Year in Review: In the 2015 news: LNG projects to vandalized trees

Bits and bites from around the Cowichan Valley in 2015.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District was faced with a big mess to clean up after consultant Jerry Berry reported to the board in February that the Economic Development function at the district was in total disarray.

The function, which had a budget of over $800,000 in 2014, had a host of serious issues, he reported, describing a labyrinthine system of commissions, district operations and societies that failed to function in concert with each other or with the board’s strategic direction.

Many of the volunteer members of the Economic Development Commission were on the cusp of resigning en masse, Berry reported.

The fix for these issues remains in progress.

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In January the Cowichan Valley was named as a Top 20 Place to Visit in Canada by vacay.ca’s travel experts, something local tourism operators said is significant to continue to build the region’s profile.

“It is exciting and gratifying that the entire region is being recognized as a destination. Most of the others on the list are well known, established cities with huge marketing budgets. Cowichan Valley is the only Vancouver Island destination to make the list,” said Cathy Mailhot, marketing coordinator for Tourism Cowichan.

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In early July Cowichan Valley residents woke up to the eerie site of an orange sun, its glow subdued by a sky filled with smoke.

The entire east and south coasts of Vancouver Island were put under a Wildfire Smoke Advisory, as ash particles from distant and not-so-distant fires sifted down like snow at times, blown in by the wind.

The adverse conditions continued for several days.

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In August the Malahat First Nation announced they had made a deal with Vancouver-based Steelhead LNG to develop a liquefied natural gas facility at the former Bamberton site south of Mill Bay.

The proposed facility would have an expected capacity of up to six-million tonnes per year, and would include floating liquefaction facilities moored to the shoreline and minor supporting land-based infrastructure. Between construction, operation and decommissioning, it could provide up to 30 years of revenue generation for local, provincial and federal governments, as well as up to 200 long-term positions, as well as training and employment opportunities for members of the Malahat First Nation and other Island residents.

Further announcements detailed plans for pipelines to feed the facility.

Opposition to the proposals has already begun, and Steelhead LNG was in the midst of community consultations as the year ended.

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In late August the Cowichan Valley Regional Hospital District announced that it has picked a site for a new hospital for the region.

The preferred spot is three properties on Bell McKinnon Road.

A new hospital for the Cowichan Valley will still require provincial government approval; no approvals or funding are in place at this time. But the CVRHD has been saving for years.

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The face of Duncan was changed forever in September when the White Spot restaurant was destroyed by fire.

Even as longtime employees mourned the loss the community rallied to offer temporary jobs to the suddenly unemployed, and White Spot owners promised they would be back up and running as soon as possible.

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On Sept. 18 the Mill Bay Ferry missed several runs after an 89-year-old man crashed his van off the end of the ferry dock.

John William Barton, of Saanich, did not survive.

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A vandal sparked community outrage in October when he chopped down eight newly-planted trees at École Mt. Prevost Elementary.

Students arrived to see nothing but trunks where the trees, planted in the summer as part of a new playground project, used to stand. The trees had been dedicated in memory of various residents, and the plaques remained a forlorn legacy of what once was.

It didn’t take long for the community to step up to replace the trees.

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In September a man arrived on Mt. Tzouhalem carrying a seriously space-age looking soccer ball.

The soccer ball was actually a camera owned by Google, which was using it in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to film the trek up a popular hiking trail to a view overlooking Cowichan Bay.

The trail, which traverses the NCC’s Chase Woods Nature Preserve as well as the province’s Mount Tzouhalem Ecological Reserve and Providence Farm, is one of six sites across Canada that the NCC has selected to capture with the Google Trekker camera.

The resulting footage will be stitched together by Google and added to the Google Maps and Street View system so anyone with computer access can see what it is like to hike to the summit through Mount Tzouhalem’s coastal Douglas fir forests.

“It’s like Street View, but it takes you to places you can’t access with a car,” NCC west coast stewardship coordinator Katy Fulton said.