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Crackdown urged after barge sinks

Oct 14 2012

Pressure is mounting on government agencies to do something about derelict watercraft off Vancouver Island, after the third of five abandoned barges sank this week in the Chemainus harbour.

One barge has been towed to Ladysmith, while another remains afloat in Chemainus.

The sunken barges are a travesty, said Peter Luck-ham, a scuba divemaster and charter operator on Thetis Island.

The various government agencies have allowed the barges to sink to the bottom of Chemainus harbour, he said.

"They have completely ruined the notion of there ever being a new marina in Chemainus harbour ... because the province is going to say, 'You have to lift those barges out in order to put your marina in," Luck-ham said. "That vision is now dead, and that's tragic."

Unlike the Boeing aircraft Luckham sank off Thetis in 2006 as an artificial reef, the sunken barges are a hazard to navigation and an obstacle for anyone wishing to develop the waterfront, he said.

Luckham said he measured just 15 feet of water between the surface and the barge at high tide on Wednesday.

A tidal drop of 11 or 12 feet isn't unusual, he said, leaving three feet of clearance for passing watercraft.

Watching the successive sinking of barges has been "a painful exercise," said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure.

He hopes the federal government will address the situation, although he acknowledges removing the barges would be costly.

"I just hope the federal government finds its responsibility in this and acts accordingly," Lefebure said.

Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP Jean Crowder said there is no definitive inventory of derelict vessels off the West Coast, but that she has heard estimates of about 200.

Crowder has called for amendments to the Canada Shipping Act that would regulate the removal, disposition or destruction of derelict vessels or wrecks. She said that she is trying to get a meeting with Transport Minister Denis Lebel to discuss the issue.

The problem is getting tossed around among various government departments with none of them taking responsibility, Crowder said.

She's calling for a fee to be levied against the watercraft owners so there can be funds to deal with their removal or disposal.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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