RDN and LTC at odds over asking public to expand dock usage for water taxis

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, December 22 2015

Expanding the use of the Descanso Bay Emergency Dock for commercial water taxi use will not be on the referendum ballot this coming February with the GERTIE question.

That from Regional District of Nanaimo staff and Gabriola RDN Director Howard Houle.

They were answering questions from the Gabriola Local Trust Committee, who requested the RDN open up the question of expanding dock usage to the taxpayers.

Island Trustee Heather O’Sullivan said given the new ferry schedule - including not being able to connect to the first major route sailings from Nanaimo - there is an opportunity to make it more possible for other services to get people on and off Gabriola.

“The Gabriola Chamber has long championed the idea of going to the community to find out if the community would support changing the zoning of the dock for the use by water taxi services.

“Given there is a referendum coming up, we would encourage adding this to the referendum to see if there is a broad support.”

Houle said it is too late to add it to the ballot which received provincial approval on the same day as the LTC/RDN meeting last week.

Along with the fact that the ballot is already approved, Houle said there is a backlog at the provincial government for approving referendums.

Hould said after Chamber President Ken Gurr made a presentation to the RDN Board [in March 2014], that 14 letters were received in support of expanding the dock usage to water taxis.

“Thirteen were from members of the Chamber. There was nothing else; I took that as little community support.

“Since then, we’ve been approached again on the same topic - with little support.”

Houle said for the dock usage to be expanded, “There is a substantial amount of money involved.”

When the dock was approved as a tax function and built, the voters of Gabriola approved it as an emergency dock only.

“Aside from the financial implications - we would have to go to the government to change the license of occupation - BC Ferries has the opportunity to then say no, which they already have, which is why we have said no.”

O’Sullivan said she understood what Houle was saying about it being too late to have the question on an official ballot. She said it should be added if there is “another opportunity to add it to another referendum.

“This is to take the temperature of the community feeling around it. It is not committing you to any financial commitment.

“I think should the opportunity come up to include it as a question whether the community would support amending the bylaw.”

Paul Thorkelson, RDN CAO, suggested that if the Islands Trust believes there is interest in the water taxi question, the Trust could - as a local government - add it to an election process, or establish the referendum.

“You are talking about taking the temperature - there is no reason the Trust can’t do that and then provide that information to the Regional Director.”

LTC Chair Laura Bushekin asked if “we carried out our own process to gauge public demand for this with support - if we found significant support - could we could bring that to you?”

Thorkelson said there are other issues, “but there seems to be a hump about community opinion. I keep hearing two different sides. I’m suggesting opportunities to clear that and figure out the rest.”

Houle said, “The reason I’m unwilling to change is the community voted for one thing, for an emergency dock.”

O’Sullivan said, “That’s why I’m asking you to consider the referendum.

Her suggested wording to the voters was, “Do you support changing the use of the dock and do you support increasing taxes to do that?”

Speaking after the meeting, O’Sullivan said, “One of the Islands Trust strategic priorities for the 2014-18 term is to sustain island character and healthy communities, and one of the ways the Trust has identified to facilitate this goal is by working with other agencies to promote economic sustainability and facilitate exploration of intra and inter-island transportation routes. It’s my hope that here on Gabriola we can find ways to work collaboratively to encourage the provision of much-needed alternative transportation services. Finding out whether islanders support looking at increasing access to the Descanso Bay dock feels like a good place to start.”