2016 in brief: From a maple to vandalism [photos]

The axe fell on the Cowichan Adult Learning Centre April 28 as school trustees gave the final tweaks to an $81.8 million budget for 2016/17.

Cowichan Adult Learning Centre closed to balance district’s budget

The axe fell on the Cowichan Adult Learning Centre April 28 as school trustees gave the final tweaks to an $81.8 million budget for 2016/17.

The Cowichan Valley Board of Education had originally planned to look at ways of curtailing the costs of the program while keeping it open, but discovered at a committee meeting on        April 26 that the cuts were too deep to keep it alive. The closure will save about $250,000. Trustee Cathy Schmidt, who had originally pushed for the additional discussion on adult ed, proposed the closure. “It comes with a heavy heart that I do this, but I’d like to make a motion to that we phase out Adult Education by January 2017,” she said.

Adult education students will be funnelled towards Vancouver Island University.

More than a dozen headstones vandalized at Pioneer Cemetery

During the 25 years she has lived near Pioneer Cemetery off Herd Road, Annette Hughes has enjoyed countless walks to the peaceful site — the final resting place of some of the area’s earliest settlers and members of celebrated families.

On one of those walks, she was shocked and dismayed to find that 14 headstones in the cemetery had been vandalized. Some had been broken or tipped over, and others even ripped out of the ground. A pitchfork was left lying on one grave, and a torn jacket was found at the gate to the Hughes’s barn.

“It just boggles the mind,” Hughes said. “It looked like they did it just to have their kicks.”

Hughes discovered the vandalism on June 3. This isn’t the first time there has been damage in the cemetery, but it is the worst such occasion in Hughes’s memory.

Located at the end of Pioneer Road, off Herd Road, Pioneer Cemetery is restricted to families who were living in the Cowichan Valley prior to 1900 and their direct blood descendants. Many of the markers date back to the 19th century.

Lake Cowichan First Nation’s Chief Cyril Livingstone dies in May

The Cowichan Lake district is in mourning following the sudden death of Cyril Livingstone, hereditary chief of the Lake Cowichan First Nation. Livingstone died of natural causes on May 17.

“He will be sadly missed by all,” the LCFN stated in a written announcement prior to Livingstone’s funeral.

“He was very personable and highly respected by many which, combined with his other characteristics, led to him being a true role model.”

Livingstone had served as LCFN chief for the past 38 years, and dedicated much of his time and authority as chief to providing homes, employment and other services to his community and family.

Billion dollar lawsuits filed against Catalyst, then withdrawn

Catalyst Paper said it would “vigorously defend itself” against a pair of civil claims that were filed against the company by the Halalt First Nation early in 2016.

The claims related to Catalyst’s Crofton Mill. The first alleged that Catalyst had illegally trespassed on and caused damage to the Halalt’s traditional territories and fisheries since the mill began operation in 1957. In that claim, the band is was seeking $2 billion and an injunction stopping the mill from conducting operations that interfere with the Halalt’s claimed land rights.

The second claim was filed by the Halalt along with business partners Sunvault Energy Inc. and Aboriginal Power Corp., and alleged that Catalyst disclosed confidential information about a proposed anaerobic digester facility in breach of a confidentiality agreement. The Halalt and their partners were seeking, among other things, $100 million and an injunction preventing Catalyst from constructing, owning or operating an anaerobic digester facility.

In September, the Halalt dropped their suits against Catalyst.

Maple tree comes down at ISC in spite of protests

The sound of chainsaws filled the air in the early morning hours in Duncan on Monday, Aug. 22, as the old maple tree on James Street was finally cut down.

The tree, estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old, was located next to the Island Saving Centre parking lot. It was scheduled to be taken down in June as part of the plan to upgrade the parking lot, but people opposed to its demise fought to save it.

The Island Savings Centre Commission decided to postpone the decision to fell the tree until they had a dialogue with those that wanted it saved, and gathered more input into alternatives to cutting it down.

After a couple of meetings with the public, the commission decided on July 26 to move forward with plans to take it down.

When the tree was scheduled to be cut down on Aug. 5, about a dozen people linked arms around it and refused to be moved. The tree proponents were ultimately unsuccessful.

