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White Rock removes contentious boat-launch gate

City of White Rock public works employees Earl Ostrosser (left) and Josh Armstrong remove the West Beach boat launch gate Thursday morning. - Tracy Holmes
City of White Rock public works employees Earl Ostrosser (left) and Josh Armstrong remove the West Beach boat launch gate Thursday morning.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

Nine days after the City of White Rock gated its West Beach boat launch, the chain-link structure has been removed.

The work Thursday morning followed notice to the city the day before that safety improvements completed at the site earlier this week satisfied a Transport Canada order to immediately install access-control measures.

Transport Canada railway signal systems officer Dennis Maskell told Peace Arch News Wednesday afternoon that he revoked his June 6 order as a result of the addition of stop signs, stop lines and a painted advisory to not stop on the tracks – in combination with a letter from the city promising the installation of a crossing-warning system at the site "at the earliest possible time."

West Beach boat launch

"I don't have to, but I talked it over with my boss. Under all of those circumstances, he thought it was reasonable to lift the order," Maskell said.

"At that location, I'm probably going to require gates (arms) and lights."

The city's installation of the gate early last week – which was initially a locked barrier – caused an uproar in the community amongst civic leaders and residents alike. While city officials said they were told the structure had to be locked, Maskell said that particular decision was the city's.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin told PAN Thursday that "there was mistakes made on both sides."

"Quite frankly, I'm going to have to put some of the onus on Transport Canada, but also on ourselves," Baldwin said. "Our staff and BNSF both came to the conclusion it had to be locked. By the same token, we could've phoned and asked for clarification, and they could've provided clarification by phoning as well.

"We're OK now."

The lock was removed Friday.

Early Monday (June 16), vandals pushed the gates backwards and over the tracks, creating a safety hazard. Both White Rock RCMP and the CN Police are investigating the incident, according to Maskell.

The city's director of engineering Greg St. Louis cited it in a June 18 letter asking Maskell to lift his order.

"The city has since installed thicker steel plates as well as reinforced the steel plates… this, however, can still be compromised by a vehicle pushing the gate across the tracks," St. Louis writes.

Maskell told PAN that the measures completed Tuesday are acceptable for now.

"I think it's better than it was," he said. "I'll be totally happy when there's a crossing-warning system there, but that is not going to happen overnight."

He said that while he does not have "prescriptive" authority to order crossing arms and lights specifically, he can accept such a suggestion from the city.

The timeline for that installation has been left open until a "unilateral agreement on everything" has been reached, he said.

"There's other issues in other locations on the promenade," Maskell said, citing as example the city's desire to add more pedestrian crossings between the boat launch and pier.

Maskell said he is not opposed to the idea.

"I said it's up to the city to define access points (and) with BNSF, make them safe so people can go to the beach.

"At a minimum I would require flashing lights and a bell," he said.

At the boat launch Thursday morning, the city's manager of operations Paul Slack said the gate and fencing – which cost the city $2,500 to install – will not go to waste. It is to be relocated near Malabar Avenue and Cory Road, to limit public access to a hydro right-of-way.

Maskell noted that other orders he issued June 6 regarding addressing trespassing along the waterfront rail line remain in force.

Baldwin said a public forum to "try and give a perspective on this whole thing to everybody" is in the works. The date and location have not been finalized, he said.

However, one goal will be to return the focus to the issue of dangerous goods being transported along the waterfront.

"We're dealing with the repercussions of an accident to one person," the mayor said, referring to the July 2013 death of a jogger on East Beach. "That's taken us off our game to deal with dangerous goods.

"We'll certainly be talking about personal safety. The bigger focus is really the dangerous goods."

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