WHITE ROCK – They say good fences may make good neighbours but a decision by Transport Canada isn’t making White Rock residents feel very neighbourly.
On Tuesday, work began to install a twometre locked gate at the west beach boat launch near Bay Street on Marine Drive.
The city received an order from the federal ministry on June 6 to close public access to the boat launch immediately.
"It’s what I would term, on my better day, as being a kneejerk bureaucratic reaction," said White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin who is strongly opposed to the decision.
This was the first in a series of safety measures that Transport Canada ordered the city and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., which owns the rail line, to take after a review spurred by the death of 42-year-old Anita Lewis in July 2013. Lewis died after being hit by a train while jogging on east beach near Finlay Street.
In February, an elderly man with dementia was also hit and suffered head injuries.
Additional sections of fencing are set to be installed along the rail line at the bottom of Coldicutt Ravine and running east of Finlay Street by the end of June – effectively closing access at these points along the beach.
Trains will also be required to blow their whistles more frequently while passing pedestrian areas.
According to Baldwin, a railroad inspector came to White Rock a few
weeks ago to assess the situation. In that assessment the inspector reported seeing huge numbers of people illegally on the tracks, cars parked on the crossing at the boat launch and even a baby carriage left on the rails – claims which Baldwin feels are unfair and inaccurate.
"I cannot see a mother doing that. I’ve never seen that in my life. I don’t know what he’s talking about," he said.
The new safety measures also come with a hefty price tag. Despite this decision coming from a federal ministry, the cost, which Baldwin estimates to be nearly $2 million, will initially fall on the city.
Baldwin, however, said the city is looking for at least 50 per cent of the funding to come from the federal government, and would like to see some of it come from the railroad as well.
With the move to close the boat launch, access to the water has been restricted to roughly one kilometre east at the pier.
"It is more than just a boat launch. It is also the only access point to the beach on the west end and it’s wheelchair access," said Baldwin.
Now, says Baldwin, any access for disabled people to get down to the beach has been removed.
Grant Grandraynard, a White Rock resident, was shocked to see the gate being
installed during his morning walk.
"Where will you go to get to the beach? Do you have to go to the pier and then walk down the stairs?" he said. "I think it’s really restricting us as to what we can do with our own beach."
The fences will not only affect visitors to the beach, but also local businesses who use the boat launch.
Darren Marshall, owner of Feral Boardsports, says that this decision is going to make it very difficult for people to enjoy the water.
"I think it’s going to have a massive effect, not just for business season, I mean for the people who live here as well … nobody’s going to want to see that," said Marshall.
"I think it will actually stop people from coming down to White Rock," he added equating the view with fences to Alcatraz prison.
Baldwin said that while it won’t be easy, the city will work with business operators, such as Marshall, who need access to the to the boat launch.
While safety of residents is paramount, Baldwin said the city is working to have the order reversed.
"We have until July 8 to register but we are going to be done it much faster than that. We are going to be pulling in all the political weight we can on this," he said.