Vancouver Park Board runs aground with marina users

Several members of the Burrard Civic Marina say fees are too high for the level of service

A group of boat owners at Burrard Civic Marina are crying foul over what they call “exploitative” fees charged by Vancouver Park Board.

Peter Derviller, who has kept his 40-year-old sailboat at Burrard Civic Marina (BCM) for the past four years, pays around $5,300 in moorage year. While it’s less than what he would pay at nearby Heather Street marina, he says he and his fellow Burrard boaters receive far less in services.

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“What we’ve been able to ascertain from the financials… is that a typical boater in here in a 30-foot slip, which is what I have, which is the majority of people, pays between two and three times more into the service of the park board than the Heather marina patrons pay into the system, which is, we think, exploitative,” said Derviller.

Burrard and Heather Street are the two municipally-owned marinas in the city. Burrard is owned and operated by the park board, while Heather is owned by the City of Vancouver and operated by the park board.

Mark Powers has moored his board at BCM for 14 years and currently pays around $5,000 a year, double what he paid 14 years ago.He acknowledges moorage rates at Heather marina are slightly higher, but argues patrons there receive a higher level of service and the marina is in better shape.

“They still have dinghy docks, they’re allowed dock [storage] boxes and all the floats were upgraded over the last eight years, roughly,” he  said.

Powers, Derviller and other users say rates at Burrard continue to rise while services and the state of the marina have declined over the years. Users at BCM can no longer tie their dinghies up to the dock and must store them in a separate location within the marina, they are no longer allowed to have dock boxes, and laundry facilities and lockers have also been removed in recent years.  

The Burrard marina was built in 1964, with help from a $290,000 loan from the Woodward family. It did get new, state-of-the-art docks in 1984, but 35 years later those docks are now showing their age.

“These things get beaten up over the years, you know, in this environment… it’s been twisted with the tide and blown by the wind and it deteriorates,” Derviller said.

A portion of the docks were replaced this year in a $3.5-million project that is not yet complete and only represents 10 per cent of the total marina.

“I think it’s substantially complete, there’s just a little bit that will probably flow into the new year,” said park board deputy general manager Shauna Wilton.

There is also some money in next year’s budget to look at future upgrades.

“There was a study commissioned several years ago that kind of had a laundry list of immediate upgrades that needed to be done and then ones that could be considered for the future so they actioned all those immediate upgrades… Some of that money is earmarked to just do another study in terms of what are the priorities and if there’s any quick hits or small projects that we could do as well,” Wilton said.

Derviller and Powers were among several other marina users who signed up to speak to park board commissioners at the budget meeting earlier this month, voicing concerns around fee increases at the marina.

Last year, a park board staff report said that moorage and land storage rates at Burrard are roughly 30 per cent lower than comparable local marinas, and proposed raising the rates gradually over the next four to five years with an eight per cent increase this year. A further two per cent increase was proposed for 2019, but after hearing complaints from a number of marina users who spoke at the meeting, park board commissioners voted to lower the increase to one per cent.

Derviller called the reduced fee increase for 2019 “a token.”

“It’s 50 per cent better,” he said. “But the point was that last year they really ambushed us with this 30 per cent gap that they said existed between our rates and the average rates of comparable marinas.”

Derviller, Powers and fellow marina user Ken Christie, who are all part of the Burrard Civic Marina Community Association, say they were never advised of the eight per cent increase before it was approved last year and question the statement that rates at BCM are 30 per cent lower than other local marinas.

“When we did the math it was nowhere near 30 per cent even based on their own numbers,” Derviller said.

After hearing about the rate increase and the 30 per cent gap in rates, Powers decided to start looking into things. He requested the numbers staff had used and was first given a list of moorage rates for 11 marinas staff consulted. However, the corresponding names of the marinas were not on the list — Wilton said the names of the marinas were left out because the information had been given to staff confidentially. He then filed a Freedom of Information request and eventually got another set of numbers with the names of the marinas.

Powers then decided to do his own investigation and got the rates from those marinas himself — most have their rates posted online. The math, he said, doesn’t add up.

Two sets of calculations were done, one for rates for boats 21 feet and under, and another for boats 22 feet and up. For boats less than 22 feet long, the graph provided by staff indicates rates at Burrard marina are 32 per cent lower than average.

When he did the math using the numbers provided by the park board, Powers came up with a just over 19 per cent difference. Then when he crunched the numbers using the rates he got himself, the difference was less than eight per cent.

At the budget meeting he called the park board’s calculations flawed. 

“Part of what’s at the heart of all this is how you define what a comparable marina is, and how you compare the rates because, quite frankly, some of them do the rates differently, they include different things in the rates,” Wilton said, adding that some of the rates could have changed by the time the Powers did his comparison.

“There wasn’t any attempt to try to change the data,” she said. “I think it’s just a matter of different people looking at numbers in different ways, quite frankly.”

Wilton said after hearing the concerns of marina users, the park board has committed to forming a committee made up of staff and marina users to look at the concept of the comparability of rates. She said she is committed to get the committee up and running in the new year, ahead of staff setting moorage rates for 2020. As well, she said, the park board will start holding bi-annual meetings with marina users to increase communication.

“I really want to take away this feeling of mistrust with staff and want to be completely transparent about how we’re doing the rates moving forward,” Wilton said. “That’s really important… I’m trying to figure out how to help the marina community come along with us on that journey so I’m hoping that transparency is it. That’s really going to be the focus for me over the next year to really make sure that the lines of communication are open and they understand how we’re using all this information.”

Derviller said he would like to see a freeze on the rates at Burrard Civic Marina.

“They’ve already overshot any reasonable value for money,” he said. “Yes, there are other marinas, they’re all more expensive but they’re all much nicer marinas.”

He added that there is a perception that all boat owners have a lot of money.

“These are not the boats of rich people,” Derviller said. “These are boats are worth, at best, twice as much as they pay every year in moorage. In other words, half the value of your boat goes into the park board pocket every year for your moorage.”

@JessicaEKerr

jkerr@vancourier.com

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