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2020 Pier Park fire results in $30M insurance settlement

The fire initially resulted in criminal charges, but they were later abated after the suspect died

A portion of New Westminster’s Pier Park. Shutterstock.

It’s been a little more than three years since the Pier Park Fire took place, and the City of New Westminster says it’s finally reached a settlement with its insurers.

The city says there will be a total payout of $30M—$10M of which was already paid to New Westminster. That being said, there is a cost of about $8M tied to clean-up and recovery.

“This estimate is based on the total insurance claim of $30M, less costs invoiced to date, which amount to $7.96M. The Finance Department has also estimated potential additional expenses of $280K for cleanup efforts, which should be covered by the remaining insurance balance,” the report from staff to council reads.

The Sept. 2020 Pier Park Fire resulted in multiple days of smoky conditions in New Westminster, with a double whammy from not only the park’s fire—but also smoke in the area from wildfires burning, particularly in Washington state.

Along with damage that resulted in environmental impacts and required clean-up to the Fraser River, the iconic ‘W’ made out of shipping containers by a Brazilian artist was also destroyed.

Mischief-related charges were initially laid in connection to the fire, but after the 49-year-old suspect died, New Westminster Police announced those charges would be abated. 

After a series of clean-up-related steps, the fire-damaged sections of the park were able to reopen in April 2021.

“Staff are working towards obtaining a Certificate of Compliance with Provincial and Federal regulators to ensure work plans and execution was compliant with all environmental regulations. Water and soil testing commenced at site and down river, and data continues to be requested as part of on-going monitoring and obtaining the Certificate of Compliance,” a report from the city reads.

According to the city, the money from the insurance settlement is set to be placed in a reserve fund, and there are no additional terms and conditions from the insurer in relation to the settlement. Before the reserve fund can be established, a bylaw needs to be passed, reviewed, and approved by council—that’s expected to happen by the end of this year.

What about Pier Park’s future?

New West staff have since reached out to the Indigenous peoples and First Nations with ties to this land to ensure that those relationships are understood before any other projects are established.

“Recognizing and considering the history of the river and that it was a key resource for the Indigenous peoples 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,” the report notes, adding that a memo was sent out to six First Nations hoping to work closely with the city moving forward. 

Said memo included, according to staff, a number of suggested options to work together: they ranged from obtaining a project facilitator to discuss with the groups how best to move ahead with re-establishing the space, to also figuring out how best to invest the settlement.

Broader community engagement is also anticipated.

“In addition to a model of co-development with First Nations, it is acknowledged that there are a number of stakeholder interests, permitting approvals and potential limitations to rebuilding at this complex site and along the river foreshore in general. For example, the Council of Marine Carriers (e.g. tug operators), Transport Canada, Port of Vancouver, and Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship, will all need to be consulted with any future plans,” the report elaborates.

A little more than $200,000 was also set aside in the capital budget to support planning and engagement for the site.

A council workshop related to Pier Park is set to take place at the end of this month.

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