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Protest organizer calls Sidney’s Beacon Wharf issue a ‘lightning rod’

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith reiterates no council decision imminent on wharf’s future
Rally co-organizer Russell Tripp, here addressing the crowd during Saturday’s protest in support of saving Beacon Wharf in Sidney, met with Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith beforehand. (Photo submitted)

An organizer of a protest designed to help save Sidney’s Beacon Wharf from demolition said the Oct. 30 event sent a clear message.

“I think … the people of (Sidney) are not going to sit quietly while this happens,” Nicole Bengtsson told Black Press Media on Monday. “We are going to continue to have our voices heard and ensure sure that the future of Sidney encompasses what we as a town want to see, not what one particular group feels is in the best interest of the town.”

The protest, which drew an estimated 100 people, called on the municipality to retain the Satellite Fish Market building, Sidney Pier Restaurant and the wharf at large, while the community figures out ways to secure funding for the restoration and refurbishment of the facility.

Bengtsson said Saturday’s protest shows this issue has become quite divisive.

“There is a loud voice coming through that this is a lightening rod issue for the (community),” she said. “There was talk amongst the people about when the next election is coming, who to vote for. People are not going to sit quietly. That’s the impression I got.”

RELATED: Protest scheduled for Saturday aims to save Sidney’s Beacon Wharf

Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said earlier Monday in an interview that council will continue to listen to all input.

“What was important to council during the entire process and will continue to be important is that we need to show that we have explored options, provided information and provided opportunities for input,” he said. “(And) that once we have received that input, that we are demonstrating that we are listening, that we have received the concerns, address those concerns and find an option that going forward that the community can accept because of the information provided and the options explored.”

The municipality earlier presented the public with two formal options: remove the wharf without replacing it or replace it with a floating wharf part and parcel of public-private partnership with Marker Group.

McNeil-Smith said he appreciates and respects that residents with a common interest will gather to express their views.

“I attended to listen,” he said of the protest. “I was approached by many to answer questions. I believe it is important to have constructive dialogue with citizens who want to express their views and I believe the community input will help shape the best future for the wharf.”

RELATED: Sidney councillor says more process around Beacon Wharf needed

RELATED: Sidney councillor invites public feedback as deadline for Beacon Wharf submissions approaches

While some may have seen Saturday’s protest raising the emotional stakes around the issue, McNeil-Smith isn’t among them. He found his conversations with people there similar on an intellectual and emotional level to chats with residents attending open houses the town held at the bandshell.

McNeil-Smith said he met with co-organizer Russell Tripp before the rally and was scheduled to meet with Bengtsson on Tuesday in her role with the new Concerned Citizens of Sidney committee.

RELATED: Public correspondence reveals strong opposition to pontoon replacing Sidney’s Beacon Wharf

The mayor reiterated that no decision on the wharf’s future is imminent.

“Council has no pre-conceived (decision),” he said. “Council wanted to start this process, knowing there was some life left in the current wharf, to explore all of the options thoroughly and have the opportunity to gather input through community consultations.”

Bengtsson said those statements sound positive, but called on the municipality to formally state the two options under review are only suggestions, and include the entire community in broadening the search for other options. People believe council favours the floating wharf option, she said, pointing to a special Town Talk issue shared with the public earlier.

Donna-May Morris, operator of the Sidney Pier Restaurant, offered a comparable critique in a long letter circulating in the community.

McNeil-Smith chose not to comment directly on Morris’ letter, noting it is one of more than 1,000 survey responses and other submissions received on the subject. “They will all be coming forward to council,” he said. “We will address them in a public session (later in November).”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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