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West Van removes watchdog position for Horseshoe Bay Pier

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is considering moving to Horseshoe Bay Pier.  - File photo
The Coast Guard Auxiliary is considering moving to Horseshoe Bay Pier.
— image credit: File photo

West Vancouver is getting rid of Horseshoe Bay Pier’s caretaker, a move some say could hamper emergency operations.

Since the federal government handed its piers to the district 10 years ago, Horseshoe Bay resident Billy Lord has been the watchdog of the municipality’s wharfs. He makes sure users don’t disregard regulations — such as time and weight limits on docks — and writes up monthly reports on the structures’ conditions.

For his service, the district granted Lord space for his houseboat, which is also his office, on the Horseshoe Bay Pier. But that’s no longer the case.

In March, Lord was handed a notice that his services weren’t needed and his houseboat must be relocated by May 31. The district and West Van’s Coast Guard Auxiliary are eying the pier as a potential moorage site for the unit’s new boat.

While the auxiliary would be a nice addition to the pier, it won’t replace 24/7 surveillance, Lord warned. During a summer day up to 400 people visit the dock, a pier that’s also used when transporting emergency cases from areas such as Bowen Island to the mainland.

On average, 350 emergency cases travel over the pier per year, he noted. It’s imperative to make sure that no matter how busy, there is always a docking space for emergency boats, Lord said.

“It is not about me, it is about safety of the pier,” he said. “The truth is you have to have somebody down there 24/7.”

Besides ensuring that emergency vessels and vehicles can access the pier, Lord regulates the amount of weight safely permitted on it. Living in the harbour allows him to look over all the boats at night, Lord said. It also prevents vandalism and dangerous activities.

“Kids sometimes try and build bonfires underneath the pier,” said Lord, who prior to his role with the district was harbour master in Horseshoe Bay for 30 years.

Keeping a spot open for emergency services day and night is an essential part of the ambulance service to Bowen Island, said Brian Biddlecombe, owner of the Howe Sound water taxi Cormorant Marine. The water taxi alone transfers more than 160 cases to first responders at the pier, he said, noting other Howe Sound islands use the pier for the same purpose.

When ferries aren’t running for weather or mechanical reasons, the pier becomes a transport hub, Bliddlecombe added.

“In the summer people tying up boats and leaving them there is a real problem,” he said. “I think there is a benefit in having someone there.”

The district is not looking at replacing Lord, district spokesperson Jessica Delaney said. The possible presence of the auxiliary and an enhanced municipal staff presence could cover the position’s duties, she said.

“At this point the assessment has been the services are no longer required,” Delaney said.

A report on whether the location is suitable for the auxiliary is expected to be before council in early summer. The response from the local community on the possible new tenants has been very positive, Delaney said.

“There has really been significant support for this,” she said.

One organization rallying against the move is the Friends of Historical Piers League. So far, 200 people have signed a petition calling for the district to keep Lord until he retires, repair structural safety issues on all the municipality’s piers and create a municipal marine division.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary has made its formal application to the district regarding the pier, confirmed Bruce Falkins, who’s in charge of the Coast Guard Auxiliary for both Deep Cove and Howe Sound. However, there are no guarantees it will suit their vessel’s requirements, he noted, adding lot of organizations are interested in the pier. The district will have to weigh what it wants and what it can afford, Falkins said.

For more information on Friends of Historical Piers league email friendsofpiers@shaw.ca.

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