Pumps installed at weir as drought threatened

Although Cowichan Lake still had enough water north of the weir to sustain the Cowichan River for at least two more weeks in September, after a long summer drought, representatives from government and industry said the situation was dire and newly installed pumps at the weir were only a bandaid solution.

Officials from Catalyst Paper, the CVRD, Lake Cowichan First Nation and Cowichan Tribes commissioned the 20 pumps, holding a joint press conference on the lakeshore to address questions about their collective response to the increasingly dry weather the region has experienced in recent years.

Mountie’s assault conviction overturned

RCMP Constable David Pompeo breathed a huge sigh of relief and broke into tears in a Duncan courtroom after his conviction of aggravated assault was overturned in his retrial.

It took Justice Lisa Mrozinski 90 minutes to read her final judgment in the seven-year-old case in which Pompeo was found guilty in 2013 of aggravated assault for shooting an unarmed man, William Gillespie, during a traffic stop in 2009.

She said in her opinion, after considering all the evidence, any person standing in Pompeo’s shoes would “have a reasonable doubt” Gillespie didn’t have a weapon on him during the incident, particularly considering Pompeo’s experience and training.

An obviously relieved Pompeo hugged his wife and a number of supporters in the packed courtroom after hearing the verdict in his retrial.

Vancouver Island Motorsport Resort opened to fanfare, noise complaints

The tang of cobalt tire smoke mingled with the savoury charred scent of roast whole pig as about 500 people gathered at the race track northwest of Duncan as Vancouver Island’s premier new attraction officially put its foot to the floor in June.

A parking lot packed bumper-to-bumper with Porsches, Audis, BMWs and Mercedes gave birth to a crowd that mingled jumpsuit-clad daredevils with polished men and women in well-cut pants, dresses and hair, as a whip-crack support team coordinated fine food and high-speed motorsport demonstrations.

Music mogul David Foster and his celebrity reality TV star children Brody Jenner, Brandon Jenner and Erin Foster, joined Boston Pizza mogul and Dragon’s Den star Jim Treliving, rubbed elbows in the well-lit, expansive clubhouse, or track-side, with elite race car drivers including Max Papis, Brody Goble and Danny Sullivan, and some of the highest-ranking officials of the Canadian automobile industry.

The facility experienced some bumps in the community following its opening, with a vocal group of neighbours objecting to the noise created by the track.

Things were looking positive by the end of the year, with the Motorsport Resort promising to bring in a noise policy and neighbours hopeful that their concerns will be addressed.

Cow High split idea draws fierce criticism

The contentious subject of splitting Cowichan Secondary into two different schools is still under consideration, even if it’s not on the front burner.

The idea was first raised in January but an outraged response from parents and students has pushed it off the board of education table.

Schools superintendent Rod Allen told trustees at a special school board meeting Jan. 19 the district wanted to split the big school into two distinct operations instead of its present configuration as two campuses of the same school.

Freak hailstorm does $12K damage to market

A sudden and vicious hail storm left Russell Farms Market & Garden Centre reeling.

Market spokeswoman France Bournazel said the storm struck at approximately 1 p.m. and lasted just about 10 minutes, but dumped approximately four inches of hail and ice in the immediate area around the business, located north of Duncan, in that short time.

The very unusual weather did about $12,000 in damage.

All lights green for new Valley hospital in 2016

The possibility of a new hospital being built in the Bell McKinnon Road area took a big leap forward in July.

Councillors in the Municipality of North Cowichan unanimously voted to give third reading to a bylaw to allow rezoning for three lots that could be used to construct the new $340-million hospital following a public hearing on the issue Wednesday, June 29.

The new facility would replace the more than 40-year-old hospital on Gibbins Road.

Berkey’s Corner development a no-go

A proposed commercial development at Berkey’s Corner was first approved by North Cowichan council, then not approved at the 11th hour.

The commercial space was proposed to house a grocery store, drive-through, gas station and more, but neighbours strenuously objected.

Those opposed cited traffic concerns, environmental concerns and a belief that there is more than enough commercial space already built in the Duncan area.

After council rescinded their third reading of the development, the developer announced they were pulling out of the project.

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