Organizers of the Sarnia Salmon Derby are frustrated by construction delays at Centennial Park, saying poor planning and broken promises are threatening the quality of the 41st annual event.
“When the club members and board of directors went to the planning meeting we were assured and promised that the old ramp wouldn’t be removed until the new ones were built,” said Bluewater Anglers president Ed Holubowicz.
“Now, they’ve removed the old ramp and (there is) no access to Sarnia Bay.”
City Hall said last week completion of the $12-million remediation of Centennial Park has been delayed again. Problems installing the new boat ramps are one of numerous unforeseen construction challenges, officials said.
The new boat launches won’t be available now until June 2, well after the Salmon derby runs April 28 to May 7.
“There are a lot of boats that are launched at that time of year, and our concern is that it will affect participation, as there isn’t an easy place to launch,” said Holubowicz.
The area’s premier fishing derby attracts some of Ontario’s top anglers with $40,000 in prizes and a payout of $5,000 for the biggest salmon caught. Proceeds support the Bluewater Anglers’ fish hatchery and the 200,000 salmon, lake trout and rainbow trout they raise annually.
But running a derby with 1,100 participants and no public boat launch has Holubowicz concerned.
“They don’t seem to have a very good plan yet,” he said.
The ongoing park construction has already forced the cancellation of another club event, the annual ice fishing ‘Fun Day.’
The city said it is making arrangements with Bridgeview Marina to allow recreational boaters and anglers to use its launch facilities.
Bridgeview owner Dave Brown said the marina is happy to help.
“We’ll make it happen,” he said. “Quite frankly, we just have to make sure we work together collectively to make this successful.”
Brown said he empathizes with the city and the contractor, Bre-Ex, because construction projects often come with unpredictable problems.
“Unequivocally, I’m going to continue to assist with the process simply because you can’t point fingers at the city,” he said.
But Holubowicz is doubtful the marina boat ramp is up to the task.
“I sure as heck wouldn’t want to launch my 26-foot boat in there,” he said, adding it’s difficult to navigate with limited parking.
More importantly, it can handle only one boat at a time while the now removed city ramps could accommodate four boats coming and going simultaneously, he said.
“We’ll do whatever we can to get the boats in the water if (the city) ramp isn’t finished,” said Holubowicz.
“The salmon derby will never be cancelled.”
Last year’s salmon derby was the 40th annual and saw more than 1,200 fish brought to weigh-in stations.