Angry Maple Bay boat owners converged on North Cowichan’s council chambers last Wednesday to demand answers after the municipality swept down and served their vessels with eviction notices the previous afternoon.
They were caught in a comprehensive attempt to remove derelict boats from the Bird’s Eye Cove area.
North Cowichan council decided that nothing was gained by undue haste and postponed dealing with the situation until Aug. 20.
It all started amicably, according to the municipality’s CAO, Dave Devana, who found himself the target of the furious group.
On June 4, council received a presentation from the Maple Bay Community Association which is concerned about derelict and live aboard vessels in Maple Bay harbour.
A look through the current bylaw showed North Cowichan staff that, in the W-1 zone, the permitted uses are pier, private float, swimming float, walkway and wharf.
"So what was specifically not allowed in and around Maple Bay harbour were mooring buoys or derelict vessels, live aboard vessels or just mooring a boat at all," he explained.
The result was that bylaw compliance and planning division employees went out July 8 with a letter asking all the vessels that are moored on buoys out in that zone to relocate by July 16.
"This has caused a great deal of concern and so we’ve been getting a lot of calls in the last 24 hours," Devana said.
He recommended that councillors direct staff members to write a report on uses for this zone for presentation to the Aug. 20 council meeting and "that we postpone the enforced relocation of current vessels until council has an opportunity to review their zoning bylaw as it remains." Council was quick to approve the idea.
Devana said that if the municipality wants to go after derelict vessels "the current zoning doesn’t allow us to pick and choose which ones we were or weren’t going to regulate. We had to apply the enforcement order on all or none. We chose to do it to all."
Coun. Al Siebring brought up two other points for consideration. First he suggested there could be some short-term moorage for people.
"And the other question is we need to be careful what we wish for in Maple Bay because there is already a ‘shanty town’ already starting to form at the headwaters of Genoa Bay so they’re just moving around the spit and setting up there. That is considerably complicated because Cowichan Tribes own some of the foreshore there and we have no control over it," Siebring said.
After council decided to wait until August, three boat owners were given a chance to speak.
Robert Munroe said he tied up his $1.4 million boat to a mooring buoy by choice and necessity.
"We who are moored in Maple Bay are not derelict boats. We chose to moor ours outside but I was talking to one marina up and down the whole coast that had one spot my boat could go into right now."
What brought him to the meeting was the way the eviction notice was served.
"When somebody actually goes on my boat without my permission, I find that very, very bad. I have discussed it with my lawyer and I hope that we can resolve this issue. All the boaters in Maple Bay agree we do not want derelict boats either. I’m very interested to see what your people come up with as a solution on this issue and I’m more than willing to work with you," Munroe said.
Another boat owner, Nicholas Buchart, explained that he does not live aboard his vessel and was upset at being served with eviction notice.
"I don’t have a multi-million dollar boat. I have a $5,000 boat. It’s not derelict. I was there all morning but nobody came by. They could easily have talked to me. But they didn’t. I feel violated. I know there are ongoing issues. This is almost a whole conversation about derelict boats and reasons for rezoning but my boat’s nice.
"Some people have been on their boats for 20 years and suddenly we have a week to move and a $500 fine if you don’t. I feel railroaded. Please consult with us. We care about the bay as much as anyone," he said.
Don Bruneski, a float home owner, said, "there is very little doubt that this bylaw has to be rewritten."
Many float home owners want to tie up a boat and "any visiting yacht is prohibited as well," he said. "Please communicate. This was below the belt."
"Referring to the serving of the notices on the boats, I’m sorry about that," Devana said. "Part of the difficulty came because we have never served [a violation notice on] a boat before. Maybe we were overly efficient and we’ll try over the next month to correct that."