A controversial rezoning application for a section of Cowichan Bay was approved by the Cowichan Valley Regional District on Oct. 23
There was a sense of relief from some and frustrated anger from others in the CVRD’s packed boardroom as people from both sides of the issue absorbed the news after a quick discussion and vote on the amendments by the board.
Only two members of the board, the director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora Alison Nicholson and Mill Bay/Malahat director Blaise Salmon, voted against the zoning amendments.
Jennifer Lawson, an outspoken opponent of the rezoning, said she was outraged by the decision and the CVRD may face litigation over what many perceive as a flawed process.
“There were lost reports and information sealed during this process, and the public hearing was not fair because not everyone could get in and many people opposed were harassed by vested workers,” she said.
“All many wanted was an environmental assessment of the area. This decision is not in the best interests of Cowichan Bay and the area.”
Western Stevedoring controls the properties and stated when it first started the rezoning process approximately three years ago and that its main purpose was to amend the zoning to allow its tenant, Pacific Industrial Marine, to continue the operation that the company has had in place for years.
But members of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association and other environmental groups took 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.
The public hearing in March that was held in the Heritage Room at the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan drew hundreds of people from both sides of the issue.
Opponents also expressed frustration earlier this month when the board decided to move forward with the process without a second public hearing after new information was received, but sealed, in regards to the applicant’s stormwater management plan.
Nicholson said she can’t support the rezoning because the district’s constituents expect the board’s members to govern as best they can, and she feels that has not been done in this case.
She said staff had given the board more information regarding the stormwater system that may have led its members to better understand the environmental risks, but the majority decided not to allow it to be received.
“Our chairman [Ian Morrison] said in a meeting this morning that having more information in helping the board make decisions makes for good governance,” Nicholson said.
Salmon said he also feels that he can’t make an informed decision without the relevant information that the stormwater and other reports might have provided.
But Brian Ellis, a project manager and construction engineer at PIM, said after the vote that he and dozens of other workers at the site are just glad to keep their jobs.
“The Cowichan estuary is better off with us being there as well,” he said.
“The company has spent a lot of time and effort over the years dealing with derelict vessels, eel grass beds and clearing debris there. People say that we started doing that work when this rezoning application was made, but it has been going on a long time before that.”
Sharon Horsburgh, a consultant who was assisting Western Stevedoring with the rezoning application, also said approximately 70 workers and their families now have assurances that the jobs are secure.
She also said that nothing will change on the properties and in Cowichan Bay as a result of the rezoning, as many rumours have indicated.
“This is just an administrative amendment,” Horsburgh said.
“PIM has been operating at that site since 1990 without incident and this is just formalizing its use. The properties have been leased by Western Stevedoring since 2002 and there’s nothing to rumours that the leases are about to be transferred to new owners.”