The debate around a controversial rezoning application for a section of Cowichan Bay may be just heating up.
In a tight 5-4 vote on Feb. 27, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s board of directors gave the first two readings to the rezoning application for a number of Crown leases on properties where the Westcan Terminal is situated.
The application will now go to a public hearing, the time and place to be announced, and judging from the large crowd of both supporters and critics of the application that attended Wednesday’s board meeting, the public hearing promises to be a lively affair.
Western Stevedoring, a diversified stevedoring, terminal and logistics company with operations throughout B.C. controls the properties and stated when it first started the rezoning process more than two years ago that its main purpose 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 decades.
Pacific Industrial Marine, which currently employs more than 50 skilled workers at its site in Cowichan Bay, specializes in all aspects of marine and bridge construction.
Ant the beginning of the rezoning process, PIM 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.
The current zoning for the site is mainly intended for log storage and log shipping.
But members of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association and other environmental groups are taking issue with the rezoning application fearing that the doors could soon be wide open to a lot more heavy manufacturing and its related pollution in Cowichan Bay, which could play havoc with its fragile ecosystem.
Several speakers at Wednesday’s board meeting shared that view.
Carol Hartwig said, to date, there has been a refusal during the process to see the rezoning as a significant change for Cowichan Bay.
“It’s being seen as a land-use issue that doesn’t need any environmental studies,” she said.
“If we allow this rezoning, we’ll be further endangering the area’s animal and fish populations, and we’ll never eat another shellfish from Cowichan Bay again.”
Paul Rickard said the rezoning has the potential to change the ecological balance of the bay and estuary, and interrupt the chain of life there.
“One of the key estuaries in B.C. is located there, and there has not been any science-based proof indicating that it would be safe and sustainable if this rezoning is allowed,” he said.
But Brian Thacker, owner of Pacific Industrial & Marine, said there are a lot of falsehoods about the area of Cowichan Bay where PIN operates circulating through social media.
“Many people see things on social media sites and believe it,” he said.
“That’s really a shame because I think that industry can work well with environmentalists on common goals. The problems in the estuary are common all over B.C., with salmon disappearing and pollution coming into the bay and estuary from the river, but no one ever talks about that.”
In fact, Thacker said it’s his understanding that chinook salmon are actually increasing in numbers in the bay and the proliferation of eel grass has doubled since PIN began operations.
“A dive survey indicates that in areas where we are working, eel grass is flourishing, and we’re been there for years,” he said.
“No one has ever come forward saying that anything that we have done is wrong. We’ve been at this rezoning process for two and a half years now and we still don’t know where we are headed.”
In a discussion before the vote, Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora director Alison Nicholson said she sees the proposed rezoning as high risk and short sighted.
“I’m not comfortable moving ahead with a rezoning that could expand the contamination in a fragile ecosystem,” she said.
“There is no sound scientific information on the impacts of the rezoning and I would prefer this application goes back to staff until all this information has been received.”
Youbou/Meade Creek director Klaus Kuhn said delaying the vote appears to be a stalling tactic.
“We can’t kick this down the road,” he said.
CVRD board chairman Ian Morrison said he is keeping an open mind on the rezoning application.
“I can’t wait to hear more from the public on this issue,” he said after the meeting.
“I’ve read all the emails received on the subject but I’m not sure where some of the authors get their information from. Much of it is not related to the facts, including that we’d be authorizing a smelter for the site if the rezoning goes through. Nothing is further from the truth and I have no idea where that rumour comes from.”