Part of a former floating bridge across the Puget Sound could end up taking the place of Sidney’s Beacon Wharf with any final decision still a long way off.
The municipal committee charged with reviewing options for the future of Sidney’s iconic Beacon Wharf heard a proposal late last year from Sidney-based Seagate Pontoons to replace the aging structure with a piece once part of the bridge across Washington State’s Hood Canal.
The wharf is approaching the end of its life – within less than 10 years – and four broad options have emerged for its future: replacement with a rock base; replacement with a piled structure; replacement with a floating structure; and no replacement at all with several factors shaping any future choice.
They include replacement costs; environmental concerns including rising sea levels; the future of businesses operating on the wharf; and the wharf’s place in Sidney’s viewscape, even public self-image.
Enter Seagate Pontoons. It owns the last remaining pontoon (the so-called N-Pontoon) of the concrete floating pontoon bridge’s eastern half. Seagate purchased the entire half (consisting out 12 total pontoons) from Washington State after officials decided to replace it between 2003 and 2010 while refurbishing the primary connector between the Olympic Peninsula and Interstate 5.
The sections purchased by Seagate Pontoons added up to nearly one kilometre and have since found buyers across the world, including Canada (Sewell’s Marina at Horseshoe Bay, Port Alberni), the United States (Alaska) and Australia, where they have served various recreational and commercial purposes.
Mike Cronquist, vice-president of business development for the company, itself part of Marker Group – the company that owns the Sidney Pier Hotel and Spa among other local waterfront developments – told Beacon Wharf Select Committee members during a November 2020 presentation that the remaining piece (currently located in Pitt Meadows) offers several advantages, starting with its ability to rise and fall with the sea.
“It’s really one of the benefits of a floating structure,” he said, adding later that this aspect would allow Sidney respond to rising sea levels expected by climate change. The pontoon could also serve as a breakwater.
It also promises to be less harmful on the environment (by recycling existing marine infrastructure) and preserve ocean views, he said. Finally, it opens opportunities for public-private partnerships that could see Sidney become a port of call for pocket cruise ships among other kinds of vessels, he said.
Cronquist’s presentation revealed the potential of the pontoon to change the look of Sidney’s waterfront. Whereas the current Beacon Wharf runs 124 feet long from the most western corner to the most eastern corner, the pontoon would run 266 feet long with a width of 102 feet if used as a full deck. (Portions of the pontoon are underway and the above-water portions would have to be merged). “It would be a substantial and useful addition to the waterfront,” he said.
Coun. Peter Wainwright, who sits on the committee along with Coun. Chad Rintoul and Coun. Sara Duncan, said he found the presentation interesting for a number of reasons, including but not exclusively the financial aspect after Cronquist pegged the sales price for the piece at $795,000 with other related costs not yet factored into the final equation.
“The cheapest option is to get rid of the wharf,” said Wainwright. “That’s a pre-requisite for all the other options. But the cheapest option that leaves us with a wharf is going to be that floating option.” While final financial estimates will not be available for some time, earlier available estimates offered a wide range of figures, with the lowest cost being $6.3 million.
Cronquist’s presentation did not lead to any specific recommendations from the committee, now planing to rank the available options in the coming two months by two criteria (view and environmental concerns) before asking the public for feedback likely in the spring of 2021.
Wainwright said more information is needed, while also noting that Cronquist’s presentation did not raise any obvious concerns.
“We are still very early in the process of evaluating things, but there are no red flags that remove any of the options from the table,” he said.
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