Noise and light are issues for sawmill neighbours

After a lot of talk around the subject, North Cowichan council decided July 16 that Mayor Jon Lefebure should write officially to Derek Haupt, operations manager at Western Forest Products’s Cowichan Bay sawmill to discover what efforts are being made there to deal with concerns from residents who share the estuary with the industrial site.

Goetz Schuerholz, chair of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association (CERCA), made a presentation to council on July 16, asking North Cowichan to do something about the noise and light pollution.

Schuerholz himself has lived on Khenipsen Road since 1977 and his group is made up of concerned seniors who’ve retired to the Cowichan Bay area for its scenic beauty and lifestyle.

They are a force to be reckoned with, he said, adding a group of just 23 waterfront properties along the estuary is assessed for a total of $21.5 million.

"If you want us to pay our taxes, you have to help us to get a good night’s sleep," he said.

Residents are really unhappy about the level of noise that continues till midnight or later and, when the sawmill doors are opened for ventilation, the noise increases, he said.

"If the doors are shut it makes a hell of a difference. But unless those doors are nailed shut, it won’t stop. It must be terribly hot inside the mill. I don’t blame them," he said.

Residents would like to be able at least to enjoy a barbecue outdoors, he said.

Coun. John Koury said he was glad to hear that CERCA was not trying to drive industry out.

"It’s more than just taxes involved," he said. "North Cowichan is built on industry. People need to know the neighbourhoods they’re moving into when they come here to retire."

Schuerholz disagreed strongly. "You cannot have an industrial zone in a residential area," he said. "Retired people have the bucks to keep the economy going, not young people desperate for jobs."

He also stressed that tourism was an important economic driver and was not being boosted by having a sawmill at the estuary. Lefebure said that much of Schuerholz’s comments about the mill’s zoning were moot.

"We attempted to get zoning control but the mill exists under an Order in Council [from the provincial government]. We are not going to be able to change zoning unilateraly," he said.

Haupt, the WFP Cowichan Bay operations manager, followed Schuerholz at the lectern.

WFP is committed to meeting its responsibilities under its zoning and has done so since the mill was built in 1975, he said.

He told council that $50K of roof venting was being installed but that keeping the door closed is hard with 110 employees onsite.

He pointed out that the mill pays $200,000 in annual property taxes and $1.8 million in salaries every month. A $3-million upgrade is underway right now. Installing a new system of lighting at the site would cost millions more, he told Schuerholz.

CERCA had also expressed concern about the number of sunken or derelict logs either in the bay itself or covering Mariners Island and Haupt said that WFP tries to get what it can off that island at high tide but only so much can be done without causing even more environmental damage.

Koury said he liked Schuerholz’s idea of increasing tourism.

"I’m not sure we’ve been putting our best foot forward on that," he said, suggesting that "punching Khenipsen Road right through to Genoa Bay to make a tourist highway" could be a real benefit to the area.

Brian Butler, president of United Steelworkers’ Local 1-1937, also spoke briefly at the meeting, saying he himself had worked at the Cowichan Bay mill and over the years had seen "a lot of emphasis on environmental issues" there.

He also reminded council that "the jobs there are good, familysupporting jobs" and "the vast majority of B.C. residents want to see B.C. logs milled in the province. I’m glad they don’t want to see that mill shut down."

Council decided that, even if the municipality may have little power to do anything, the mayor should write to WFP.

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