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Boat owners decry Elkwater marina plans

Posted on April 20, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Collin Gallant

Southern Alberta Newspapers

Boat owners in Elkwater are calling on the province to halt a major renovation of the provincial park’s marina to give them more time to keep overnight mooring in the plans, and digest the government’s position that they should operate it.

Parks officials held an information session with about three dozen Elkwater residents on April 6 at the Medicine Hat Public Library to describe the design of the renovations and potential community group operation.

Residents reacted strongly when informed of the changes – set for this summer – in letters two weeks ago, but were told renovations are badly needed and replacing the current setup with a similar one is not feasible.

“The idea of replacing like for like” was abandoned when early capital cost estimates rose to $1.5 million, south regional manager Peter Swain told the group.

Instead, the marina would be dredged, a permanent middle row of slips removed, but built to accept a floating dock if a third-party operator is found.

“The government is not interested in operating the marina – it’s (currently) the only one operated by Alberta parks in the province,” said Swain.

“To bring this in the 11th hour and expect us to get a boating club together? It’s just not logical,” said marina user Merle Kurpjuweit. “I’d like to see it halted and done right.”

The change comes after the province announced in late 2019 it had begun a process to delist some provincially-owned day areas and amenities in the hopes local groups would form to take over operation and maintenance.

That was eventually reversed as parks supporters protested the decision. New capital investments are bolstered in the recent provincial budget.

The work at Elkwater would see a floating wood breakwater replaced by an earthen berm to prevent silt from approaching the boat launch, which would be widened to accommodate two launches at once. The wooden promenade surrounding the man-made cove would be replaced with metal decking, and other various improvements.

Swain said annual maintenance on the planks had become too much, and last year a six-year-old broke through a rotten board.

“It’s time,” he told attendees. “It seems very fast, because there hasn’t been consultation.”

Initial new design includes several small-scale “finger docks” for day use, and the ability to install a major floating dock to replace the current structure that bisects the marina. Estimates range about $250,000 for that work, which might be funded by a community operator, potentially a corporation founded by users with a lease, or future government grants.

Swain said the current philosophy of the government is that since boat owners are the only ones that specifically benefit, they should bear more of the cost.

“It’s not like a trail or campground that is open to everyone,” said Swain.

Nelson Hogg, who like about 40 others rents an overnight spot for $700 per year, said the project is relatively inexpensive and should be footed by the province.

“How long would it take the province to make $1.5 million,” he asked about the original construction estimate. “And $250,000 is peanuts for the government. The goal should be to improve what is there.”

A request for proposals process put out by the department closed in mid-March.

Members of the Elkwater’s Community Association were informed by letter a week later, and the issue was to be discussed at the April 2 meeting of the association, though a spring snowstorm cancelled the event.

Attendees earlier this month said that allowing docking for the season erases the need to put dozens of crafts in and out of the water each day, and considering other boats and weekenders, the area would become congested.

During construction planned for this year, boaters would be directed to use the launch at Fire Rock campground further west.

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