In defence of CERCA, its members, and the estuary

In defence of CERCA, its members, and the estuary

CERCA and its members have been subjected to a continual barrage of untrue allegations in the Citizen, many of which have used deceptive language, and sometimes outright mistruths. I refer to letters and editorials printed here since March 14, with titles such as “CERCA recently launched a campaign to drive more than 50 jobs away from the former Westcan Terminal”, “CERCA is fear mongering”, and “CERCA making misleading statements about PIM operations”. Nothing we have said or done justifies those accusations, and as volunteers working to help restore the estuary health, who expect no compensation for this community service, such unwarranted indictments are more than disappointing.

The same writers included comments of almost saintly intentions of Western Stevedoring and Pacific Industrial Marine that are equally false. These two businesses operate on the Westcan Terminal site in the estuary. In one of these editorials, Robbie James of WS claimed that “We are actually seeking removal of petroleum terminal and storage facilities as a permitted use”; a deception, because the original lease under which they operate expressly forbids the storage of petroleum products on that land anyway. He further claimed that “we worked with the community to ‘breach’ the terminal causeway (and construction of a new bridge) in the name of fisheries and environmental enhancement”; another deception, for it implies that they were at the forefront of planning and constructing the bridge to restore water circulation assisting salmon and herring reproduction. CERCA raised over $200,000 to carry out that project, which James conveniently neglected to mention, while WS continually raised red flags with petty criticisms at every step of the way during its development.

In a Citizen interview on March 14, WS/PIM finally admitted why they applied for the ‘rezoning’, which was (quoting from that article), “to finally formalize the operation and amend the zoning to reflect the current use of the site”; in other words, they are applying to change the rules to justify what they have been doing illegally for years. We, the CERCA board, find that attitude to be reprehensible. WS/PIM have actually been operating illegally for over 20 years under a 1989 lease that allowed only the shipping of forestry products (long since ended), and rules that require them to submit applications for any changes in activities to the provincial management committee overseeing estuary activities. In fact, they are using the original lease from a company called Tidal Harmony Holdings, one which now exists only on paper with no assets. They also constructed, then enlarged on a number of buildings on-site without any building permit as required by CVRD. Their application for rezoning undoubtedly will lead to increased industrial activities there in the worst possible location as far as environmental sustainability is concerned.

Lori Iannidinardo, Area D director for Cowichan Valley, has come out on their side as her editorial article of March 28 shows, where she spoke about her concerns for the health of the estuary, then advocated for industry there, a self-contradictory viewpoint. She indicates that “industrial activity in Cowichan Bay has been confined to the ‘marine industrial’ area designated in the bylaws”, but fails to point out that this activity is dead centre in the middle of the estuary, so you can claim to ‘confine it’ all you like, but any pollution will not be restricted by that claim. Why support this kind of development when there are far more appropriate locations in the Valley for such industry? Restoration of the shellfishery, while enhancing salmon and herring reproduction and promoting tourism, would do far more for the local economy than this industry will ever provide.

On April 3, CERCA held an information meeting on the rezoning issue for interested residents of Cowichan Bay. Some individual contacted the International Longshoreman & Warehousers Union, providing them misleading information that CERCA was destroying union jobs in the estuary. The union immediately instructed their members in the region to support their union brothers and attend the meeting to disrupt it. Some 200 or more union members attended in total ignorance of the fact that PIM employees themselves are un-unionized, and are, along with PIM, competing for contract jobs with other unionized companies. So who is really driving jobs away? Regardless, their ploy was successful in disrupting the meeting, which had to be terminated prematurely.

There have been other untrue allegations made against CERCA, and there is more to this story than meets the eye as far as industry on the Westcan Terminal site is concerned. For those interested in the details and more on this story, please visit our web site at http://www.cowichanestuary.com/, or search our Facebook page.

Geoff Strong

Co-chair CERCA

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