Bowser residents want the regional district to build a trail at the end of McColl Road, near Island Highway West, so the public can have access to the beach.
This site is included in the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Area H Public and Open Space Advisory Committee’s (POSAC) water access inventory. There are 40 beach access locations on the list and the committee determines areas for potential development.
The land at McColl Road, however, is not owned by the RDN. The Crown owns it and it is managed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
In the past, the public was able to walk to the waterfront through an undeveloped trail on private property. It is an ideal location to watch the herring run, eagles, look at the islands and view one of the area’s main attractions, the lighthouse.
That has stopped since a house was built on the property north of McColl Road. On the south side, the land is still empty but the owners who live nearby do not want their property used as an access to the beach.
To complicate matters, big boulders were strategically placed on the undeveloped portion of the right of way to completely keep the public from using this beach access.
Some residents feel the owners on both sides of McColl Road are claiming the area as part of their respective properties.
“Seems to us that this public water access no longer belongs to the public,” Jeannette Runions told the Area H POSAC at its meeting last Thursday.
Guy Jellis, who moved to Bowser two years ago, was excited to learn that there is a beach access close to his home. He loves to go kayaking. He was disappointed to discover there really is no access to the beach from McColl Road. The owner of the house north of McColl Road told him he can’t go down there and suggested he try the other beach access, which Jellis said was farther away.
“McColl Road should just continue down to the beach basically but the rocks are blocking the public path,” said Jellis. “There are realtors using McColl Road beach access in their listing. But it’s not there.”
Jellis said they have asked the RDN if they can be allowed to clear the area and create a trail down there.
“I’ve got about 10 neighbours who are willing to go down there and build something,” said Jellis.
Jellis said they asked the RDN if signage could be installed at the location to indicate it’s a public beach access. The RDN agreed to look into it and to explore options for developoment. But on March 1 the Electoral Area H POSAC decided against the development of a public trail there and that no signage will be erected.
The rationale given by Parks Planner Elaine McCulloch in her report was the site does not meet the RDN’s safety criteria.
“Trail development is not possible due to the riprap embankment, [approximately 8 metres high], that is constructed across the entire width of the right of way,” McCulloch stated in her report. “Public stair development will involve geotechnical assessment and structural engineering design. This is located within the Hazard Land Development Permit area due to slope stability issues.”
McCulloch also indicated that any development at this location was contingent on site assessment and staff recommendation.
Jellis and the Runions were upset with the RDN decision.
“To deny something that’s supposed to be there, that is not right at all,” said Jellis. “At least give us what’s actually there.”
Area H director Bill Veenhoff said it would be costly to build a trail there. He added that the budget is limited and will be applied to other similar beach access projects that are easier and cheaper to undertake.
Veenhoff told the residents that the RDN has no jurisdiction on the land and suggested that they raise the matter to the Ministry of Transportation.
“We can go to the Ministry of Transport, yeah, but who is going to have a greater voice? If you are not representing us and not supporting us, which to me, is what your job and task is, how can we talk to the Ministry of Transport?” Runions asked.
Veenhoff said he does have concerns about the rocks placed on public lands and recommended staff contact the MoT to investigate the encroachment on the undeveloped portion of McColl Road and a report be brought back to the committee.
The residents said it’s a start.