A public information meeting will be held next month on a controversial rezoning application that would allow Schnitzer Steel Canada, an automotive and scrap metal recycling business, to continue its operations just south of Nanaimo Airport.
The board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District made that decision at its meeting on May 10 even though the district’s electoral area services committee decided to deny the rezoning application at its meeting on May 3, with the caveat that staff consult with legal counsel to investigate any technical issues regarding the committee’s decision.
With a crowd of people holding signs against the rezoning at the board meeting, Chair Aaron Stone said after consideration and receiving legal advice, “in the spirit of procedural fairness” the board has decided to proceed to the public information meeting stage of the rezoning process, and a final decision will be made after the public input on the issue has been analyzed.
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The public information meeting will be held on June 19, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Aggie Hall in Ladysmith.
Ann Kjerulf, the CVRD’s general manager of land-use services, explained that while the electoral area services committee heard from a handful of individuals on the issue, there was not an opportunity for Schnitzer Steel to speak to their proposal, or for the public to ask questions and provide comments regarding the rezoning request.
The application for rezoning of the Schnitzer site, which is located in the CVRD’s North Oyster/Diamond electoral area, was first initiated in 2016 as a result of the CVRD receiving complaints about the site, including the fact that the operation is not permitted under the current zoning of the area, and that the operation has raised aesthetic concerns and may also have environmental impacts upon the Cassidy aquifer.
A staff report by Mike Tippett, the CVRD’s manager of community planning, said the owners of the site and the present tenants, Schnitzer Steel, assert that they have some “lawful non-conforming rights” on the property to conduct their operations there.
“Ultimately, a court would have to make a judgment on that; but it is fair to point out that the Local Government Act permits uses that were lawful when established to continue uninterrupted, so long as they retain the same scale and scope, even if the land-use regulations later remove the permitted use from the zoning bylaw,” Tippett said.
“As well, the prospect of a possible zoning amendment to permit the use as it is today could carry an opportunity that may not otherwise exist to establish new regulations and instruments, such as the covenant that is proposed.”
At the meeting on May 3, a representative from Schnitzer Steel said the company agreed to sign the mandatory covenant, which would ensure that so long as scrap metal and end-of-life vehicles are collected, stored and dismantled on the site, specific measures to protect the sensitive aquifer — including hard surfacing, drainage collection and oil separators, plus mandatory monitoring of well-test reports — will be in place.
But June Ross, a member of the Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition who was at the board meeting, said the issue is about water that supplies the area’s residences, farms and businesses and to allow the rezoning for Schnitzer Steel to continue its operations is “absolutely unacceptable.”
She said a resident who lives near the site recently dug a well and found it was full of contaminants.
“They have to move off that piece of property and move to Duke Point where it’s zoned industrial and not on top of our water sources,” Ross said.
Schnitzer Steel spokesman Tony Belot said the company is driven by its core values of safety, sustainability, and integrity, which serve as the foundation for all its operations.
“We look forward to the upcoming public meeting where we can collectively advance responsible and essential recycling services for the Cowichan Valley community,” he said.
North Oyster/Diamond director Ben Maartman said at the meeting on May 3 that he’s heard a lot from his constituents about the need to protect the aquifer.
“During the last three years, the community has witnessed the consequences of a huge fire at that site and of an unprecedented atmospheric river,” he said.
“This decision is about the right use of this land for future generations and the protection of the aquifer, so given that, I’m voting to deny this rezoning application.”
Cobble Hill director Mike Wilson said he has been experiencing similar problems protecting the aquifer in his area.
“It’s something that should be paramount in these difficult times of climate change, and coupled with the fact that Cassidy aquifer has been designated as highly vulnerable,” he said.
“The community has made their views known, and we should make every effort we can as the elected representatives to pay close attention to what the community is saying.”