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McDONALD: When the Okanagan floodwater subsides, let's take back the shoreline

June 01, 2017 - 2:01 PM

 


OPINION


I'm not one inclined to take delight in the misfortune of others but I must admit I find it hard to be charitable at the thought of one rich guy’s dock busting loose during last week’s lake storm and bashing into another rich guy’s dock.

But that’s just the type of thing that is happening during The Flood, the Okanagan Valley's disaster in slow motion.

When this is all over, I think those same rich guys, the lakeshore and riverside property owners plus the owners of powerboats and yachts, should help pay for a big chunk of the clean-up as well as construction and upkeep of a continuous shoreline path along Kelowna’s waterfront.

How do we pay for all that? It’s time for Kelowna to impose a dock tax, a fee applied to all boat trips on Okanagan Lake that set sail from private lakeshore docks and public boat launches. You want your permanent lakeside view and moorage and the chance to rip it up in your speed boat? Pay up.

It may seem callous dumping on the victims, even before the floodwaters subside but the silver lining in those threatening rain clouds is a chance to take back public beach access along Kelowna’s waterfront and start taking more seriously the health of the lake.

Kelowna has long had a fractious relationship with lakeshore property owners, usually over boat docks and public beachfront access which is supposed to be guaranteed by law. Have a look at the video below.

But too often, wealthy shorefront property owners have decided the high water mark or the environmental limitations of a dock building permit doesn’t apply to them.

The result, over the years, has been fences running right into the lake, inhospitable landscaping and monster boat docks that could, in some cases, have accommodated the Fintry Queen. Attempts by the city to force compliance have had limited success, not least because the provincial government controls permits for docks, but provides little or no enforcement. It also doesn't hurt to have deep pockets when you're fighting city hall.

Don’t get me wrong — despite its disproportionate effect on those with high net worth, it is still a disaster.

What else to call the oozing waters of Okanagan Lake that have managed to supplant soaring real estate prices as the top subject at parties (if only to turn it to the price of the real estate that’s slowly disappearing from the big lake’s shores.)

Make no mistake. Despite its glacial pace, this is a bona fide catastrophe that will leave its mark well beyond the big dirty bathtub-ring of debris that will soon lay across some of the manicured lawns and pristine patios that line Kelowna’s waterfront.

I use the future tense because the disaster isn’t even close to over and emergency operations officials — admittedly more used to forest fires — are still responding to new and unusual situations as the water rises and finds its way into strange places.

Still, the measured pace of this phase of the flood has allowed some thought to recovery and what will be revealed as the water recedes — at the very least, storm and deep sewers, possibly compromised that must be examined and repaired.

Beyond that, the city will have to reset its assumptions about the high water mark, which in turn affects decisions on where and how to build parks and infrastructure. The old mark of 343 metres is redundant.

Tentative plans have been in the works for years to construct a paved pathway along the beach from the Bennett Bridge to Kelowna General Hospital and beyond. Yet somehow, it was never built. Could the strenuous objections of a group of waterfront property owners have something to do with it?

The city has recently commissioned a waterfront plan but this is going to take much bolder action by Kelowna city council if it is at all serious about giving the beach back to those of us not fortunate enough to own a slice of Kelowna’s waterfront. In my view, completion of the beach path is at least as important to Kelowna residents as the much-more expensive Okanagan Rail Trail.

When the floodwaters recede, it's time for a lakefront audit of any and all impediments to public beach access as well as surviving docks and other moorage.

Those docks in compliance with environmental and building codes would be allowed to rebuild. Those that are not, well… you see where this is going. Once complete, those with docks should be charged an annual docking fee. I would extend this to all powerboats that use the lake through a fee applied at all public boat launches.

For too long, Kelowna's waterfront and Okanagan Lake have been treated largely as a playground for those who can pay to play. It's time to skim a little off the top and give a bit of the lake back to the rest of us.

Credit: Brenda Bachman
Footage of Kelowna's waterfront from the Bennett Bridge to Mission Creek.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca

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