By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: March. 17, 2012
Two shiny new cruise ships wait for passengers on the public marina along the west side of the Mamquam Blind Channel.
There are only two boats, but this marina can accommodate 60 vessels.
After all, it’s a full service marina with passenger ferry and cruise ships, complete with a marine terminal with waiting rooms for passengers.
It’s the stuff that beautiful marine dreams are made of and the outline of those dreams can all still be found in the 2004 Squamish Downtown Waterfront Initiative documents.
This document isn’t the only one to dream up such fancy ideas.
In the past 20 years, more than a few documents in Squamish have talked about creating marine strategies, but they have remained just where they started from: On paper.
Despite having a rare combination of rail, road, deep sea water, and industrial lands on the waterfront, successive local government have done little to create a marine strategy that would lead to three things Squamish desperately needs.
Jobs, jobs, and jobs.
As Squamish becomes a bedroom community and industry a four-letter word, one of the most crucial documents on marine development strategy seemed destined to gather dust in the Squamish Public Library.
The Squamish Economic Development Strategy Plan of 1991 created by Lauga & Associates.
It is perhaps one of the only district reports that analyses the level of economic development Squamish could have attained by creating better port facilities and infrastructure.
“In the long term, if properly developed, the port of Squamish may be able to capture some export traffic from the central and northern hinterlands,” the report says.
‘Long term’ and ‘may be’ are words Squamish should consider carefully, said the report’s author, Tom Lauga, in an interview with the Squamish Reporter.
“There are may be five places left in entire B.C. which are like Squamish. It has rail and road access and deep water,” he said.
“As a community, Squamish should think hard before it decides to build condos there.”
Lauga said in the 90s, there was a thriving industry surrounding ship repair, deep sea cargo traffic, import and export on the Victoria Harbour.
After the industry went through a rough patch, the land was converted into condos.
Any plan in Squamish that replaces industrial with residential use should be carefully reviewed, he stressed.
At a recent economic development meeting, as council discussed the Outline for Economic Development, one word was missing.
That gap must be filled says Coun. Ron Sander.
A marine strategy must be part of the Squamish overall economic development strategy, he says.
He said council should encourage private marine based opportunities to Squamish and provide them with whatever support they need.
“Squamish doesn’t just own land with Marine access, there are fantastic opportunities that could be explored with the Squamish Nation (Site B), private landowners (Woodfibre, Darrell Bay) and the Mamquam Blind Channel,” Sander said.
To know what those opportunities are, a development marine strategy was initiated in 2008 by the then economic development officer, Brent Leigh.
Leigh wanted to identify the optimal use of waterfront properties, including Watts Point, Site B, Darrel Bay, Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation (SODC), and Squamish Terminals. It was never adopted by the district.
That is the first step Squamish hasn’t even taken, says Eric Andersen.
“What spaces there are for water-dependent industries in Squamish? What kind of facility can go on Site B? What kind of port infrastructure we need…Squamish has no plans for it,” Andersen said.
Coun. Doug Race said even though Squamish has all the elements of a successful deep sea operation, SODC lands aren’t the best place to develop as a port operation.
“Tax revenues for ports are capped by provincial legislation. We receive about $350,000 from Squamish Terminals. We have the potential to receive millions in tax revenues from the oceanfront peninsula (the business plan suggested up to $6 million in tax revenue and up to 2200 jobs) which is far greater than a port facility may provide,” he said.