A master plan is in the works that will see new development at Clutesi Haven Marina in Port Alberni.
The Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations are working together with the City of Port Alberni on the initial planning phase for the marina, situated on the tidal fresh waters of the Somass River, and along Highway 4.
Island Coastal Economic Trust has committed $30,000 to this project through its Investment Readiness Program’s Regional Collaboration stream.
Initial planning includes community economic development initiatives and land use while building respectful and sustainable government-to-government partnerships.
“This funding is assisting our three governments to work together to bring our vision for Clutesi Haven to a reality,” said Hupacasath First Nation Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder in a press release.
To help capitalize on the highly visible piece of property that sees up to 1.6 million people drive by each year, the three governments established a working group and are envisioning how the area can be best redeveloped to benefit all community members and visitors.
“Ultimately we decided to prioritize our projects and Clutesi Haven’s…been one that we’ve all wanted to see improvements on,” said Ken Watts, Tseshaht First Nation chief councillor. “It’s the gateway to the west coast, it’s such an under-utilized space and both our nations have a keen interest, not just culturally and historically, but economically.”
Although no plans have been made official yet for the space, Watts said ideas from all parties have been introduced and they’ll be working with consultants to have renderings designed.
“There’s some priorities that some people want, like I said artwork is one, supporting local artists and vendors,” Watts said. “But things need to happen in a phased approach. At the end of the day let’s move forward and try to get something approved there.”
In the past, the Tseshaht, Hupacasath and the City of Port Alberni worked together to create a modest visitor and community experience at Clutesi Haven Marina. This included food trucks and Indigenous art on display. While the idea allowed a few families to earn income during the summer months and helped amplify the reach of Indigenous art, the project partners had a clear vision to achieve greater potential.
Watts said all parties agree that having visitors and locals stop at the marina instead of just driving by is a main priority.
“There’s lots of different retail-type opportunities there and other opportunities. The food is already working,” Watts said. “We also need to remember it’s also about looking after our local residents too and providing a nice space for them.”
Watts said the working group has to consider geotechnical issues with the area during the planning phase.
“There used to be a building there, quite a large building…and it was basically sinking from my understanding, so we need to be careful about the infrastructure that’s there,” Watts said. “There’s some access issues getting into the area and parking…so it comes with its challenges, but I think that’s why we’re working together.”
Watts added that the dog park across the street from the marina, which is largely used by local residents, is also included in discussions but that no official plan has been made for the area.
“The dog park is more of a local space that we could probably find another location for. It’s not the best use of the land, unfortunately,” Watts said.
The new master plan will support the development of the shared land use vision, and the design process for that will take the three partners’ working group through a series of project phases to arrive at a consensus vision and robust plan for their respective and collective communities.
This plan will then be integrated into the city’s Official Community Plan. Once those are approved, the partners will move into the second phase of implementing the vision.
“Our past experience was a catalyst to develop our three-year facilitated First Nation-municipal Community Economic Development Initiative (CEDI) program,” said Pat Deakin, economic development officer with the City of Port Alberni in a press release. “It was from here that our workshops and working groups began, and which are today allowing us to embark on this new and collaborative vision.”
The project will be underway imminently.
“Partnerships such as this do more than just bring people to the table, they help foster new ideas, allow for sharing of resources, and build lasting relationships while working towards great outcomes that will benefit so many people,” said Josie Osborne, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim in a press release. “The Clutesi Haven Marina Uplands site holds so much potential, and I can’t wait to see the final plan for the future of the site.”