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'Permanent' lock removed from White Rock gate, following confusion over order

Transport Canada inspector Dennis Maskell (right) watches as BNSF engineering supervisor Grant Nightingale (left) and White Rock
Transport Canada inspector Dennis Maskell (right) watches as BNSF engineering supervisor Grant Nightingale (left) and White Rock's acting city manager Greg St. Louis come through the newly unlocked West Beach boat launch gate Friday.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

With the turn of a key Friday, White Rock’s West Beach boat launch was reopened to the public.

The move – and removal of notices that described the locked gate as a permanent measure – followed a discussion amongst city, BNSF and Transport Canada officials Friday morning.

“There was some confusion,” Transport Canada railway signal-systems officer Dennis Maskell told Peace Arch News soon after, referring to city officials’ belief that they had to install a locked barrier at the site.

“I had a near-riot here this morning,” Maskell said, good-naturedly introducing himself to one man as “the petty little bureaucrat” – words Mayor Wayne Baldwin used in council last week to describe the official who made the order that led to the gate.

The six-foot-high barrier was installed last Tuesday (at a cost to the city of about $2,500) following a Transport Canada order to address an “immediate threat” to safety that Maskell said he identified during visits to the waterfront on May 30 and June 2.

In addition to ordering the city to put some form of traffic control at the site, Maskell ordered BNSF to ensure its trains sounded their horns more frequently when they roll along the waterfront, from dawn to dusk.

And, he gave notice to both parties that they had until Friday (June 20) to advise the federal agency as to how they were going to curb trespassing connected to use of the Coldicutt Ravine stairs.

(View copies of the Transport Canada communications to the city and BNSF)

Installation of the boat-launch gate was met with swift, harsh criticism from city officials and local beach-goers alike.

Given that gaps in the promenade hand railing were closed last month, it removed the last legal access point to West Beach – and the only accessible pedestrian crossing – west of the pier.

Baldwin described the order as “stupid” – an “overreaction” to the July 2013 death of a jogger who was struck by a passenger train as she ran across East Beach tracks.

Beach visitors Thursday described it as “silly.”

“It’s so hard to argue against something so irrational,” said Niles Hayes, who came to the beach with his wife, Jen, and their daughter, Avery, to paddleboard.

“Seems like the kind of idea that somebody who’s never been here has made.”

Maskell, however, said the decision to lock off access was made by the city.

“There was three options for the city. None of them was to close it permanently,” he told PAN Thursday, identifying the options offered as a swing gate; a removable barricade; or a dawn-to-dusk flag person.

“I don’t have any justification for barricading it completely. That was something the city took on themselves for reasons I don’t understand.”

Friday, Baldwin maintained “a lot of people” understood a lock was to be part of the equation.

“It seemed pretty clear to us,” he said.

Acting city manager Greg St. Louis agreed.

“My understanding is it had to be locked,” St. Louis said. “Transport Canada (now) says that isn’t the case.”

A news release issued by the city Friday afternoon outlines the city’s proposed plan “to lift the order related to the recent removal of access” at the boat launch, but makes no mention of any misunderstanding.

In addition to removal of the lock, Friday’s beachfront meeting included an agreement on the addition of stop signs and painted stop lines on both sides of the boat-launch tracks. As well, no-parking cross-hatching is to be painted on the north side of the tracks; and, a spring mechanism is to be added to the gate to ensure it closes if left unattended.

“The City of White Rock has been in discussions with Transport Canada and remains hopeful that this proposed increase in safety measures will address their public safety concerns,” the release states.

Maskell said the measures will be implemented “as quick as the city can have it done.”

St. Louis said he hopes the steps will be enough, once completed, to have the order lifted; Baldwin said his goal is to have the entire gate structure removed.

“Hopefully, we’ve got a plan that will work now… and we can take that damn thing down,” he said.

Meanwhile, concerned citizens are organizing a rally for Friday at the boat launch.

“There’s lots of unanswered questions,” explained organizer Pat Petrala, a White Rock resident.  “There’s more to this. The story’s very fishy.”

Petrala said anyone interested can join at three key times in the day: 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. The effort will not disrupt train operation, she said.

 

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