The five dry docks floating in the Chemainus Harbour — which are also often referred to as barges — have been called an eyesore, but they have also raised navigational and environmental concerns in the past year as three barges sunk and one was towed to Ladysmith.
The third barge to sink in the Chemainus Harbour fell to the bottom of the harbour Oct. 9, joining two others that had sunk since January.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, who lives in Chemainus, reckoned the sole barge left in deep water near Chemainus Harbour will probably sink once filled with rainwater.
Those three sunken barges aren’t navigational or environmental hazards, and they could become dive reefs.
None of the five original barges contain any fuel or oil. Creosote on the structures’ wood is old enough that it’s not an eco-risk, the mayor added.
Another of the five Second World War-era barges was towed by the federal Department of Transport to Slack Point in Ladysmith.
Initially, North Cowichan council asked the Department of Transport to get Environment Canada’s OK to tow the barges to deeper water, away from the harbour area.
Council’s request tanked.
“That was one federal department dealing with another, and Transport couldn’t get approval, so they’re sinking in much shallower waters, which is a mistake,” said Lefebure of the sunken barges sitting about 35 feet under, at low tide.
Still, council was happy with action taken by B.C.’s environment ministry to soften impact of the barges left derelict after the Chemainus Quay and Marina project foundered several years ago.
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 continued to bob in the bay — until one of the three remaining barges sank in June.
Myles Mana, director of authorizations with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, said the situation was 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.
A large section of dry dock taking up real estate on the Slack Point shoreline was expected to be towed back out again in March, but that never did happen.
The dry dock section, approximately 110 feet by 77 feet long, was towed to Slack Point after Transport Canada had ordered its removal — along with the removal of four other similar-sized dry docks on Chemainus’ waterfront — when one of the dry docks sank in place in January.
“They obviously had concerns regarding public safety and hazard to marine navigation,” said Mana. “The others were leaking … they had pumps aboard, and they were keeping them afloat by virtue of pumping them, so they contacted us.”
The original plan, Mana said, was to get the one dry dock that was taking on water the worst to a spot where it wouldn’t sink. However, once the wood, steel and cement structure was sitting on Slack Point soil, it was determined that the cost to dismantle the four vessels would not be feasible.