For the first time in 39 years there will be no beach access for Seafest activities.
The volunteers at Prince Rupert Special Events, who coordinate the largest festival on the North Coast, have to explore alternative options for the swim for survival, the kayak fire drill race and the Quick and Daring, where teams design, build and race makeshift watercraft.
Last October, CN Rail fenced off the beach by the Lightering Dock next to the Rotary waterfront park. Since then, the City of Prince Rupert has been in negotiations with the rail company to find another solution — but to no avail.
“We feel that beach should be a public access beach, that it should be remediated, that it should be used for public use and it’s going to be a difficult road to negotiate CN into position where they would see it that way,” Mayor Lee Brain said at the Tuesday, May 23, council meeting.
CN’s reasoning behind fencing off the area was to deter trespassing on private property “which is illegal and extremely dangerous,” said CN’s spokesperson Kate Fenske in an email in October.
But the city doesn’t consider the beach area dangerous to residents.
“The beach is already fenced off against the track so it’s not a public safety issue that way and by partnering we could easily have that be a well developed public access beach and it’s something that we’re going to continue to fight for,” Brain said, who added that he’s travelling to Ottawa next week for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference where he plans to meet with senior executives from CN.
Prince Rupert Special Events is working out the details on how to have all the seaside events run smoothly in such a tight area with no beach. Coordinator Joy Sundin said that West Coast Launch has donated a dock that will be fixed to the Lightering Dock to give them more space to work with.
“We’re disappointed that beach area is not available to our public anymore,” Sundin said. “Because we don’t have any other beach access it’s very difficult to run any of our waterfront events,” Sundin said.
At the council meeting, the mayor mused that he doesn’t see why a solution can’t be had, and that remediation has been done before.
In spring 2014, the popular camping spot at Exstew recreation site was facing potential closure when CN considered blocking the public from the railroad crossing adjacent to Highway 16.
CN had posted a sign suggesting the road would be cut off to the public if the rail company was unable to find someone to maintain the crossing. Many residents from Prince Rupert and Terrace were in an uproar and reached out to their provincial representatives to find a solution.
Remediation was found when the provincial forestry ministry stepped in to keep the site open and cover the costs of the crossing.
But in Prince Rupert, the property that once offered modest beach access on Kaien Island actually belongs to CN, which complicates the matter.
In response to an early online publication of this story, Fenske said in an email that CN is still in discussion with the city to remove the fence for Seafest.
“CN has been in communication with the mayor on this issue over the past few weeks and remain open to further discussing our concerns about the public’s health and safety at this site. We do understand the concerns residents have and their desire to access to this property and will be continuing discussions with the city,” she said.
The city will continue to negotiate, but the mayor also suggested that residents voice their disappointment at the loss of beach access in their community.
“I think the community needs to express their concerns to CN and they need to help us make the message known to CN that this is a community issue,” Brain said.
If you feel strongly about this issue, and would like to send CN a message to let them know, please send an e-mail to Joslyn Young, community affairs lead for B.C. region: Joslyn.Young@cn.ca or phone 1-604-582-3617