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Houseboater challenges West Kelowna's authority to control offshore anchorages

Keith Newcomb boats out to his houseboat moored in Gellatly Bay on Lake Okanagan.

Daniel Hayduk/daniel hayduk The Globe and Mail

A houseboat owner running out of places to go is challenging the municipality of West Kelowna's authority to keep him away from its shores.

Keith Newcomb's vessel was among 13 houseboats evicted from Gellatly Bay on Okanagan Lake last month, after the province issued the municipality with a licence of occupation. But even though local bylaws forbid overnight mooring anywhere along West Kelowna's shores, Mr. Newcomb decided to drop anchor only a few kilometres away in front of a regional park.

"They have no jurisdiction out there," he said, arguing that West Kelowna's authority only applies to Gellatly Bay. "So there's a court battle that's going to be occurring shortly."

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But as far as West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater is concerned, his municipality's boundaries were clearly set when it incorporated in December of 2007 and extend for approximately 18 kilometres along the shore and for about two kilometres into the middle of the lake.

"Our lawyer tells us there's a body of law that supports that position," he said, adding West Kelowna is going to court seeking an injunction allowing it to tow illegally moored houseboats.

Mr. Newcomb said that if West Kelowna is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent and that he fears other waterfront communities will also ban overnight mooring.

"If municipalities can start doing that, then it will be no anchoring anywhere," he said. "Anchoring is part of navigation, so we have to win."

Other municipalities along Okanagan Lake are already turning away houseboats. The municipality of Kelowna and most marinas on the lake won't accommodate them.

A flotilla of houseboats sat in Gellatly Bay for 2 1/2 years before West Kelowna was able to obtain its licence of occupation. During that time, city hall routinely heard from nearby residents who considered the boats to be eyesores and who worried that they were discharging sewage into the lake.

And since the houseboats moved on, other users have been able to make use of the bay, said Mr. Findlater. "The kayakers and windsurfers and the sailors all felt they couldn't go in there [because the houseboats]were a hazard to navigation."

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As it stands now, West Kelowna's bylaws forbid any kind of boat from anchoring overnight. Mr. Findlater said that in time the municipality may consider easing those rules for small pleasure craft like sailboats or ski boats, but not for houseboats.

He added the municipality is well within its rights to restrict the kinds of vessels it permits.

"Just as we restrict other uses on private land, related to large houses and appropriate zoning, even parking on the street," he said.

But as far as Mr. Newcomb is concerned, he and his fellow houseboaters are being unfairly discriminated against. "There's a hate on actually," he said.

Mr. Newcomb figures it will cost about $40,000 to fight West Kelowna in court. He said he's not in a position to cover the tab all by himself, so he's appealing to other boaters for financial support. "I don't really want to spend my pension on fighting this for everyone else."

He said that so far, 10 people have stepped up.

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"But our money is already spent … 10 people chipping in a couple of hundred dollars, that goes pretty quick," he said. "We may have to give up the fight if we don't have the money, then all the boaters in B.C. are going to lose and the problem is they don't even know it."

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