The Cowichan-Koksilah Estuary Defenders Society has said it intends to sue the Cowichan Valley Regional District and Western Stevedoring over the rezoning of a section of Cowichan Bay in October. (File photo)

Lawsuit in the works over controversial Cowichan Bay rezoning

Environment group says process flawed

An environmental group says it intends to take legal action against the Cowichan Valley Regional District and Western Stevedoring over a controversial rezoning application that was approved by the district in October.

The Cowichan-Koksilah Estuary Defenders Society, a group of professionals that formed last year that has been working on issues in the Cowichan Bay estuary, sent letters to the CVRD and Western Stevedoring earlier this month announcing its intention to commence a lawsuit against them in early 2020.

RELATED STORY: CONTROVERSIAL COWICHAN BAY REZONING APPROVED

Carol Hartwig, a retired biologist who lives in Cowichan Bay, is a spokeswoman for the society.

She said the society’s members are concerned about the entire process of the rezoning application as it made its way through the CVRD.

“We feel that some significant requirements in the process were not taken into consideration, and the whole process was flawed,” Hartwig said.

“Our lawyers (the Columbia Valley Law Corporation) have told us not to speak about specifics at this stage, but our main point is that there was no proper environmental assessment done on this application. We feel the CVRD’s board may have made a more informed decision if some of the data from an environmental assessment were provided.”

RELATED STORY: BOARD DECLINES TO SEE NEW INFORMATION IN CONTROVERSIAL COWICHAN BAY REZONING

Western Stevedoring controls the Crown properties that were rezoned in Cowichan Bay and stated when it first started the rezoning process more than three years ago 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 last 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.

RELATED STORY: BIG CROWD AND MANY OPINIONS AT TENSE COWICHAN BAY REZONING MEETING

Many were outraged at the CVRD’s decision in October to approve the rezoning, and some warned the CVRD may face litigation over what many perceived as a flawed process.

Hartwig said the CVRD’s board also took a final vote on the rezoning without being informed of a peer review on the issue and its recommendations.

“The wishes of the public were ignored by the CVRD’s board at the public meetings on the issue, as well as a vote by North Cowichan’s council that an environmental assessment be done before the final rezoning vote was made,” she said.

RELATED STORY: N. COWICHAN WANTS ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT BEFORE CVRD DECIDES ON ESTUARY REZONING

“We’re still waiting to hear back from the CVRD and Western Stevedoring about our letters of our intention to start a lawsuit, so we’re not sure right now when we’ll initiate it.”

Officials at Western Stevedoring said they have no comment at this stage, but will have more to say if the lawsuit progresses.

Aaron Stone, chairman of the CVRD, said the district followed the letter of the law in the rezoning process, and there is no violations that he is aware of.

“We followed all due processes, but if the society’s members feel that the system was flawed, they have a right to challenge the rezoning,” he said.

“It was a very controversial rezoning process and was never all sunshine and roses. As far as I know, all legislative processes were followed, but if they weren’t, we’ll probably have to take a look at it.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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