A plan to bring back the long-dormant White Rock Sandcastle Competition next year shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, says White Rock Events Society treasurer Deanna Pedersen.
She says the organization is simply aiming to revive the competition in the context of the 2000s – not planning to recreate the huge event of the 1980s.
The society, which succeeded in getting the moribund White Rock Sea Festival back on its feet three years ago – and handed it over to the city this year – is aiming to resuscitate the equally iconic competition for a 40th anniversary event on Aug. 17, 2019.
But Pedersen told Peace Arch News last week that any mention of a revived sandcastle competition seems to create a knee-jerk reaction that divides White Rock residents into two distinct camps.
Some have nostalgic memories of the event, she said.
“We have heard from many people in the community and they would love to see a sandcastle competition – we’re sure the business community would, too.”
Others fear a replay of the contest’s runaway success – which drew as many as 200,000 visitors to the beach at its peak, before being cancelled following the 1987 season due to worries it was no longer manageable.
A 2019 event would be a much-reduced version, Pedersen said – keeping to a family and community-friendly scale the society hopes will allay environmental and policing concerns.
“At this point, we do not have any reliable numbers (for spectators),” Pedersen said, noting that White Rock’s beach is open to the public and usually busy every day in the summer and particularly on weekends.
It should be well below 1980s figures, she said.
“Possibly we’re looking at between 10,000 and 40,000 people, as it would be the first,” she said. “If it rains, it may only be 500 people.”
While a presentation by Pederson and society director Christine Tobias had a friendly reception from White Rock council in June (the society is still hoping the city will kick in some $30,000 in cash and more in in-kind services), Mayor Wayne Baldwin and councillors warned that provincial environmental regulations, and environmentally-oriented stakeholders – in particular Semiahmoo First Nation and the Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society – might pose stumbling blocks.
Pedersen said she and organizers are now pinning their hopes on a meeting they have scheduled in September with SFN Chief Harley Chappell, hoping it will produce some kind of agreement that would address potential SFN concerns.
“Without that, we can’t really move forward with the city,” she said. “We’d love to partner with SFN on this – that was always our intention.”
While SFN has issued no formal statement on the sandcastle proposal to this point, others have been forthcoming with concerns.
And, in July, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development regional executive director Allan Johnsrude wrote to White Rock’s mayor that “events of this nature would likely not be authorized within the (Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area).”
A report of this letter in PAN came as a complete surprise to the society, Pedersen said.
“We didn’t even know who Mr. Johnsrude was,” she said, adding that the society felt it had been doing due diligence by consulting with Eric Balke, co-ordinator of the South Coast Conservation Land Management Program, who had asked, on behalf of the ministry, for a comprehensive event proposal (a revised version was submitted in June).
Pedersen said she feels some of the resistance is based on a misapprehension of what is actually being suggested.
“The event organizers intend this to be the ‘greenest’ and best-managed sandcastle event ever,” she told PAN, adding that no outside sand will be imported into the Wildlife Management Area.
“No vehicles of any kind will be allowed on the beach, no inorganic material will be left on the beach, volunteer teams will monitor the event activities and pick up any discarded material. A generous number of trash bins will be provided.”
Biggest indicator of the difference in scale between the proposed event and the original is indicated in the maps provided by the society which indicate a maximum of 15 sandcastle ‘plots’ east of the pier and five to the west of it – a total of 20 entries all-told.
By contrast, a 1980s map for the Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition, as it was then known, shows six different themed sandcastle and sand sculpture areas, four of them accommodating as many as 60 different entries each.
White Rock RCMP is “100 per cent on board” with the proposal, Pedersen said, noting that policing issues in the 1980s “weren’t about the day itself, but the night before.”
Complaints then focused on drinking and people parking camper vans overnight at the beach – which is no longer allowed.
“The RCMP has (said) flat-out this is not going to happen (in 2019),” she said.
Another factor scaling down the impact of the proposed competition is that low tide for Aug. 17 next year is anticipated around 3.9 feet, much higher than the environmentally-sensitive eelgrass areas of the beach, she said.
It will limit both the sand area available and the number of spectators, she added – and will actually promote amateur participation over the more ambitious designs of professional sculptors, which usually require a layer of glue to maintain them over the life of extended events.
“The total (White Rock) event duration will be from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” she said, “by which time the incoming tide will encourage people to leave the beach and begin to restore any disturbed sand.
“The best crowd control will be the tide,” she said. “Our goal is to have a family fun day watching people build their sandcastles and then watching them wash away.
“(The society) has no intentions of an out-of-control event where nobody wins.”
Pedersen emphasized that the society is “environmentally-conscientious” – she noted members are particularly concerned about the impact of plastics on the ocean – and will make sure contestants are aware of environmental concerns through printed materials and postings on its website.
Other sandcastle events society members have visited – including events in Parksville, San Diego, Long Beach in Washington and the Birch Bay Sand Sculpture Competition – have not indicated any ecosystem concerns, she added.
Further research has uncovered little scientific study that deals with the impact of this type of beach event, she said.
“Most of the concern regarding human impact on beach environments seems to be with pollution, vehicles, construction and/or nesting birds or turtles, none of which is involved here.”
Which raises another issue that puzzles the society, in light of the hurdles it now faces over the environmental impacts of the sandcastle proposal, Pedersen said.
She questions whether the City of White Rock had to submit a comprehensive-event proposal and map for the sand sculpture event it held on the beach for this year’s Canada Day By The Bay, or for this year’s Sea Festival as a whole.
Both events drew thousands of visitors to the beach, she noted.
Even when the society was still producing and organizing the Sea Festival – albeit without a large-scale sandcastle competition – it brought more than 100,000 people to the beach area, she added.
“We were never asked to submit a comprehensive event proposal, plus map (then),” she said. “We wonder why, now?”