"If you can have the road, you don’t need the water," Cowichan Elder Luschiim (Arvid Charlie) told North Cowichan councillors last Wednesday.
He was reiterating Cowichan Tribes’ previously stated refusal to back docks on individual properties in the Stoney Hill area. He addressed council, along with Cowichan Chief William Seymour, as North Cowichan was preparing to award the contract to build the controversial road into the isolated area.
Seymour said he and his council had spoken to the elders as recently as Monday and "there is not opposition to this road" but followed that up by expressing absolute disapproval of a municipal bylaw that would allow waterfront landowners to place docks on their properties.
"No. This is something we just can’t look at," he said.
Both the Chief and Luschiim told stories of how their families and many others had historically harvested food from the sea in that area.
They expressed concern that a proliferation of private docks would adversely affect the sea life there.
"Sure, maybe harvesting is depleted now but it is still in use," Seymour said.
He then pointed out that revival of the shoreline has been a big topic recently.
"Look at Cowichan Bay. Things are working there; there are so many things that are possible. Let’s rebuild. That’s why the docks are something we can’t look at. We approve the road as long as you revoke the bylaw about docks."
However, Seymour also described how Mayor Jon Lefebure had called him before and asked if there was anything North Cowichan could do to help reach an agreement with Tribes about the road. A meeting was held between both councils, which was of benefit to both, and North Cowichan has moved the road to address concerns about archeaological sites, he said.
"Middens, artifacts and graves are there. People have [over the years] discovered bones and artifacts and have taken them away. To this day, we’re still tracking them down in museums around the world."
After the delegation finished speaking, Coun. Al Siebring said, "We really have come a long way on the road. The compromise is testament to what can be achieved. The land use on the docks is the elephant in the room. Could we come to some compromise on that?" He explained that North Cowichan must provide some public access to the water at intervals up there already.
"Maybe we could use some of those access strips for a few docks so people there could have dock access. Would that concept go some of the distance?" he asked Seymour.
"The idea of community docks like that had been discussed," the chief replied. "It’s gone to the elders and our council. It’s something we’re willing to look at as well." Much later, near the end of the meeting, Siebring gave council notice that he plans to ask council at the Jan. 21 meeting to consider rescinding Bylaw 3530 (which concerns the docks) and to direct staff to prepare a report on alternatives.
Meanwhile, a plan to award the contract for the Maple Bay peninsula road has hit a snag and could not be completed Dec. 17. Another attempt will be made Jan. 21.
At issue are last-minute concerns from BC Hydro.
CAO Dave Devana said everything had appeared to be going smoothly in talks with Hydro but, "It was not until we sent them the final documents to sign off that they came back that they weren’t sure. I can’t explain why this happened. We can’t award the tender yet. It’s been a long process and we’re close but we’re not there yet."
Hydro said that it is concerned that the road might be too close to some of its installations, council learned.
"We have to convince them that this is resolvable. BC Hydro is very aware of how important it is," he said, recommending "very strongly" that council not attempt to rush the awarding of the tender, despite the urgings of Stoney Hill residents, because the outcome of the Hydro problem plus the final archaeological report are still not known.
Devana said the contractor who would have won the tender has also agreed to wait until Jan. 31 so, with an earlier December deadline out of the way, council took Devana’s advice and will wait until their January meeting for a decision.
Coun. Maeve Maguire asked that every effort be made to keep the Stoney Hill residents in the loop when such snags show up because they have been waiting a long time for resolution of the problem.