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Kelowna endorses concept of charging businesses a fee to use public boat launches

A satellite view of the Water Street boat launch, lower right, and the local marina in downtown Kelowna. Google Maps

Launching a boat from one of Kelowna’s public piers can be a lesson in patience, with lineups being common.

To that end, the City of Kelowna announced this week that it plans on looking at a new fee for commercial businesses that use public boat launches.

How much that fee would be isn’t yet known, but city council endorsed the concept at Monday’s council meeting following a report on local boat launches.

During the meeting, council was told the city’s three public boat launches at Cook Road, Water Street and Sutherland Bay experience a combined 27,000 to 37,000 launches a year, and that private businesses make up 25 per cent of that total.

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Cook Road sees an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 launches a year, with Water Street seeing 10,000 to 15,000 launches. Sutherland Bay, described as undeveloped, has 2,000 to 4,000 launches a year.

Council was also told the city spends around $190,000 a year on boat-launch upkeep, and that $1.15 million is needed for capital improvements to the Cook Road and Water Street launches.

The new fee, council was told, would be similar to other businesses that have to pay permit fees to operate on city-owned properties, like food trucks.

Click to play video: 'E-foil boards light up Okanagan Lake'
E-foil boards light up Okanagan Lake

“I really appreciate this as a first step,” said councillor Ryan Donn. “It does kind of start to go into a new category for us with boat launches.

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“We have commercial entities now potentially paying for something that they haven’t paid for in the past. But then, it’s a limited asset we have, but there could be a higher level of entitlement from the commercial operators now that are paying a fee.

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“So it could lead to more disagreements.”

Donn continued, saying the proposed fee does seem “to be a good first step,” adding the fee will result “in improvements the people can see.”

Councillor Luke Stack said “all users want to see (the launches) in good condition. It’s almost the first introduction to the lake, and we want it to look well maintained.”

Councillor Gail Given said the potential fee would allow the city to better manage how taxpayer-funded facilities are used.

Click to play video: 'Truck plunges into lake at Kelowna boat launch'
Truck plunges into lake at Kelowna boat launch

The boat launches are busy from May to September, from morning to evening, according to the report.

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During the peak hour, there are 25 launches an hour at Cook Road, 23 at Water Street and 10 at Sutherland Bay.

The city estimates that the private companies which account for the 25 per cent usage are two valet businesses, 10 dryland boat rentals and three dryland boat clubs.

“Commercial usage at the launches has resulted in a number of complaints, primarily concerned around vehicles and boat trailers left unattended in the boat launch, and companies using the area to conduct business and restricting access to the launch,” council was told by city staff during Monday’s meeting.

“This greatly decreases the efficiency of the launches.”

A follow-up report is expected later this year.

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Educating recreational boaters about shared waterways

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