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Second barge sinks in Chemainus harbour

A second barge sinks in Chemainus harbour, while barge towed to Ladysmith earlier this year remains at Slack Point.

The ongoing saga of the barges squatting in Chemainus harbour continues.

In January, one of five barges originally brought in by the developers of the Chemainus Quay and Marina Complex sunk to the bottom of the harbour. But despite a removal order from Transport Canada in February, the barges have continued to bob in the bay — until one of the three remaining barges sank last week.

“On Wednesday, Transport Canada responded immediately to the reports that [one of] the barge[s] was in danger of sinking,” Transport Canada’s Jillian Glover explained on Friday afternoon. “Arrangements were made to have the barge pumped out as soon as possible. We are currently monitoring the situation and assessing what action needs to be taken.”

Myles Mana, director of authorizations with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, said the situation is not ideal but better than could be expected.

“It [sunk] in about 45 feet of water, so at low tide, the deck is still quite a ways below the water and it’s outside the navigation channel,” he said.

He said removing or disposing of the remaining barges continues to be a priority.

“We’re still concerned with the two that are left, because if they were to also sink and land on top of the ones already there [in Chemainus], it would make it very shallow, even though they’re outside the [navigation] channel,” he said. “And there’s always the potential when something sinks that it doesn’t sink straight down ... so one could still very well end up in that navigation channel if it’s not dealt with.”

Two barges remain in the Chemainus harbour. The third and final remaining barge currently sits on Slack Point in Ladysmith, where it was towed after the first barge sunk in January. The ministry has had the top of the barge cleared of debris as of June 1, and it now awaits transport or disposal.

“It was the worst of the bunch ... it was needing pumping about three times a week,” Mana said.

Glover said a notice warning boaters in the area of additional debris as a result of the sinking of the barge was also issued.

“The Navigable Waters Protection Act allows Transport Canada to order an owner to adequately mark and/or remove an anchored/sunken vessel that is obstructing navigation,” Glover said in an e-mail to the  Chronicle. “Failure to respond means Transport Canada may mark or remove the obstruction and recover costs from the owner. Transport Canada considers the barge owner responsible.”

But Glover also noted that while the provincial government and Transport Canada have explored disposal options, traditional disposal options “are not feasible at this time.”

— With files from Niomi Pearson

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