Canal Beach will be open to the public and work will continue this summer despite Port Alberni city council’s decision not to spend $500,000 to resurface the old Alberni Plywood pier this year.
Councillor Cindy Solda attributed the confusion to some statements Mayor John Douglas made in another media source, that made it sound like the park would not be available.
“We’re finding it really frustrating,” she said. “There are a lot of positives. (The mayor) should have said even though we’re cutting funding, there’s a lot of good stuff coming from service groups.”
Coun. Dan Washington and Hira Chopra were asked last month to investigate whether service clubs could help finance some projects at Canal Beach. Washington said he has already received support from both the Kiwanis and Gyro clubs, and was to make a presentation to the Port Alberni Rotary Club on Thursday, after the News went to press.
“The Kiwanis already met with the mayor and Scott Kenny in early January,” Washington said. “The Gyro club said if you’re (Kiwanis) going to do something then we’ll do something. There’s a lot of interest from service groups.
“What I pitched at the council meeting was give me a year and see what I can do,” Washington said.
Parks, Recreation and Heritage director Scott Kenny said there are projects available that services clubs could easily fund, such as permanent washroom facilities, a playground, a gazebo, more picnic tables or even a caretaker’s building in the long term. However, a larger project like the pier would be beyond their scope, he said.
With the cut in funding, there is nothing official on the books for improvements to the beach this year. Parks and rec will continue to work on the newly seeded grassy area, and the pier has been fenced off and signs erected warning people to keep off.
There is a porta-potty and some trash cans on site, and his department will look at starting the memorial park bench program.
There are no conceptual drawings for the beach, nor for resurfacing the pier, Kenny said. But a design and cost estimates can still be done this year.
“A lot of people like what’s going on down there,” he said.
Bud and Lyn Collins, who walk their dogs regularly at Canal Beach, say council is shortsighted for voting against spending the $500,000.
“That pier could be a jewel,” Bud Collins said.
“We’ll do whatever we have to, to support the development of this beach,” Lyn said, adding they have been invested community members in Canal Beach “right from the day we helped with the cleanup.”
The Collinses were two of a dozen people enjoying the warm weather at the beach on Monday afternoon.
Collins said it is also shortsighted that the city doesn’t have a plan for Canal Beach yet. He suggests finding some investors or leasing the property to an operator that will get the best use out of the park. “Let them have a contest; who’s got a vision to draw up, a plan at no cost?”
Lyn Collins said there are plenty of people who would be willing to build up Canal Beach as a tourist draw for the city.
“There are some new people working very hard to bring some vibrancy to this town,” she said, adding that even something as simple as putting up a sign on Johnston Road directing people to turn left for the beach would be a way of promoting Canal Beach.
“For the most part, I think you’re going to find a community that supports this.”
Douglas said he doesn’t think that extended to his council. “There are some people on council that have no appreciation for this waterfront space. There’s been interest from other parties to acquire it for a log sort. I think it might be an ulterior motive on council’s part. Once they put the pier in it would be difficult to sell it back to industry,” he said.
“There are people on council who feel the waterfront is just for mills or log sorts.”
Solda said council does support the beach. She has circulated a note that states: “Last year we invested $100,000 in the beach to have the unsafe deck taken off the pier and gravel put in. We started this year with the Polar Bear Swim and passed a motion to join with other groups to put on a paddle board race in June.
“We’ve since had offers from three service clubs to invest in the beach and have formed a working group of two councillors…to work with them and our neighbours to come up with a plan and direction for the beach.
“This will maximize the benefits to the beach and minimize the taxpayer expense.”
Douglas said the money is available, it was tentatively budgeted and it should be spent as requested.
“Why on earth (council) wouldn’t embrace something that’s so well supported by using funds that won’t affect the tax bracket this year is beyond me,” he said.
“I think there’s some election optics here as well.”
Solda said the decision to cut the funding for 2014-15 was one of simple economics. “There is no plan yet for the $500,000. We weren’t going to spend it without a plan.
“We just want a proper plan and want to see it in black and white before we approve the funds.”
Washington said the money might be there, but it has been set aside in the Land Sale Reserve fund for contingencies. Solda said responses to the city’s budget survey indicated people would rather the city keep the money in reserve to help fix aging infrastructure than resurface the pier this year.
Kenny said there are plans to hold an open house to collect people’s ideas on what Canal Beach should look like. “But that’s not going to happen until after the budget process is through.”