There was an overflow crowd at the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association’s public information meeting on April 3 on a proposal to change zoning in a part of Cowichan Bay. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

There was an overflow crowd at the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association’s public information meeting on April 3 on a proposal to change zoning in a part of Cowichan Bay. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

CERCA meeting draws large crowds

Large group attended to support rezoning measures in Cowichan Bay

An overflow crowd turned out for the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association’s public information meeting on April 3 on a proposal to change zoning in a part of Cowichan Bay.

But a vast majority of the attendees showed up to voice opposition to CERCA’s stand on rezoning plans for a section of the bay where the Westcan Terminal is situated.

The meeting space at the Cowichan Maritime Museum, which is designed for a maximum of 60 people, was overwhelmed with the approximately 300 people who attended the meeting and many had to stand in the museum’s parking lot during much of the proceedings.

CERCA organizer Jock Hildebrand estimated that approximately 95 per cent of the meeting’s attendees were there to protest against the association’s efforts to convince the board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District to not allow Western Stevedoring to rezone a number of Crown leases on properties it controls around the terminal.

“There was certainly a lot of organization involved to get that number of people to show up to the meeting,” Hildebrand said.

“It was a raucous meeting and we did all we could to keep order, but we were shouted down a lot. We feel it did bring public attention to this issue, however.”

CERCA is concerned that if efforts by Western Stevedoring to rezone are successful, the doors could soon be wide open to a lot more heavy manufacturing and its related pollution in Cowichan Bay.

Western Stevedoring, a diversified stevedoring, terminal and logistics company with operations throughout B.C., had said that the only purpose for the rezoning application is to amend the current zoning to allow its tenant, Pacific Industrial Marine, to continue the operation that the company has had in place for years.

PIM recently received a letter from the CVRD notifying the company that its current zoning doesn’t comply with all of its activities at the site, which led to the rezoning request.

“We’re not trying to shut down Western Stevedoring, but the type of manufacturing that its client PIM is doing at the site is contrary to current zoning and the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan,” Hildebrand said.

“The protesters may have had the loudest voices at the meeting, but we have a petition with more than 500 signatures on it in support of rejecting the rezoning application that we will present to the CVRD.”

Western Stevedoring Rob James acknowledged there was a lot of support at the meeting for moving ahead with the rezoning process.

He said there are many in the community who support Western Stevedoring and PIM as businesses that employ locals and have been operating in the area with an excellent track record for over half a century.

James said the companies are very proud to be contributing members to the overall economic prosperity of the region.

“We are very grateful to the community members who showed up at the meeting to show support for our companies updating the zoning designation so that we can continue to operate and meaningfully contribute to the community and region,” he said.

“We welcome the CVRD process and look forward to continuing to be open and transparent with the community about our application, and we welcome those who are interested in learning more about us to come down and tour our operations.