More than 300 Ladysmith residents and boaters crammed into Aggie Hall for a town hall meeting to discuss the uncertain future of the Ladysmith Community Marina.
The Ladysmith Maritime Society, a non-profit organization that has been operating the marina since 1985, held the meeting Wednesday, May 3, in response to letters sent from the Town of Ladysmith to vacate a crown water lot the marina sits on by the end of the year.
According to the society, it was advised by the town in early 2022 that the lot lease will be transferred from the town to Stz’uminus in accordance with a reconciliation agreement between the province and the First Nation which committed to land transfers valued up to $28.5 million.
A news release from the town said the province notified the town of violations of a 1999 lease agreement, including commercial activity on the land and infrastructure that may have been built on the adjacent water lot without provincial approval, which would be grounds for early termination of the lease. Both LMS and the town denied knowing about the violations until they were notified.
During discussions last fall, the Coast Salish Development Corporation, the economic arm of Stz’uminus, offered LMS a operational agreement until 2026; LMS said it sent a counter offer to CSDC, then never heard back until receiving first notice to leave.
LMS president Kelly Daniels said the society also “approached the province, through the minister, through the chief negotiator, and asked to get engaged and get the parties together because we just want someone to talk to us.”
Daniels did add that he has recently met with Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone and newly elected Stz’uminus Chief John Elliot and he feels “optimistic” with the talks.
A statement from the B.C. Ministry Forests, which manages Crown land, said in a statement that the maritime society has been operating and managing the marina through specific agreements with the Town of Ladysmith, and the province is not a party to these agreements.
“The province is aware of efforts on the part of both the town and Stz’uminus to seek solutions to concerns raised by the society in a way that respects the principles of reconciliation and minimizes impacts on the community,” the statement noted.
In the town’s press release, it said the original operational agreement offer was never up for negotiation, and the most significant change on the agreement is that the lease would last until 2026, instead of 2029.
However, during this week’s meeting, LMS said the original offer presented from Stz’uminus had more significant changes including a new ‘non-exclusive’ clause, no renewal clause, and mention of marinas assets being used as collateral for new developments on the waterfront. The maritime society said the lease would have been unlawful as it asked a not-for-profit to agree to turn over its publicly funded assets to a for-profit corporation, and added that the society is bound by grant providers’ conditions as to how to dispose of assets.
Daniels said the notion that the society misunderstood that the agreement was non-negotiable is false, because he said the corporation indicated it wished to further discuss a number of items.
”That sounds like negotiation, at least to me,” said Daniels. “[The proposal] to also allow [CSDC] to use our facilities as collateral, of course, that’s a major problem. First of all, we don’t think we can allow a not-for-profit corporation, currently a for-profit corporation, to use our facilities as collateral for the issues of security defaults, if there’s any difficulty with paying the creditors that come after those assets.”
When the Chronicle asked the town about the society’s claims about the proposal, it said the clauses relating to collateral are identical in both contracts.
The lease transfer came during plans for a new revitalized waterfront in Ladysmith called the waterfront area plan, which the town hopes will bring more residential and commercial development, and more input from First Nations on the waterfront; however, some residents at the meeting said they are frightened for the future of the waterfront without the marina operator that has been in place for decades.
Richard Kinar, Ladysmith Yacht Club spokesperson, mentioned the “endless” problems the waterfront currently faces and has been facing for years. He said the club been asking for funds for a new sewage system, fuel dock, more sustainable mooring systems, cleaning services for the dozens of sunken boats around the marina and better transportation from the waterfront to the town.
“If you don’t understand people’s needs, and if you don’t understand the simple needs, getting down into the complex issues? It’s impossible,” he said. “I think people have visions, but without the involvement of the community, meaning the users, boating community and such, I think that will everybody will get it wrong.”
He stressed the fact that recreational boating is “extremely important” to both the local and provincial economy. Ladysmith marina gets around 3,400 visitors every year, according to the maritime society.Follow @Baileyseymour02