Debate grows over Jericho’s busy waterfront

This summer’s demolition of the Jericho Marginal Wharf will open up a stretch of beach that’s been in shadow for decades

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      The sharp smell of wood preservative hung in the air beneath the old, crumbling wharf. Seawater sloshed in the shadows while the rest of Jericho Beach basked in the warm Sunday sun.

      Outdoorsman Mike Cotter has probably lost count of how many times he has ducked into the dim bowels of this Vancouver relic. It may be one of his last forays underneath the Jericho Marginal Wharf. The 150-metre-long and 40-metre-deep wood-and-concrete structure that was a hive of seaborne operations by the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War is finally coming down this summer.

      “I can’t wait until they take this out,” Cotter told the Georgia Straight. “This beach hasn’t seen sunshine for more than 70 years.”

      But what the Vancouver park board might decide to do with portions of the liberated beach area after the wharf is demolished bothers Cotter, general manager of the Jericho Sailing Centre Association.

      Park staff is suggesting the placement of logs and boulders at the west end of the shore. Planners also suggest reusing a length of the wharf’s railings on the south side of the area. These were among the ideas presented to the public at an open house regarding the Jericho Beach restoration project last May 18.

      But according to Cotter, these design proposals will only limit public access to the water, especially for ocean-recreation enthusiasts. “There’s absolutely no reason why they don’t just leave this beach as a natural beach,” he said.

      Cotter warned that the park board may go the wrong way amid the tremendous growth in water sports like kayaking, canoeing, standup board paddling, dinghy sailing, and windsurfing.

      The Jericho Sailing Centre building is located west of the wharf area. Cotter noted that the more than 200 metres of beach fronting the facility, which is the only park-board-designated launch area for naturally powered watercraft, is already over capacity.

      Cotter explained that keeping the adjacent beach area open for the launching of naturally powered watercraft after the wharf is gone could alleviate the congestion.

      “This area here is becoming dangerous,” he said. “On a busy day, we have all the different sailing types—dinghies, windsurfers, kayaks, canoes, outriggers, standup paddlers, rowers—all coming and going from this area. It gets busy.”

      According to figures provided by Cotter, last year 200,000 launches were made from the portion of Jericho Beach in front of the sailing centre. More than 18,000 people used this area in 2010, and even more are expected this year. The association has about 3,000 paying members.

      Park staff has identified $2 million of funding for the first phase of the Jericho Beach restoration project. The bulk of the money will go to the demolition of the wharf, which is expected to be finished by mid-August of this year.

      The second and last phase of the project, involving improvements on the upland site of the beach, will cost $500,000. This process will be completed next spring.

      Joan Bunn of the citizen-based Committee to Save Jericho Wharf favours some aspects of the Jericho Beach restoration design presented at the May 18 open house. She likes the idea of having a viewing platform where people can watch the sea, as well as a public-gathering area inland.

      “I think it offers at least some of the things that we’ll be losing in losing the wharf, which includes the viewing place and a space for small activities,” Bunn told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Park commissioners are expected to decide before the end of this month which company will be contracted to demolish the wharf. The elected board may also vote on a final design for the restoration project in July, thereby closing another chapter on this contentious Jericho Beach issue.

      According to Dawn Hanna, chair of the Jericho Stewardship Group, the Vision Vancouver–controlled board did what it should have done a few years ago when it voted in November 2010 to tear down the wharf.

      The previous park board, which was controlled by commissioners belonging to the Non-Partisan Association, decided in 2008 to have the wharf demolished. However, the wharf became an issue during the November 2008 election, and Vision park-board candidates at that time promised to revisit the matter.

      When the board considers designs for the beach that will surface when the wharf is torn down, Cotter can expect support from Hanna, whose group is focused on restoring the natural habitat in the area.

      “Our vision always was a natural beach that could be used by nonmotorized crafts like kayaks and canoes,” Hanna told the Straight by phone. “You wouldn’t normally find huge boulders down on the beach, so we would still be in line with a restoration that really did have a natural beach, and not one that’s artificially constructed.”