Island Bound Traveller Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Cover Photo by Gary Grieco
BY GARY Grieco - firstname.lastname@example.org
Published Powell River Living November 2008
A sound harbour strengthens a community's economy. If Westview is the heart of Powell River, then the North Harbour Marina must also be considered a vital organ. It's not just a place where boats are kept, but an important part of the social fabric for a great many of Powell River's seniors. A safe and secure marina helps to define a city, and can also be measured in economic terms by attracting businesses and people who choose to come and stay. This city-owned and operated marina is not a private club for the privileged. Rather, it is an integral part of the community that is open to all Powell River residents, and a major attraction for many retirees who have their choice of where to live on the coast.
A third of marina members are retired folks like Dale and Marg McNeil, (shown on the cover) who love to live in close proximity to the sea, 'messing around' in boats. "Some retirees would rather have a boat instead of a trailer, tent, or cottage," according to Dale. In the McNeil's case, the sailboat they built named Inscrutable, is their choice as both home and cottage, and stays moored in the North Harbour when they're not out cruising the coast. The McNeils enjoy good health and get plenty of exercise in what many would consider an enviable lifestyle. But, they are concerned about the future of the marina and the current state of the docks. "East wind gales have snapped off rotten pilings, and floats have come loose with boats attached," explained Dale. "Reconstruction of the North Harbour is important to Powell River," believes Marg, a retired Powell River teacher." "Communities like Powell River have to compete with other cities in providing amenities like good hiking trails, outdoor facilities, library, and a functioning harbour to attract the influx of new retirees coming to the coast." A part of the new economy for Powell River and many coastal communities is retirees and tourism. Powell River has traditionally relied on an abundance of natural resources used in fishing and forestry. But, in these times of worldwide economic uncertainty, local mill downsizing or even outright closure, it is vital that Powell River makes the best use of all its natural resources to maintain a viable economy and stable tax base for its citizens. An equivalent new tax base must replace any major tax base that is lost, or individual taxes will rise. Large numbers of retirees attracted to Powell River will be part of that new tax base. People are drawn to Powell River by the relaxed lifestyle, friendly people, and lower housing costs in one of the most beautiful areas on the Sunshine Coast. They may come from the Prairies, or the interior of B.C., but one thing many seem to have in common is the desire to own a boat and live by the sea. Its like a rite of passage, and they might by-pass this community if moorage is not available. Harbour Master, Jim Parsons states, "I have a wait list of people from other areas who are preparing to retire to Powell River if they can get moorage for their boats. In some cases I have to recommend they look at other areas, like Campbell River." The North Harbour has been in a state of flux for many years, with repairs to the docks being one of the options. A new risk assessment prepared by Chris Small Marine Surveyors indicates the marina is at the end of its life, and poses a significant liability to the City of Powell River, with a worst case scenario being that the marina closes, leaving hundreds of boaters high and dry. The November 15th., 2008 referendum will decide whether or not reconstruction of floats will be carried out in the near future under the City of Powell River's plan. The funds are in place and have been earmarked and approved by the Province. "The price tag for the reconstruction and reconfiguration of the North Harbour is not to exceed $6 million, and is an investment in Powell River's economic future," according to David Douglas, Powell River's Chief Financial Officer. "The intent is that the borrowing for the North Harbour will not affect your taxes, but rather, the users of the marina will pay moorage fees that are sufficient to cover the annual debt payments and annual operating costs." Moorage rates will increase to $5.10 per foot from the 2007 rate of $3.20, but will still be on the low end compared to other marinas. One example is Campbell River's 2007 rate of $6.08, which is under review for an increase.
Harbour Master Jim Parsons says, "An added benefit of a reconfigured North Harbour is that boats currently occupying space in the south harbour could be relocated to the new north harbour, opening up more moorage for visiting boaters, which adds tourist dollars to the local economy." How do you measure the economic benefits to Powell River of a sound harbour; or the effects of an enhanced social environment ? Len Shelton, 74, and his wife, Dorrie have been cruising B.C.'s waters for 51 years. They built their first boat in 1959 and kept it in the South Harbour before becoming one of the North Harbour's first members, upon its completion in 1958. Len retired from the mill in 1979. "The boat harbour has to be there for the next generation and their grandchildren," he says. "The people I know down there are all retired, and the boat harbour is important to them. Taxpayers have to understand that they do not have to pay for it." Another retiree who haunts the North Habour docks is Dave Graham, a relative newcomer to Powell River. His passion is fishing. He spends summers and winters with a line trailing in the water from his 18-foot 1957 Sangster run-about. "I would hate to think about a Powell River without a harbour where I could moor my boat." Investment in their waterfronts by other coastal cities such as Nanaimo, Sidney, Comox, and Campbell River has paid great dividends for all their citizens, whether boat owners, or not.
A new North Harbour is one of the most important building blocks in laying a foundation for the sustainability and future growth of Powell River. A sound harbour will strengthen the local economy by attracting new people with varied skills who will help diversify a commodity-based economy, and who will form part of the new tax base. A waterfront facelift will contribute to Powell River emerging as one of the most desireable and livable small cities in North America.