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Public to weigh in on future of Sidney wharf

A pontoon could end up replacing Beacon Wharf
Rendering shows a building standing on a pontoon proposed to replace Beacon Wharf. The Town of Sidney will soon launch an engagement process on the wharf initiative, which also includes an option to not replace the aging structure. (Sidney Waterfront Partnership)

Sidney’s iconic waterfront faces significant changes after councillors cleared the path for public input on the two remaining options for the future of Beacon Wharf.

The options include a floating dock featuring a mix of public and private uses or the removal of the dock followed by a nebulous re-imaging of the waterfront.

Council, meeting as committee-of-the-whole Monday, voted unanimously to start the process after receiving a report spelling out the remaining options from the committee charged with reviewing the future of the iconic wharf.

Current plans call for council to make a final decision sometime in October or November, following public input scheduled to start in early September. The federal government divested itself of the aging wharf in 2006. Repairs completed in 2020 extended its lifespan to approximately 2028.

Council had earlier heard a presentation from Mike Cronquist and Grant Rodgers of Seagate Pontoons.

Sidney Waterfront Partnership (SWP), owners of the Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa and The Shops at Port Sidney among other holdings in Sidney and elsewhere on the Saanich Peninsula, owns Seagate Pontoons.

SWP proposes replacing the aging wharf with a pontoon that was once part of the original floating bridge across Hood Canal in Washington State.

RELATED: Sidney explores public-private partnership for iconic Beacon Wharf

SWP would donate the pontoon with an estimated value of $795,000. Its central feature would be a two-storey building with a 120-seat restaurant on the first level (along with 600 square feet of commercial and 400 sq. ft. of public space) and an eight-room hotel on the second level. It would also include seasonal moorage.

SWP would cover 100 per cent of the building cost and assume a share of the various costs to operate it. Sidney would be responsible for removal of the existing wharf; the towing of the pontoon, its refurbishment and moorage; as well as the ramp connecting it to Beacon Avenue, among other elements.

Cronquist said Sidney stands to gain what he called “a new, regional class destination and focal point” while SWP gains investment certainty under a proposed 50-year lease.

Reactions were generally positive, but the public also heard critical notes.

Coun. Peter Wainwright said he is pleased SWP came forward because the other options would either create more costs and risks for Sidney or leave the community with no wharf.

RELATED: Used concrete pontoon from the United States could replace Sidney’s Beacon Wharf

Coun. Chad Rintoul struck a similar note. “The floating wharf in my mind does present what may be a very vibrant opportunity in keeping with what we have seen in previous visioning exercises in the community.”

Coun. Barbara Fallot, who had previously favoured not replacing the wharf, said she will reserve judgement.

The public had heard earlier from Rob Milne, committee chair, that the floating option has several advantages including reducing costs and risk to the town, it generates income through property taxes and leases as well as increasing moorage and public space, and impacts local views the least.

But the public also heard of several potential obstacles, starting with costs.

“Waterfront infrastructure is not cheap to build and maintain, especially in an ocean environment,” Milne said.

Sidney lacks reserves to replace the wharf, requiring the municipality to borrow the funding and each household would be on the hook for about $30 to $38 in future payments if the municipality’s contribution were about $5 million, he said. (No official figures are available yet.)

Milne added partial off-sets could come from commercial revenues.

The public heard later staff will present a range of figures as part of the engagement process.

RELATED: Pontoon company piqued at prospect of public-private partnership around Sidney wharf

Wainwright said residents will have several opportunities to offer input, starting with the initial engagement, followed by necessary input around any borrowing and rezoning of the foreshore should the floating option go forward.

Another question that emerged was the fate of the fish market building currently standing on the wharf.

Conceding the building might not be preservable, Coun. Terri O’Keeffe asked Cronquist whether the new structure might reference the heritage of the building.

“I think that it is difficult to really pay homage to it to the extent that you might like to see,” he said. “We would like to actually replace it with something that will become something even more recognizable.”

Another question concerned the integrity pontoon, itself 60 years old.

Cronquist responded in part by pointing to its engineering history and the due diligence done by his company and others, including SNC-Lavalin. “We are willing to invest in putting a building on top of the pontoon,” he said.

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