Many readers of Thursday’s Telegram probably looked closely at the Page A1 picture of the rebuilt wharf in the Outer Battery and thought, “I’m no expert, but it looks pretty solid to me.”
By the time you read this, a demolition crew sent by city hall officials might have already torn down the wharf.
If the wharf is forcibly taken down, residents of St. John’s can henceforth utterly disregard any pronouncements emanating from city hall about the importance of “heritage.” (Go ahead and install that beige vinyl siding.)
A couple of questions come to mind about the disputed Outer Battery wharf, neither of which was adequately addressed by city hall officials.
First, is the wharf dangerous?
Second, is the wharf more dangerous than the thousands of other wharfs people in Newfoundland have used over the years?
City hall claims the wharf is a safety risk.
So is driving to work. That doesn’t necessarily make it dangerous.
But, modern-day people being delicate and in constant need of pampering and protection by governments, it becomes the duty of bureaucrats to stamp it, “Denied.”
The real issue seems to be that the wharf was rebuilt without a permit, and the reconstruction allegedly does not meet building codes.
Residents of St. John’s — most of whom presumably don’t own boats — were probably surprised to learn city hall has codified requirements for personal wharfs. The long fingers of the law truly do surprise.
You don’t have to be an engineer or marine architect to know a wharf made out of concrete and steel would be more solid than one made out of wooden poles and lumber. It would also last longer, and be better for withstanding winter storms, such as the one in February that necessitated the repairs.
But erecting a concrete and steel wharf to provide access to a skiff or dory is sort of like using a shotgun to hunt hummingbirds.
The essential question about the Outer Battery wharf should be whether or not it enables its owner to have safe access to his boat, and thus to the water.
Contrary to what officials at city hall have said, public safety shouldn’t be an issue, since the public — even tourists — shouldn’t be wandering uninvited onto other people’s wharfs. Sure, they can stand by the road and admire it, take pictures of it or pose in front of it, but walking onto it is another thing altogether.
The Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club in Conception Bay South has posted signs saying — and warning, even threatening — that only boat owners and their guests are allowed onto the wharves.
It seems a reasonable enough rule. It should apply to small boats as well as to yachts. At Jack Wells’ wharf in the Outer Battery, a simple sign reading “Private wharf — no trespassing” should take care of city hall’s public safety concerns.
If, as some Outer Battery residents claim, a wharf has been on that site for 200 years, city hall should explain why a permit is suddenly required to maintain it. Instead of relying on strict legal procedure, city officials should put some forethought into their actions. Unless, of course, all that talk on New Gower Street about heritage, history and culture is just rhetoric in search of popularity and votes.
Here’s one suggestion: instead of sending a demolition crew, city hall could just as easily have sent a repair crew.
Of course, no cruise ship will ever pull up to Jack Wells’ wharf.
Governments of all levels throw money around like monkeys at a banana festival when it comes to Big Tourism schemes.
But they’ll stand idly by and watch bona fide bits of culture die. Sometimes, they’ll even help demolish them.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.