A passing stage

Brian Jones
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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.

Not public

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 bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland, New Gower Street

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Recent comments

  • ed power
    July 30, 2010 - 17:31

    One wonders how we ever survived without bureaucrats and regulations. As strange as it may sound today,in the early 1960's, a hermit by the name of Billy Winter used to live in a cabin on the north side of Long Pond, not far from where the Fluvarium is today. As young boys we used to see him out fishing and hunting or on one of his occassional trips to Churchill Square. One cannot imagine that in these government regulated days. Anyone who went into the woods to "get away from it all" would awaken some morning to the sound of helicopters and open his door to be greeted by a battalion of briefcase toting bureaucats from a hundred different departments in three levels of government, demanding surveys, permits, land grants, land use certificates,soil tests, water quality tests, septic tank certificate, firearms license, fishing license and hunting license. Social Services would condemn his living conditions and send him for a Mental Health Exam, a complete medical and dental checkup and mandatory life skills training, Environment would issue an eviction notice and a stack of wildlife violations, DFO with violations of the Fisheries Act and, finally, Revenue Canada would charge him under the Income Tax Act for not having filed a tax return for the previous ten years. Good luck getting a wharf approved in The Battery. Perhaps the city will approve one on Kenmount Road.

  • Terry MacDonald
    July 30, 2010 - 15:26

    I have, in my possession, several photos of the area of the Battery, in question. One is Circa 1925 & the other is Circa 1976. The photos, detailing the construction design of the wharf, which have appeared in the Telegram, recently, when compared with those photos, in my possession, certainly suggest to me that this construction design has been in use at that location, for at least 90 years. In fact, having seen such local, privately built, fishing wharves & flakes all over the island, in my many travels during my 69 years living in Newfoundland. It's time for the officials at City Hall to eat a little crow, say their Mea Culpa's, and ask SCOTTY To" BEAM THEM UP OUT OF" the Battery

  • A. Noseworthy
    July 30, 2010 - 08:40

    My opinion is that this wharf should be saved. It should be reconstructed in a way that it does not lose its characteristics, but to a standard that will provide safety for public use. After all this wharf is a piece of the Battery Heritage. I would like to see in print what the issues of the City of St. John's Council are on not doing so?

  • Eugene from Town
    July 30, 2010 - 08:14

    Doc wouldn't want our esteemed cruise ship visitors to be given the impression that Newfoundlanders, not unlike Jack Wells' wharf, have clung to these rocky shores for multitudes of generations despite the 'risks' associated. Mayor "Cruise" O'Keefe is willing to widen the narrows to allow larger cruise ships, with their penny-pinching septogenarians, into North America's oldest city's harbour but any damage caused to pre-existing structures due to the change in flow, well that's Jack Wells' or the Pretty's problem. This is the same city hall that encourages us to use their 'free' bulk garbage removal service (paid for by our tax dollars) then tries to impose a fee because I didn't ensure that the garbage was taken by their contractor. Jack Well's wharf, The Star of the Sea Hall, is the Basilica next? Maybe we can get some exclusive condos built there, I hear the view from the bellfry is simply amazing.