putting moorings down for twelve or fifteen hundred bucks a mooring, and then the management costs of those and the boat to get out to them. You have to train staff on that boat, you have to have mooring for that boat, and pretty soon you’ve got a very large expenditure for something that isn’t that large a problem… The noise issue? We have bylaws that cover that. We pay a lot of money to the RCMP and they have marine resources, they can get a boat in the water in seconds, so I’m not quite sure why we’re becoming a marina operator. I also think this is an opportunity to engage those people that have been marginalized in our community for whatever reasons, and get them to be part of the solution instead of using a hammer to kill a bug.”

In her presentation, Brokenshire explained the five options for the management of Mannion Bay that she outlined in her written report to council.

The first option involves obtaining a Licence of Occupation (LOO) for Mannion Bay. This licence would come through Provincial land-use policy and require all boat owners wishing to use a mooring buoy to pay a nominal fee.

The revenue generated by that fee could be put into enforcement and maintenance of the Bay. This would also make the municipality directly responsible for dealing with beached-wrecks, a job that Brokenshire mentioned the municipality often undertakes anyhow, only without a source of revenue to cover the costs of the work. Brokenshire also says this system would give the municipality a larger say in the broader regulation of mooring buoys.

The second option involves amending Bowen Island’s Land-Use Bylaw. Brokenshire explained that currently, the bylaw is effective to a distance of 300 metres off the shoreline. Amendments could help in the management of the Bay by creating the regulations around the number of mooring buoys an individual had in the water. Brokenshire mentioned that in Mannion Bay, there is one individual who has approximately six mooring buoys, and that this potentially ads to overcrowding and could act as a deterrent to boaters coming to visit the island. If the municipality chose to pursue this option, any bylaw changes would need to go to public consultation prior to being approved. She also says that this option, if pursued, could work well in tandem with “option one” by providing a legal backing to mooring buoy management decisions.

The third option Brokenshire mentioned was the creation of a strategy for bylaw enforcement. Currently, the only clear contravention of the Land Use Bylaw in Mannion Bay, she says, is the presence of boats that are being used as residences.

“Council needs to have a dialogue about whether they want to enforce this bylaw,” says Brokenshire. “And if they do, they need to come up with a strategy on how.”

As Mannion Bay is classified as a “Water General Coastal 1 Zone,” its purpose as such is “specifically to provide public recreational opportunities [and] to preserve and protect the natural qualities of Bowen Island’s shoreline.” Brokenshire says a conversation about bylaw enforcement could also touch on the subject of clarifying the definitions in the bylaw.

“That definition is fairly subjective,” she says. “A floating storage unit doesn’t seem to reasonably fit into the definition of a recreational use, but there needs to be a conversation about things like that and whether they warrant clarification.”

The fourth option Brokenshire offered in order to help with the management of Mannion Bay is the creation of a social plan to help deal with the issue of live-aboards. In the summer of 2013, she said, seven people lived on boats in Mannion Bay and this number has fluctuated over the years and in various seasons. A social plan she says, could help to deal with problems that might arise if the live-aboards were displaced. In her report, Brokenshire identifies a number of social service organizations (Bowen Island Community Foundation and Vancouver Coastal Health, for example) that could assist in the creation of such a plan. She also points to the contracting of a social planner as a possibility.

“There are people whose expertise it is to deal with these issues,” says Brokenshire. “The consequence of not dealing with it appropriately simply changes the problem. If you look at the eviction of people from False Creek, for example, the people who were affected simply moved. Some of them moved to Mannion Bay.”

The fifth and final option Brokenshire presented to council was the creation of an environmental study for Mannion Bay. The creation of this is already underway, as Brokenshire noted, as the Islands Trust study on eelgrass included Mannion Bay. Another Islands Trust study looking into habitats for forage fish is currently underway, as is water quality sampling by the municipality. Another study Brokenshire recommends is one that would determine the source of the coliform bacteria in Mannion Bay.

When asked how long the implementation of all five options would likely take, Brokenshire replied that it would likely take a minimum of two years.

Council decided to hold-off on making any decisions based on Brokenshire’s report until the upcoming Council of the Whole meeting.