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Protest scheduled for Saturday aims to save Sidney’s Beacon Wharf

Protest scheduled for 2 p.m. in Beacon Park
Nicole Bengtsson is one of the organizers of Saturday’s rally to save Beacon Wharf. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Residents will rally Saturday near Beacon Wharf in favour of protecting the iconic piece of infrastructure, as staff continue to review more than 1,000 pieces of feedback.

Nicole Bengtsson, an organizer of the 2 p.m. rally in Beacon Park, said the focus is to call for preservation of the Satellite Fish Market building and improved safety of wharf without tearing it down.

Losing the iconic building and wharf would undermine the historic character of the community, Bengtsson said, while robbing it of future economic opportunities as part of a sustainable, long-term oriented economic development model.

“We aren’t just talking about the public image,” she said. “We are talking about the culture and the roots and the future of Sidney, as well. We aren’t just talking about a community of people who want to look at the waterfront a certain way. There is also a history and there is a lot of potential for future economic growth such as greater tourism.”

RELATED: Sidney councillor says more process around Beacon Wharf needed

Saturday’s rally follows submission of an 877-name petition by Bengtsson to Sidney councillors urging them to save the existing facility, and proposing upgrades to its safety and its style. A separate petition, entitled Save Our Sidney Fish Market, has more than 1,250 signatures.

The rally and petitions can be read as growing evidence of public dissatisfaction with the two official options concerning the future of the wharf.

Sidney’s Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said at Monday’s (Oct. 25) council meeting a “major change to (Beacon Wharf) is not imminent” and promised that council will consider all “viewpoints” in determining next steps.

Officially, the municipality presented the public with two options concerning the aging wharf, which has an estimated remaining life span of eight years.

One would see removal of the structure with no replacement. The other would see it replaced by a pontoon, which would be transformed into a floating wharf with a two-storey building including a restaurant, commercial space and eight hotel units.

RELATED: Sidney councillor invites public feedback as deadline for Beacon Wharf submissions approaches

RELATED: Public correspondence reveals strong opposition to pontoon replacing Sidney’s Beacon Wharf

The future of the wharf has generated a large volume of feedback to the municipality, with much correspondence opposing the floating wharf proposal. However, no clear alternative has so far emerged.

Staff are currently reviewing more than 1,000 responses to a survey that closed Oct. 15, part of the consultation process that also included two public engagement sessions.

Andrew Hicik, Sidney’s director of corporate services and chief financial officer, said staff must balance getting a review of the large amount of feedback to council promptly, while also ensuring the input undergoes thorough analysis. Staff will present a report to council in November, he said.

“The survey was not a referendum, but a tool used to gauge public opinion with many detailed comments submitted,” he said. “While cataloging these comments is time-intensive, it is well worth the effort.”

Comments include alternative ideas for Beacon Wharf that warrant further consideration, while others articulate what people value about the current structure, he added.

RELATED: Sidney won’t add third option to Beacon Wharf engagement process

Earlier this month, Coun. Peter Wainwright said his review of feedback sent directly to him shows the public divided: roughly one third each favoured removal of the wharf without replacement, the floating wharf option, or something entirely different.

While removing the wharf with no replacement is the cheapest option, the floating wharf proposal is less costly than alternatives already eliminated.

The public has heard the municipality would need to borrow money, subject to public approval, regardless of the chosen option. Coun. Sara Duncan, a member of the select committee for the project, earlier this year pointed to the financial constraints facing the municipality.

“Sometimes, the options you have in life are not the infinite variety you wish that you could have and I really hope that the public can accept that we have evaluated as best we can what is going to work for the town and what is in all of our best interest,” she said at the time.

Bengtsson acknowledged that money is an issue when it comes to the future of the wharf and the waterfront. “Of course, change is going to cost money, development is going to cost money,” she said. “What I am hearing is (the question) of who benefits?”

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