Phase three of the controversial Shawnigan Village Rail Trail project was given the green light to proceed by the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s electoral area services committee at its meeting on April 20.
Despite a concerted effort by some in the Shawnigan Lake community to have the committee turn the project down, the ESC voted for it with just Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, opposed.
The trail project will now go to a board meeting later this month for what is expected to be its final approval.
The proposed SVRT extension project is an approximately two-kilometre multi-use public trail that is being planned by the CVRD within the E&N rail corridor next to Shawnigan Lake, between Mason’s Beach Park, Shawnigan Wharf Park and Old Mill Park.
The project, which is the third section of the ongoing trail project at the lake, has been identified by the district as an important community pathway connection opportunity within the Shawnigan Lake community parks and trails master plan that was developed, with input from the community, several years ago.
The CVRD has earmarked $650,000 from Community Works Gas Tax funding for phase three of the project in its draft budget for 2022.
But there is a lack of support for the project from some neighbours, while many others in the community are firmly behind it.
The concerns about the project cover a wide range of issues, including the environmental damage the trail could have on the lake, the fear that some lakeside landowners will be blocked from free access to their properties, and that the public’s use of the trail would infringe on these property owners’ privacy, as well as see an increase in crime and pollution in the area.
Some who are concerned about the negative environmental impacts of the trail, particularly to the riparian areas that it would cross, suggested that the CVRD should wait a year until the future of the rail line is expected to be determined, with the possibility the trail could be built on the rail bed instead of right next to the lake.
But Brian Farquhar, the district’s manager of parks and trails, told the ESC that placing the trail directly on the rail line is not an option.
He said he talked to the CAO of the Island Corridor Foundation which owns the rail corridor, and was informed that removing the rail line is not an option now or in the foreseeable future, as the ICF is confident it will be successful in its efforts to revive the Island’s rial lines.
“I was told that it’s an active rail corridor and will remain so,” Farquhar said.
Sierra Acton, the CVRD director for Shawnigan Lake, said she appreciates all the input on the project that has been received from the public, and she fully supports it.
She said the environmental reports prepared on the project have been the most extensive that have ever been seen at the ESC table.
“I feel very comfortable about [the environmental aspects] of this project, and I don’t take this lightly as the lake is a great concerns of mine,” she said.
“The project is fully funded and I’ve received many support letters from local businesses, and I believe the trail will create more economic opportunities. Safety of the roads is also a concern as, currently, you can’t ride a bike or walk along the shoulders of the roads, so this is a huge opportunity for thousands of people.”
Acton said some of the residents who live along the trail’s route are in favour of it, and she’s confident that those who oppose it will learn to appreciate it as an amenity for them, as well as the whole community.
Nicholson said she believes trails are a good thing, but she has concerns after walking the current trail and visiting the area where the new trail is proposed.
“I was trained as a biologist and I think it’s such a shame to put the trail right beside the lake like they did,” she said.
“We’re paying the price for that today. I looked at the area where the new trail section is proposed and a whole section of it is in a riparian area, and that’s a shame for the health of the lake. I can’t support putting fill in a riparian area and destroying it.”
Nicholson suggested a board walk be built instead of a trail, and staff said it would consider that option moving forward.