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New West accepts $30-million insurance settlement for Westminster Pier Park fire

A collaborative approach: New Westminster and First Nations to co-develop Pier Park’s future
A Vancouver fire boat was among the first responders who attended the Sept. 13, 2020 fire that destroyed part of Pier Park.

First Nations will play a pivotal role in the planning for the future expansion of Westminster Pier Park.

On Sept. 13, 2020, fire destroyed the section of Westminster Pier Park that had been built on the site’s original pilings. The fire, which burned for 10 days, destroyed the Wow Westminster public art installation, the urban beach and the sand volleyball courts.

At a workshop on Monday, council will meet the project facilitators who have been selected to assist the city with early discussions with First Nations regarding the future of the New Westminster riverfront and Pier Park fire site. At that workshop, staff will seek council’s feedback on the process and aspirations for the potential partnership with First Nations on a riverfront project or projects.

The Oct. 30 workshop follows an Oct. 16 update to council about the Westminster Pier Park fire site.

At that time, staff reported that the insurance claim resulting from that fire had been settled and noted that creation of a reserve fund for the insurance proceeds is underway.

According to the report, the insurers had provided a final written settlement offer of $30 million, inclusive of the $10 million it had advanced to the city in the interim. The city accepted the offer.

In addition to providing information about the settlement of the Westminster Pier Park insurance claim, the Oct. 16 report also outlined the city’s commitment and next steps for advancing its relationships with First Nations via this project.

“The city is committed to partnering/collaborating with First Nations leaders (government to government), to ensure Indigenous rights, land tittle, history, values and priorities are understood and established as a first step before any work on a future riverfront project commences,” said the report. “Recognizing and considering the history of the river, and that it was a key resource for the Indigenous people who were active in this area before colonists arrived, the aim is to foster a co-development model as a way to rebalance how the city works with the Nations, and co-create the riverfront holistically.”

First Nations involvement

In July, the city sent a memo to six First Nations, providing an update on the Pier Park fire site and outlining the city’s desire for potential partnerships – with all indicating they would like to work more closely with the city, said the report.

Next step include: having a casual information session regarding opportunities to collaborate on this project; asking First Nations if and how they want to partner/collaborate on the project; developing principles as to how and where funds should be invested; retaining a project facilitator to support the partnership/co-development with the First Nations; and co-selecting a project manager to lead the project.

The report also outlined the city’s commitment to community engagement about the future of the site.

“Broader community engagement will be incorporated into the process the city intends to co-create with the Nations,” said the report. “Staff understand the importance of giving community members a voice and role to play in helping shape the future of this stretch of the riverfront; however, it is important that any potential options or opportunities not be presupposed prior to initiating collaboration with interested nations.”

According to the report, the 2023 approved capital budget includes $250,000 for planning and engagement related to the Westminster Pier fire site. It noted the city had issued an “expression of interest” for a project facilitator, who has experience in working with First Nations and can help guide the city through this new way of working.

Mayor Patrick Johnstone said city officials discussed plans for the site with B.C.’s tourism minister and deputy minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September. He said both were “very excited” about the city’s plans for Indigenous co-development, not just Indigenous consultation.

“Obviously, from the Indigenous relations side, we wanted to let them know what's happening. And we were hoping that they might be able to provide some support in … supporting the host nations, in their ability and their need for resources to help engage in a meaningful way,” he said. “All of the host nations, some more than others, are really challenged in their ability to bring resources to an engagement that might be very intensive.”

Johnstone said he has also discussed the project in meetings with the board of Port Metro Vancouver, which has an important role in approvals of activities taking place on the Fraser River.

“They were very excited to hear about a co-development model with Indigenous host nations on a site like this,” he said.

Johnstone said the city is trying to line up meetings with the federal ministers as well. Although the city has some insurance funding for the future development of the site, he said the vision may be “a little grander” than what fits into the city’s current budget, considering the cost and challenge of building on the river.

“So, we are going to be looking strongly for senior government partnership opportunities here, to make sure that when we do co-develop a vision that we're actually able to find the resources to make that vision come to reality,” he said.

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he hopes the federal and the provincial governments come to the table with some dollars for the project, regardless of what vision the city implements on the site.

“I'm confident that our staff will have, at some stage, an application in to them to receive some funding,” he said. “And I can pretty much say I would assume that all the council will want to work on the political level to advocate very strongly for that.”