Crews work to remove an abandoned boat from the Gorge Waterway. (Photo courtesy of John Roe)

Greater Victoria crews work to remove abandoned boats

First Nations partnerships a priority

Rick Stiebel/News staff

Every wreck removed from local waterways puts another smile on John Roe’s face.

“The dead boats are a blight on our waterways,” said Roe, who launched the Dead Boat Disposal Society a year ago as part of the ongoing efforts of Veins of Life, a volunteer organization he helped found in 1995. “I think it’s been an important issue on the coast for a long time. Abandoned boats on the shore or in the water could be a real environmental issue. It’s actually fun getting rid of that crap.”

The work, although limited in scope by a lack of funds, began in earnest in 1995 when Roe and a group of volunteers founded the Veins of Life Watershed Society, which is dedicated to the cleanup and restoration of the Gorge Waterway, Victoria Harbour watershed and the Salish Sea.

RELATED: 17 abandoned boats around Salt Spring Island to be removed with federal funding

Roe is pleased the federal government has stepped up after the announcement in November 2016 of $6.8 million in funding to assess, remove and dispose of abandoned vessels as part of $1.5 million Oceans Protection Plan.

“It took two years to get to this point,” he noted. “We used to do the work with chainsaws, but we’re all getting older now. It’s nice to see younger hands and better equipment.”

Roe said he appreciates the efforts of Salish Sea Industrial Services and local First Nations in that regard. The Dead Boat Disposal Society is currently working with the Capital Regional District on removing boats in Sooke.

Salish Sea Industrial Services removed four boats from Victoria Harbour this summer. More recently, Salish Sea removed a 25-foot Bayliner that sank just north of the Selkirk Trestle on the Gorge Waterway.

It was an emergency situation that the company was able to respond to because they had the right equipment and a crew in the area, said project manager Rob Menzies.

RELATED: Transport Canada announces $17M for pollutant clean up in Victoria Park, removal of abandoned boats

The company is working on another proposal in conjunction with the Dead Boat Disposal Society as well.

The boats targeted have been abandoned by owners who just decided to walk away from them, which left the problem for the provincial and municipal governments to deal with, Menzies explained.

“It takes a serious effort and there’s significant cost. Boats abandoned on the beach or in the water could be an environmental disaster. There seemed to be a lot of finger pointing but it’s feasible now that the federal government has stepped up. Menzies also credits having sister companies within the Ralmax Group of Companies and subcontractors available to deal with environmental assessment and disposal for making the process much easier.

The ongoing efforts are a collaboration involving a partnership between Ralmax, a major landowner on Victoria’s Harbour, and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, who have always demonstrated a strong connection to their traditional territories, Menzies said. The Salish Sea Aboriginal Training Program currently provides applied learning, mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities for 23 members of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations throughout the Ralmax Group.

Robert Thomas, director of Salish Sea for Esquimalt Nation, said the protection and health of the Salish Sea is of paramount importance. “These waters have sustained us with food and defined us as a people long before contact,” he said.

“We are proud of this work and it’s heartening to see all levels of government and community coming together with critical funding to support this initiative,” he noted.

Karen Tunkara, director of Salish Sea for Songhees Nation, said they are proud to be champions of the removal of abandoned vessels and the opportunity to earn a living on their traditional waters.

“We must all step forward to protect the health of these hardworking waters as they are essential to life itself,” she said, “Shared values unite us and we have the expertise through Salish Sea Industrial Services to play a leadership role.”


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