DEREK KOEL PHOTO Kids exploring Hoy Bay in Port McNeill on a calm evening in April 2018.

Port McNeill in Focus: Have you been ‘engaged’ about the future of our waterfront?

“Why is there no community engagement and discussion on this important town asset?”

Let’s go back to December 16, 2002, when at a Port McNeill Council meeting, then Mayor Gerry Furney announced a new land acquisition.

The town had just purchased 9.163 acres of prime waterfront land that was intended for a park!

Our Town’s main employer, Western Forest Products, dished out the ‘social licence’ and sold the land with an assessed value of $497,000 to the town for the bargain basement price of $200,000. Thanks WFP.

Email correspondence from the day backs up my memory of the event. The “Towns plan is to create a park”.

Fast forward 16 years, two Mayors, and five council’s later, no park.

When asked about the land today, town staff indicated there is currently “no plan”.

That response was not surprising to me. Town planning is not Port McNeill’s forte, but the land is identified in the town’s outdated planning document, 1997’s Official Community Plan (OCP).

The OCP slates this area for Public Use, Municipal Public Park, Beach Trail System, with ‘generous access to the waterfront’, and goes on to say, under the Land Titles Act, the town has a deficiency of public lands, approximately 155 (waterfront) feet could be the basis for the Hoy Bay Park. The OCP even had it named already, Hoy Bay Park!

This land was identified in 2014 in the much lauded Port McNeill 2020 Economic Development Plan. In the plan, the town’s three-to-five year goal was to “develop/update an integrated waterfront and harbour development plan”, and it seems to be unfulfilled.

I question if the town has even made any progress on it’s one-year goal to “engage the community and private sector about the future use of the waterfront”.

Maybe I missed a public meeting or two on this? Have you been ‘engaged’ about the future of our waterfront?

Hoy Bay is located at the end of Beach Drive, just past the last house. There are just a few public beach/sewage pump access spots on Beach Drive, none of which are particularly impressive.

Hoy Bay, on the other hand, is a really nice spot. It is quite sheltered. The scenic beach is not too rocky, good for beach walks and beach combing. The shore line offers logs, rocks and trees to sit, climb, and play on. It’s got sheltered spots in the woods, and a nice little creek or two. A great spot for a family picnic, beach fire or just some alone time. The awesome hiking/biking Beach Trail starts at Hoy bay and follows the shore line for 1.5 kilometres to Beach Camp.

The expensive part is done, as the waterfront land is paid for. It is currently zoned for a park. Clear some brush, fall some danger trees, make a few picnic spots, blaze a trail or two, bam, it’s a Park! Improve it over time and utilize our Towns’s great public works staff and volunteers. Parking may be an issue, but with its easy access, park users can leave the car at home and easily get there by foot or bicycle. We have plenty of great beach spots on the North Island, but not everyone has a truck or boat to access them.

It might be a more popular idea to develop this land, so let’s have that discussion.

I am envisioning a multitude of waterfront patio homes and ranchers packed with wealthy snowbirds and retirees. With a postage stamp sized nature park.

The funds raised could cover our pool, pave a few streets, build that subsidized senior’s housing or replace the aging Old School House. I wouldn’t mind a skate/bike park.

Did you know the town owns this land? Can you think of another community that quietly sits on nine acres of waterfront land with no plans (or controversy!) surrounding it? Why is there no community engagement and discussion on this important town asset? Has it been a classic case of NIMBYism (google it)? Or ‘Not In My Beach Drive Yard’?

I suspect it is as simple as we have no overall leadership and vision or plan for our community. There should be.

Derek Koel is a local businessman, residing in Port McNeill since 2000. Over the years he has served on many local boards, committees, and organizations.

He is a father of two, and is interested in healthy living, outdoor recreation, and local issues in the community.

* The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette.

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