Race Rocks operators say beacons not owned by federal government
Dec 24, 2010
By Amy Minsky, Postmedia News December 24, 2010
The 150-year-old tower at Race Rocks is among nearly 1,000 lighthouses and light stations under threat.
Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Timescolonist.com
Ottawa— With the federal government preparing to sell almost 1,000 lighthouses across the country, the group overseeing operations at the beacon on Race Rocks, off Vancouver Island, says many are not the government’s to sell.
At issue is who holds the rights to the land — the respective provinces or the federal government.
The lighthouse at Race Rocks, one nautical mile below the southernmost tip of the Island, was built by the Royal Navy in 1860.
It has been listed as “for sale” since June, when the government designated it and the others as surplus property. The tower stands on a rock within an island that is part of a provincial ecological reserve.
While the tower is owned and operated by the Canadian Coast Guard, the land on which it sits is not federal property, a spokesman for the province said Thursday. “The land occupied by the lighthouse on Race Rocks is provincial land, which is under a transfer, or lease, to the federal government for lighthouse purposes,” said Dan Gilmour, a spokesman for B.C.’s environment ministry.
In a letter to the Race Rocks team after the lighthouse was designated surplus property, Gilmour’s colleague, Doug Biffard, said he had received notice from the federal government indicating it was aware of the quandary.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the coast guard know that they cannot enter into any arrangement to sell, lease or otherwise tenure out, most of the lighthouses in B.C. because the land is under provincial ownership,” the letter said.
Last summer, the federal DFO published a catalogue of 975 surplus properties following the coast guard’s assessment of all the lighthouses it operates.
The list contains at least one from every province except Saskatchewan. To save the lighthouses listed as surplus, a community or group must agree to take on the maintenance of the site, but the federal government would continue to operate and maintain the lighthouse.
The government was criticised when the listing became public in June. Many groups said it undermined the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, which had come into force days earlier. The act was designed to ensure the federal government preserved historically significant lighthouses, rather than leave them abandoned.
Those feelings were echoed by the chairman of the Senate committee on fisheries and oceans, Liberal Sen. Bill Rompkey.
This week, the committee released the first of two reports on lighthouses.
When the committee toured the country and hosted discussions on the future of lighthouses, it heard from some of the stakeholders at Race Rocks, including Garry Fletcher, B.C. Parks Ecological reserve warden.
“It would defy logic to see how the federal government could sell a property owned by the province,” Fletcher said.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist