White Rock councillors were scrambling to find answers Thursday following emails from residents upset about the impending removal of dedication plaques with the planned replacement of benches and light poles on Marine Drive’s promenade.
Many of the plaques – most memorializing loved ones – were purchased by residents who paid towards installation of the benches and poles 25 years ago, while others were purchased in the years since.
Councillors contacted by Peace Arch News Thursday said the problem is residents have received the impression that plaques are installed in perpetuity. Under existing policy, however, this is not the case.
The controversy arose after resident Dean Berkeley was told by city staff that when the aging benches and poles are removed as part of a planned promenade upgrade, the plaques will go with them.
Berkeley, whose company Altus Industries fabricated and installed most of the original benches and poles, said he was outraged to hear that “the time (for the plaques) had passed and it was time to move on.”
A posting by Berkeley on Facebook Wednesday night included email addresses of Mayor Wayne Baldwin and city councillors.
It received a flood of comments from dismayed residents, some of whom compared it to the city “sweeping citizens under the rug” or “ripping up a cemetery.”
Berkely said many had paid $2,500 toward the installation of either a bench or pole, for which they could have a dedication plaque attached.
“Family, friends, children paid for the plaques to celebrate and remember someone or some kind of event,” Berkeley said, noting he bought a plaque dedicated to his grandparents.
“I know we all have to grow and move on,” he said. “My argument is not based on replacing the poles or the handrails and benches – we know the life expectancy is 25 or 30 years – but it’s the idea that the plaques are removed too. They need to be relocated somewhere, perhaps to a wall or some other structure.”
Coun. David Chesney told PAN he had decided against a plaque because he was told they weren’t permanent.
“When my late wife passed away, I inquired into the possibility of purchasing a plaque for a bench where we used to sit,” he said. “It was never made clear to me the amount of time the plaque would be there, but it wasn’t for perpetuity.”
Coun. Helen Fathers said she was told by staff that it is “policy that when infrastructure is replaced, plaques are not replaced – and staff have been following that policy forever.”
She said there is time to revisit the policy before work begins.
“I wouldn’t like it if a plaque I’d placed down there was taken away,” she said. “I think that if that’s the policy, it has to be very clear for the person purchasing the plaque.”