Goal is not to shut down mill

Re: An Open Letter to the Citizen and North Cowichan Council Regarding the Cowichan Bay Sawmill An article in the Citizen last week highlighted a threat to close the Cowichan Bay Sawmill (Re: “Cut to mill hours could close doors: manager”, by Lexi Bainas, Sept. 12). Bainas reported only comments by WFP (Western Forest Products) and councillors, so that the article made no reference to the main points of the complaints made to council in both a CERCA presentation on July 20, and summarized in a CERCA letter to council on Aug. 28.

This oversight caused several misconceptions that championed WFP and painted CERCA (Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association) as the villain.

North Cowichan councillors and Bainas both emphasized WFP mill manager Derek Haupt’s statement that if they cut hours at the plant, “we may have to consider closing the doors and putting people out of work”.

This is a familiar intimidation tactic commonly used by corporations when feeling threatened by enforcement of existing regulations. Nothing works better on politicians than that kind of complaint, and usually removes all other concerns and barriers.

The article failed to mention that CERCA reminded council that when WFP acquired Doman’s assets in 2004, they also acquired the liabilities and conditions of the original development permit issued by the Municipality of North Cowichan in 1974.

Those conditions (approximate wording) “limited noise at any boundary of the district to the average intensity of street and traffic noise, limited light glare to the lot lines of the premises, and required the industry to employ a professional sound engineer to ensure that noise levels remained within the terms of the zoning bylaw and not affect the surrounding area”.

Unfortunately, the Municipality of North Cowichan has never enforced these conditions despite repeated and numerous complaints by Cowichan Bay residents, the Cowichan Estuary Preservation Society, and more recently CERCA. Opinion surveys carried out in 2005 and 2014 suggest that 80-90 per cent of Cowichan Bay residents agree that nighttime noise and light pollution are very disturbing, resulting in decreased life quality.

Another deceptive argument used by WFP regarding noise levels, apparently accepted by council and reported in the article, indicates that a sound study by a noise consultant hired by the mill resulted in measuring maximum noise levels of 42 db by day and 44 db by night (at the perimeter of the mill site?).

A quick reference to technical noise tables tells you that 40 db is the “lowest limit of urban ambient sound”, comparable to the noise level in a library, while 50 db is comparable to a quiet suburb or conversation at home. Such measurements in and around an operating sawmill are simply not credible.

An important point ignored in this is that neither WFP nor their predecessor has ever made any significant concession or movement towards resolving resident complaints about noise and light pollution going back to 1975 (39 years!). CERCA requested that WFP apply shades or filters to their outdoor lighting, and to stop trucks using air horns at night. Rather than make any concession here, WFP claimed that to replace lighting would cost “millions”, while the air horns were required as a safety issue. The “millions” is nonsense while the safety argument is invalid. Both are excuses not to cut anything from their huge profit margin, reported close to $300 million for just their second quarter of 2014. Regarding safety, most industrial trucks elsewhere are limited to the use of backup beepers.

WFP’s avoidance of even minor concessions prompted CERCA to suggest that they “restrict mill operations to between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. with no work on weekends”. Barring this, we were requesting that council simply enforce the original conditional development permit, with a nighttime shutdown being the ultimate answer if they did not comply. Contrary to the article and statements by councillors, closing down the sawmill was most definitely not the main goal in our complaint. We urge council to actually experience the complaints on-site, and include discussions with constituents in the neighbourhood.

Finally, we reiterate our original request that council enforce their own existing bylaws, rules and regulations, and the stipulations of the OCP that truly reflects the consensus of the general electorate.

Dr. G.S. Strong co-chair CERCA