Former mayor urges Sidney to retain waterfront land

A plea has been made to the Town of Sidney to keep its waterfront property

A plea has been made to the Town of Sidney to keep its waterfront property — not sell it or exchange it — and find a higher purpose for what is considered by many to be valuable land.

It was former mayor Don Amos making the plea to council at their March 10 regular meeting.

It was clear that he had been working on his speech prior to news that the Town’s memorandum of understanding with the Sidney Waterfront Partnership (SWP) was terminated after contamination was found in the soil at the Seaport East site.

Even so, Amos said he felt it is important for the community to retain its waterfront property, now and in perpetuity.

“Previous councils and residents have suggested that our waterfront property is not for sale,” Amos said, adding in the past, local politicians have sought to obtain more waterfront land and paid a premium to do so.

He said examples include land used for the Town’s waterfront walkway and the Anacortes ferry terminal.

Sidney has been trying for years to draw visitors in off of the highway and down to its waterfront, helping create a vibrant business community.

“The Vision 2000 process confirmed these goals,” he continued.

Amos admitted the Town, under his watch, did engage in a land exchange with the developer of what is now the Sidney Pier Hotel.

He said that was done so the Town could obtain waterfront land (the current Beacon Park and walkway).

Sidney exchanged that for non-waterfront frontage for the Pier Hotel property.

“Previous councils did not sell its waterfront properties,” he said, “they leased it out, preserving ownership for future generations.

It’s of limited availability and hard to obtain.”

Amos urged council not to consider selling the Seaport East lands now that there is some reconsideration brought about by the halting of the land exchange process with SWP.

With the current lease with SWP set to go up for renewal in an estimated 24 years (there are two, eight-year renewal periods available in the lease), Amos said the Town could get the land back.

Then, he said, it could be protected and used for something great.

Mayor Larry Cross responded to a continued barrage of comments and questions from Amos and other residents who have opposed the land deal from the start.

He said the property is complex to begin with and the contamination issue just makes it more so.

Sidney had engaged with SWP to consider a land transfer between the parties.

In exchange for outright ownership of a significant portion of the property, issues of cash, land and amenities were all on the table.

A consultant’s discovery of contamination — metals and hydrocarbons exceeding provincial regulations for residential or commercial occupation — gave the Town pause. They officially halted the process March 3.

“The owner of the property is responsible for pollution at the end of the day, under current legislation and case law,” Cross said.

Staff have been researching the history of the site and where the contaminated fill might have originated from.

Further negotiations between the municipality and SWP remain up in the air.

SWP President Grant Rogers has said he will seek out options for new tenants in the site’s existing buildings and not wait for the Town to complete its investigation.

“SWP has made it clear the responsibility to clean it up lies with the Town,” Cross continued, adding there’s a big unknown factor at the site and council has to protect residents from any liability.