A convenience float in San Mateo Bay will stay put while negotiations for its removal continue between the Port Alberni Port Authority and provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
For nearly 40 years, boaters traversing the Alberni Inlet toward Bamfield have been able to tie up to a convenience float in San Mateo Bay. The port authority announced in February that it would remove the float as part of its move to surrender part of its head lease—the areas that are outside the main transportation corridor of Alberni Inlet.
The float was supposed to be removed on Friday, March 8, but the decision didn’t sit well with Port Alberni boaters, who complained. A ministry spokesperson said the convenience float will remain in place “while options and next steps are being determined.
“The port authority and the ministry have received a number of comments regarding the convenience float in San Mateo Bay,” the spokesperson noted. “The ministry is currently reviewing comments that were received during a public review and comment period that ended in January about the application.”
Boater Bill Karasiuk says the float is vital to the safety of marine traffic in that part of the Alberni Inlet.
“This float has saved our lives on at least two occasions when we were caught in stormy and windy conditions,” Karasiuk said. “It is not safe to navigate the Alberni Inlet when high winds prevail or heavy fog descends. This float has also provided a safe place to moor when experiencing engine problems.
“I believe that PAPA’s decision and the province’s intention to remove the float upon assuming jurisdiction, was made with little regard to the safety of boaters and the impact on tourism.”
Karasiuk said the float is the only safe haven or stopping point between Barkley Sound and the float located in Hook Bay, and that it is marked on nautical charts.
Boater Lyman Jardin said he too sees the importance of leaving the float in place. “I have used that float 45 years ago from a safety aspect as well as a convenience,” he said. “It’s a strategic location, that’s one reason why I am questioning its removal.”
Jardin, who also lobbied the provincial government to keep the float, said the float is on one of the regular boater routes to the west coast.
PAPA president and CEO Zoran Knezevic said the float has been in place for 30 or 40 years as a convenience, not as a safety measure. It is approximately 18 metres (60 feet) long by five metres (15 feet), and people will tie up their boats to picnic and even to camp on it.
San Mateo Bay is located 15 kilometres from Bamfield, with Sarita Bay just around the corner. The float is tucked into a corner of San Mateo Bay as you enter the mouth.
“PAPA has been fixing it up along the way, repairing floats and docking. We have been upkeeping it for a number of years,” Knezevic said. “It does require some attention as a float.”
The port authority also changed the anchoring system three or four years ago.
“As for the protection component there is plenty of protection there,” he said. There are several small bays in the area where boaters can find shelter.
“The safety component isn’t going to be jeopardized. The float is 50 feet from shore and there’s plenty of protection there. If somebody is in dire need there are two fish farms in the same bay…if somebody is in deep trouble there are other structures in the area.”
Karasiuk said he doesn’t understand why the port authority won’t agree to keep the float in San Mateo Bay even if the jurisdiction switches to the provincial government.
Knesevic said it’s not that simple. The port authority would have to apply for a permit, and there could be a cost to maintaining the float. Anyone can apply to the province for a licence to occupy that area with a float, and a fee would have to be paid, he explained.
It’s a rigorous process, and there is no guarantee that they would be granted a permit to keep the float in San Mateo Bay.
“They (provincial government) indicated that’s an avenue for us to pursue. It doesn’t guarantee we would get a permit to have it there,” Knezevic said.
With the port authority giving jurisdiction for San Mateo Bay back to the province, they would then be paying to provide a service for someone outside their jurisdiction, which would affect PAPA’s insurance.
He said PAPA would maintain the float on the province’s behalf if the provincial government wants to keep it in San Mateo Bay, as long as there were no other responsibilities or liabilities in doing so.
“Our goalpost has changed on us,” explained Knezevic. “If it stays as is and the province maintains their request to remove (the float) then we’ll have to.”
The ministry noted that the port authority has also applied to surrender its head leases in Uchucklesaht Inlet, Rainy Bay and Useless Inlet.
A head lease is a Crown land lease with a local government, band corporation, Crown corporation or other public entity which permits the tenure holder to sub-tenure to third parties. Authority is provided through the lands act, according to the ministry spokesperson.