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LETTER: Public should help shape future of marina site

Kudos for identifying a new 30-year lease for the publicly owned Oak Bay marina buildings and lands and the adjacent Spewhung (Turkey Head) lands and waters as an “issue worth keeping an eye on in 2022.”

We should, however, correct the statement that the Community Association of Oak Bay (CAOB) only voiced its concerns about the scope, value and quality of public engagement for this extraordinary community asset “after a proponent was selected.”

Since 2017, CAOB has publicly expressed the need for a robust process to identify community aspirations and hopes for the marina/Spewhung site in order to realize its full potential when the lease arrangements with a private company expire this December for only the second time in 60 years. CAOB-sponsored community visioning conversations in 2017 led to a promise from then-councillor Kevin Murdoch that the “unique benefits and challenges of the property will require a few years for consultation.” [Dec. 18, 2017]

Last year, CAOB requested a meeting with now-Mayor Murdoch well in advance of the district’s selection of the Oak Bay Marine Group as the preferred proponent (reportedly over a proposal involving a partnership with the Songhees Nation). At that and subsequent meetings, CAOB has urged the mayor to provide a public engagement process more in keeping with the marina/Spewhung opportunity than the extremely short, one-shot and almost impossible to evaluate questionnaire the district chose to use instead. And to provide the standard “what we heard” report from that questionnaire.

The process the district has used for decision-making thus far falls far short of the public engagement standard the district has adopted (and that of other local jurisdictions, e.g. the Sidney waterfront), while the marina lands lease RFP gives the district the authority to stop or restart the process any time it chooses before a contract is signed.

It’s now time for council to press “restart” on this process, bring in the Oak Bay public to help shape the whole future of this remarkable public site, and explore the possibilities of meaningful economic partnership with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations to advance reconciliation in our community.

Kris Nichols, president

Community Association of Oak Bay