Battle lines drawn over new location for detachment

Despite sighs of relief from protesters about a second option, last Friday, North Cowichan councillors John Koury, Al Siebring and Jen Woike sent out a press release taking issue with the recent municipal notice announcing an alternate plot upon which a North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment could eventually sit.

While a parcel carved out of the Somenos Marshland has been the prime contender, the municipality announced Wednesday it entered into a conditional purchase agreement on Option B: a 1.21-hectare plot at the northwest corner of Ford and Drinkwater Roads, immediately north of Cowichan Commons.

The trio of councillors said that announcement was misleading.

While acknowledging that there has been considerable community opposition to the Beverly Street location, the three councillors disagreed strongly with the mayor’s assertion that there has been difficulty finding a suitable location.

"Council only approved the conditional purchase agreement to give us a ‘fall-back position’ in the event the Agricultural Land Commission rejected our application for the exclusion of the 1.78 hectare parcel on Beverly Street," said Koury. "It was never about ‘difficulty in finding a suitable location’. And the ALC exclusion application has now been approved."

Woike, too, saw the secondary location as simply a backup plan.

"The community has been waiting for almost a year for the ALC ruling, and we didn’t want to be caught without any options should that application have been rejected," she said.

The councillors maintain the Beverly location is still the best spot for the facility.

"Our staff and the RCMP have all indicated that, subject to some engineering studies, the Beverly Street site is absolutely a ‘suitable location’, and to indicate otherwise simply doesn’t hold water," Siebring said.

Meanwhile, members of the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society think it’s infinitely more logical to build near the Commons mall.

"The SMWS believes that it is imperative that the recently removed ALR land remain part of the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area and Important Bird Area," said spokesman Paul Fletcher. "As the SMWS have stated many times, we are not against development but we are against development in ecologically sensitive areas such as the marsh margins. The SMWS applaud the decision to potentially move the RCMP detachment to a more logical site by the Commons, and would hope that the change in venue, should it occur, will not open up the recent land removed to commercialization, high density housing or industrial uses as has been suggested in some of the North Cowichan planning documents."

Council is expected to talk about the issue during its Jan. 15 meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. For those who can’t attend in person, the meeting streams online through the Council Live function on municipality’s website (www.northcowichan.ca).