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Westminster Pier Park off-limits until early 2021

Westminster Pier Park will likely reopen in early 2021 – but its long-term fate remains to be seen. Fire broke out at Westminster Pier Park just before 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept.
Westminster Pier Park
The new hammocks at the urban beach at Westminster Pier Park are made from old fire hoses from the New Westminster Fire Department. People were lining up for a chance to chill in the six hammocks on Victoria Day.

Westminster Pier Park will likely reopen in early 2021 – but its long-term fate remains to be seen.

Fire broke out at Westminster Pier Park just before 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept., 13, ultimately destroying the portion of the park that was built on the original 1957 timber wharf. The fire was finally extinguished on Sept. 23.

 A Nov. 6 update on the project indicates that the city has completed the demolition of the pier, including the removal of all debris and piles from the river surface and shoreline, and has completed work to stabilize the shoreline next to the rail lines. 

“Work is now underway in consultation with all of the regulatory agencies and appropriate professionals to determine the best method to remove sunken debris,” said an update posted on the city’s website. “Concurrently, the city is also engaging with our engineering and environmental consultant, First Nations,provincial and federal regulatory agencies to perform environmental investigations, such as water and sediment sampling. This will inform the clean-up plan to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts on the Fraser River.”

According to the City of New Westminster, Pier Park is expected to re-open by Feb. 1, 2021.

“Re-opening of the park for public use is contingent on the re-establishment of a secondary emergency services access point from Front Street,” said the update. “A second means of access to the park was eliminated as a result of the fire. The city is working with CP Rail to establish a new emergency and service vehicle crossing into the park.”

In addition, a final clean-up of the site, including the washroom and concession building, will be done before the park reopens to the public. 

While the top deck of the Front Street parkade reopened to registered permit holders on Oct. 8, lower decks are still off limits while clean-up work takes place.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said the top deck is open to the elements, and September’s rain essentially washed any residue from the fire onto lower decks.

“They (consultants) gave the OK for the open deck, the top deck, to be open,” he told the Record. “We still have to do a little bit of a cleanup in the lower decks. We are just getting some prices in from restoration companies right now.”

According to Lowrie, there are no structural concerns related to the parkade or to the portion of the park that survived the fire.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the surviving section of Pier Park wasn’t directly impacted by the fire but requires some cleanup work because of smoke and debris impacts from the fire.

A staff report stated the city is working with an environmental consultant, an industrial hygienist (a person who identifies workplace hazards) and a restoration company to complete this work as quickly as possible. Approvals from additional regulators, such as Fraser Health and the BC Ministry of Environment, may be needed before the park can reopen.

Beyond the issue of reopening the remaining portion of the park, the city will need to discuss how to move forward on plans to rebuild the part of the park that was destroyed by fire.

“There was insurance coverage for Pier Park. Right now, the insurance is largely covering the environmental cleanup and cleanup of the site. That’s the most immediate part of the insurance claim, but we do have insurance coverage also for the replacement,” Cote said. “It is going to be a complex insurance claim because it was an older pier structure. The details of exactly how much insurance coverage the city will have is still yet to be determined and is still something we will be actively working on in the coming months and beyond with our insurance company.”

In order extinguish the fire at Westminster Pier Park, crews had to demolish parts of the park site, as well as an adjacent privately owned site at 200 Front St.

“The 45-metre privately-owned and 260-metre city-owned structure are part of one large wharf structure, built around 1957, and are integrally connected,” said a staff report. “The timber pier at 200 Front St. was largely demolished in the fire and ensuing suppression efforts.”

In September, council approved a motion requiring the owners of the property to demolish and clean up the pier and to dispose of waste at an appropriate facility. The motion stated that the pier was in an unsafe condition and posed a significant risk to health and safety.