Construction of fencing ordered by Transport Canada to curb trespassing along the waterfront rail line east of White Rock’s Finlay Street got underway Wednesday – to the dismay of merchants and residents alike.
Darren Marshall, owner of Feral Boardsports, said he is upset about minimal notice given, the lack of opportunity to provide input and the potential impact the barrier will have on business.
“This, it just seems like it’s all been kept a secret,” said Marshall, who learned of the work late last week.
“I think it’s a massive disrespect to every single person that owns a property down there.”
The six-foot-high, wrought-iron-style barrier is going up along 160 feet of property on the north side of the train tracks, eastward from the pedestrian railway crossing.
The work began Wednesday morning and was expected to wrap up today (Friday).
Gus Melonas, spokesperson for railway owner BNSF, confirmed the structure is a result of discussions with Transport Canada regarding safety concerns that arose following the July 2013 death of a jogger on East Beach tracks.
He said input on the fence’s design was sought from the Semiahmoo First Nation prior to construction, and led to “more of a wrought-iron-design look.”
SFN spokesperson Joanne Charles confirmed the band supports the work being done, however her design suggestions were not used, she said.
“I put forward what I wanted and what we would’ve liked to have seen, and unfortunately, that’s not what transpired,” she said Wednesday. “I provided suggestions and they went with what they suggested.”
Charles said the work stems from Transport Canada’s pedestrian-safety report.
“We had discussions with Transport Canada and BNSF and are supportive of public health and safety with regard to that, and understand the desire to ensure that pedestrians are using the pedestrian crossing across the railway for protection as a result of (the July 2013 tragedy),” she said.
Other steps that have been taken as a result of the Transport Canada review include levelling the grade of the pedestrian crossings, closing gaps and adding chainlink mesh to the black hand railings that run the length of the promenade and, installing bollards at the West Beach boat launch to prevent visitors from parking vehicles or boat trailers across the active rail line.
Charles said the band’s archaeologist is monitoring installation of the East Beach fence.
While provisions to ensure beach access for local business were not included, Charles said the fence is to have gates available only to the City of White Rock for the purpose of bringing mowers in to maintain the enclosed grassy area, she said.
The restricted access is a concern for Marshall, whose water-sports business requires paddleboards and the like to be hauled back and forth between the waterfront and his shop on a daily basis through the busy summer season. Manoeuvring the boards – which are nine to 14 feet long, weigh up to 30 pounds and worth anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 each – through the pedestrian crossing is awkward and can easily result in damage to the equipment, he said.
The fence design, he added, “looks like Alcatraz.”
Marshall and some residents who routinely walk the promenade are also not convinced the fence will be as much of a trespassing deterrent as officials are hoping.
“People will still use that car park (in Semiahmoo Park, belonging to the SFN) and they’ll still walk all the way along the tracks. They’re not going to stop that,” Marshall said.
Brenda Stobl, an East Beach resident for 2½ years, agreed.
“Those that live here, I think there’ll be some respect, initially. But eventually, it’ll just become an eyesore,” Strobl said.
“I’m not against safety, safety comes first,” she said. “But a fence will not fix the problem. People will find a way to walk on the tracks.”
Strobl described the chainlink mesh added to the promenade handrails as a suitable way to send the safety message.
“The taller (fence) makes it look like we’re like animals,” she said.
Regarding notice of the work, city communications officer Shannon Levesque said that was up to the Semiahmoo and BNSF.
“We knew that they were doing (the fence), but we didn’t have confirmed details of when it would be going up,” she said.
“As it’s not a city construction piece, we wouldn’t put anything up.”
Marshall noted the relative silence on the current work is a far cry to the attention that changes to West Beach received. When a gate was installed at the West Beach boat launch last year, there was a public outcry and much comment from the city’s politicians and media, he said.
“Everybody in White Rock was all over that,” Marshall said. “It just seems wrong compared to how it was done in West Beach.”
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin noted the difference is the current work is not actually in White Rock. The strip of land between Semiahmoo First Nation Land and the pedestrian crossing in White Rock is actually in the City of Surrey.
While Baldwin didn’t know the work would happen this week, it wasn’t a surprise, he said.
He described the waterfront overhaul, as a whole, as “an over-reaction,” and predicted the latest change could prove cumbersome for Marshall’s business. At the same time, he does not believe it will stop people from visiting the beach.
Asked if he felt the fence would discourage trespassing, Baldwin acknowledged the July 2013 tragedy may not have occurred if such a barrier had been in place at the time. The jogger, he explained, had taken a short-cut alongside the concrete stairwell the night she was hit. The fence eliminates that path, he said.
“That would’ve possibly made the difference between her living and dying,” Baldwin said.
Melonas said it is “a further step to provide safety to the public in the area.”
One more fencing project remains, he said, citing plans for the Coldicutt Ravine area of West Beach. Work is underway with the city to deal with that area, and Charles said the Semiahmoo also have concerns.
How that proceeds “is a concern for the Semiahmoo, because there was an archaeological burial that was taken from that area,” she explained.
“We still have discussions to go forward to talk about the fencing that’s going to go there.”