What do we do with abandoned boats in False Creek.

“Many boats floating in False Creek are in poor condition, often without a working engine and unable to move without assistance”

The Vancouver Police Department’s Marine Unit issued about 100 notices in February and March to False Creek boat owners who exceeded their permitted anchor time, a problem that has increased since the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

According to Sgt. Steve Addison, VPD Media Relations Officer.

“Many boats in False Creek have been there for months or even years, and we continue to hear concerns about safety and pollution from False Creek residents, boaters and people who use the area for recreational activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding and rowing,” Addison said in an email.

The Vessel Operating Restriction Regulations is a federal law that applies to boaters in the creek and states that a boat can be at anchor for 21 out of 40 days in winter and 14 out of 30 days in summer.

“Many of the boats floating in False Creek are in poor condition, often without working engines and unable to move without assistance,” Addison said.

“There are still significant pollution issues, with a number of operators not using free mobile pumping stations and opting instead to dump sewage and waste into the water.”

3,837 boaters without a license

Park board marina staff have also noticed a significant increase over the past two years in the number of boaters who continue to anchor in the creek without a permit.

Data provided to Vancouver is great shows 3,837 boaters at anchor without a license last year and 1,878 in 2020.

These figures compare to an average of 584 boaters anchored without a license between 2015 and 2019.

The compliance rate over the same period for boaters who obtained a license averaged 1,138 compared to the 527 owners who applied for a license last year.

Com. Michael Wiebe raised concerns at a recent council meeting about what he described as “abandoned” boats in the creek. Wiebe noted that the Dragon Boat Festival and other events canceled due to the pandemic hope to return to the Creek this year.

“I know last year when the regatta organizers wanted to do the regatta they just said we couldn’t do it because there were just too many boats in the way to do a good job. course,” Wiebe said over the phone.

In some cases, boats have been abandoned and stranded, which happened in March on Habitat Island near the Olympic Village. The Canadian Coast Guard removed it three days after it was reported.

A boat also ran aground near the Burrard Bridge during the January storm that pushed a barge onto Sunset Beach.

“It’s like throwing a car in the street and driving away,” Wiebe said, noting that rescue costs are often tied to the reason for abandoning a boat.

“There are boats that are completely empty and then someone can come in and start sleeping in them. They do that for a while and then they leave.”

Park board statistics show 3,837 boats were anchored in False Creek (between Kits Point and Science World) last year without permits. Photo Ethan Cairns

At the same time, Wiebe said, he understands that vulnerable people need shelter in a city in crisis of homelessness and will be living aboard the dilapidated boats. He could not provide an estimate of the number of people who might find themselves in this situation.

“People are using any means possible to find housing in Vancouver, and we need to understand this issue and work with people to make sure they have a roof over their head,” he said.

The other issue for Wiebe is boaters dumping their trash in the creek. For years, the city has worked with other agencies to improve water quality in the stretch of waterway from Kits Point to Science World.

Council approved a free mobile pump-out service for boaters in 2017 to complement existing service at two municipal marinas. In the two summers before the pandemic, the mobile service provided 730 “emptions”, collecting around 68,000 liters of sewage.

At the time, the service cost the city $75,000 a year and was set to increase to $90,000 from 2020 to 2024.

False Creek anchorage limits for boaters. Image courtesy of the City of Vancouver

“An emergency for us”

The Creek has a complicated jurisdictional history.

The City, Park Board, Coast Guard, Transport Canada, Vancouver Police, and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services all have a role to play in the creek.

Several years ago, the federal government delegated authority to the city to anchor Kits Point permits to Science World, which is a rare role for a municipality, given that the body of water is the ocean. .

“Engineering has really stepped in as a coordinator, although for engineering our roles and responsibilities are usually tied to assets that are sort of on the edge of False Creek,” said Lon LaClaire, general manager of services. city ​​engineering.

‘Play by the rules’

Until the declaration of the pandemic in March 2020, the city had a system in place for boaters entering the cove to obtain a permit at a marina or online. As park board statistics have shown, compliance has dropped significantly over the past two years.

“When COVID hit, a lot of things happened that kind of made us lose buy-in to the system,” LaClaire said, noting the closure of a visitor center at a marina, the police not boarding ships during the early days of the pandemic and staff turnover also played a role in the decline in permits.

“We want people to follow the rules, which means everyone should have a permit. Now very few boats in False Creek have the permits.

LaClaire said the goal this year is to get more boaters to comply with the regulations. The city, park board and other agencies are currently developing a strategy to open the creek for events such as the Dragon Boat Festival.

“The quick job for us is to re-establish that partnership and make the system efficient again – and that’s kind of an emergency for us,” he said.

“We are having meetings right now with Transport Canada, and I just raised the issue at the [city’s] the company’s management team.

Part of that strategy includes the city’s social services group working with the Vancouver Fire Department, which has a boat, to connect with vulnerable people on the boats who need support.

“Generally the reason we use firefighters is because people sometimes react negatively to the police, thinking they’re doing something wrong,” LaClaire said.

“Our real concerns are for their personal safety. Having the firefighters there is much better for us, and they can also check for hazards that might be present on a boat.

Will we ever be able to swim in False Creek?

Over the years, various municipal politicians, Gregor Robertson, have lobbied the city and others to clean up the creek. Robertson, whose term ended in the fall of 2018, wanted the creek to be swimmable by the summer of 2018.

There was also talk of a floating pool to be installed somewhere in the creek.

“Obviously it’s going to take time [to clean up]Robertson said in February 2018, referring to the creek’s long history as an industrial area and dumping ground for sewage.

“This body of water has been trashed for generations, and it’s only fairly recently that we’ve collectively focused on cleaning it up and making it safe and healthy for everyone who uses it.”

“Improving water quality”

In February 2019, a city staff report noted that while sewage from boats was a potential source of high levels of microbial contamination in the creek, other sources included waste from combined sewer overflows operated by the City and Metro Vancouver, and stormwater transporting land. pollution based.

At the time, the city also identified nine instances where sanitary systems were accidentally or illegally connected to stormwater systems that drain into the creek.

“Given the complexity of the False Creek system, improving water quality requires a long-term approach involving multiple stakeholders and jurisdictions, and dependent on systematic efforts across a range of policy areas. keys,” the report adds.

Four years ago the council passed the Northeast False Creek plan, which sees around 12,000 people moving into new homes over the next 20 years on 58 hectares of land that stretches between the former site of the Plaza of Nations and Chinatown.

Part of the plan calls for a swimmable beach along the shore of False Creek.

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Earnest A. Martinez