Chemainus has lost an eyesore and added a few question marks.
One of the dilapidated barges squatting in Chemainus harbour has sunk.
It is unclear at this point what — if any — hazard the sinking may have created, or if the sinking will spark any movement on the removal of the remaining four.
The barge, a remnant of the breakwater project tied to the failed Chemainus Quay and Marina, went down last Sunday morning.
“I got a call from Chemainus Quay and Marina Complex Limited that one of their barges had sunk, and I confirmed it by looking out my window,” said North Cowichan Mayor and Chemainus resident Jon Lefebure.
“The five barges were linked together, and the second one from the south is the one that sank,” Lefebure said.
“The barges are actually part of an old floating (Second World War) dry dock, and they were designed to be sunk under a vessel. Then you would pump out the water to lift the vessel above out of the water to be worked on. The interior tanks were filling with rain or leaking water from the ocean, and eventually it was enough to go down.”
Which means the other four barges could go down, too.
Calls to the developers have yet to be returned, but Lefebure said the sinking falls under Ottawa’s jurisdiction.
“I advised our (municipal staff) that this had happened and the municipality advised the Provincial Emergency Preparedness Program of the potential concern that the other four barges might sink or pose a hazard to navigation channels,” he said.
“We were advised by PEPP that this was a federal issue and therefore there was no provincial authority to expend funds on it, and of course we had no authority over it either.”
Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard were both advised about the incident and potential hazards.
“The federal reps will be providing updates to us as they become available,” Lefebure said.
The barges, which have been floating in the harbour for a few years, have been called an eyesore by area residents. A group called the Family and Friends Council at the Chemainus Healthcare Centre petitioned unsuccessfully in 2010 to have the vessels removed.
“We established several years ago that we didn’t have the legal authority to force them to move,” said Lefebure. “But now it’s become an issue for federal authorities, something may happen in that regard.”
The barges were originally brought in by the quay developers to be used as a breakwater for the project.
But when developers Steve Thorpe-Doubble and Terry Petras ran out of money, the project was put on hold, and the barges left floating in limbo.
Transport Canada officials are working to determine whether navigation channels have been impacted by the sunken barge in Chemainus harbour.
Transport Canada spokeswoman Jillian Glover said the barge does not pose an environmental hazard.
“Transport Canada is currently assessing the situation, specifically the barge’s impact on navigation,” she said on Wednesday. “And once we’ve determined that, we’re going to work with local authorities to develop a long-term resolution.”