City to fund boat ramp improvements

City council has endorsed a plan that would see the city move forward on improvements to the Big Rock Boat Ramp as early as next year.

The project has been on council’s radar for several years but has yet to come to fruition because the city has been waiting on financial help from other levels of government.

But so far, said Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, several applications for external funding have all been unsuccessful.

City staff is now recommending the city go it alone and come up with the funding itself.

Council has already budgeted $500,000 of city money – $250,000 from the Capital Lending Reserve and $250,000 from the Parks Capital Reserve – towards the project for 2016. The city was hoping a $500,000 Canada 150 grant application would be successful but Milnthorp said city staff have yet to hear back.

He suggested the city use its own money to make up the remainder for 2017. A potential source, according to Milnthorp, could be $599,000 that may be released from the Ostler Park project which city staff is recommending be temporarily put on hold until long-term downtown flooding solutions can be found.

At council’s last Committee of the Whole meeting, council voted to split the boat launch project into two phases – with phase one consisting of all in-water works such as replacing the ramp, dredging of the basin upgrades and relocating the two protective rock groin structures. Phase two would include all upland works such as upgrades to the parking lot, lighting, washrooms and a fish cleaning station.

Council also endorsed initiating construction of phase one in 2017, at a cost of $1.1 million, using solely city money.

Milnthorp said breaking the project up allows the city to move in a timely fashion on the in-water works, which must align with the lowest tides of the season and are subject to Fisheries Legislation, while it delays the above-ground works so that they can be integrated into future Highway 19A upgrades.

“Initiating completion of phase one in 2017 will provide the upgrades necessary to significantly improve the functionality of the site,” Milnthorp wrote in a report to council. “Upgrading and enlargement of the rock groins will provide protection for the basin and should reduce the need for maintenance of the basin.

“Phase one will include construction of a new concrete boat ramp including piers for boaters to secure their boat while parking or retrieving their trailer.”

The boat ramp has been a source of contention for years.

Last year, avid fisherman Mike Gage told council that the boat ramp is woefully inadequate for launching at most stages of the tide.

“It requires a float to the south side of it so most people can stand, hang on to their boats after they launch them, then hang on to them again when they’re waiting for a trailer,” Gage said at the time. “There’s nothing there, so they have to stand up to their knees in water. It’s pretty crude.”

Coun. Michele Babchuk told Gage she could understand first-hand what he was talking about.

“I’m one of the fair weather fishermen that tags along with her husband on good days and stands up to her knees trying to get into her boat at Big Rock Boat Launch,” she said.

The city’s hope is to have phase one of the boat launch upgrades complete prior to June of 2017 when peak season begins.