Residents, Cowichan Tribes clash over Stoney Hill docks

After years of contention, the tender was issued in January for a road out to Stoney Hill but all is not quiet on the Maple Bay Peninsula.

After years of contention, the tender was issued in January for a road out to Stoney Hill but all is not quiet on the Maple Bay Peninsula.

Residents are increasingly concerned their applications for private docks will be denied by the municipality, which has been forced to consider them since the province shifted responsibility for foreshore leases onto local governments.

“Prior to a few years ago, if you wanted a dock you could go to the province and they would be the one that decided whether you could have a dock, irrespective of our zoning,” North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said. “A few years ago the province decided they would respect the zoning of the local government and when they decided to do that, the requests started coming into us to allow docks, which we couldn’t under our zoning.”

Much of Stoney Hill is zoned A2 (Agriculture 2), which doesn’t permit docks.

As a result of the shifted responsibility, staff brought a report to council suggesting it should be allowing docks in Stoney Hill, especially given there was no road access at the time. Cowichan Tribes was not in favour, Lefebure said.

The band told him they’d lost most of its traditional shellfish area and while not large, there are still healthy pockets near Stoney Hill. They don’t want to see those lost. It’s not just that the docks could interfere with the physical location and wellbeing of the shellfish, “but there’s also a certain amount of intimidation or reluctance for First Nations to go and access shellfish from what has been and what appears to be private property,” Lefebure explained.

“They were very strong in presenting that and when we approved the road, they said ‘We’re not going to object to the road but we’re really counting on you to limit the building of docks on that foreshore’.”

Now the road is being built — technically it’s on hiatus until the weather cools down and it’s not a fire hazard to proceed — the dock issue has returned. Residents appeared before council on Aug. 19, some asking, others demanding to be permitted to build them. For Phil Bertrand, it’s about safety.

“We do need docks out there. It’s not just for us; it’s for the other people, too,” he said. “I’ve pulled in boats off the water there that would have landed on shore. I’ve rescued probably 10 people so far.”

One rescue in particular saw him retrieve a group of five from a boat that’d lost power and had been drifting for two hours late at night in the middle of winter.

Murray Scott worries about wildfires.

“The biggest concern that we do have is around fire. Should a fire develop in that area, there’s one entry point in that area,” he explained.

If a wildfire were to overtake the road, residents’ only way to safety would be via the water, he said.

“It’s a huge concern so if there was a way we could get at least off of land and into a boat and gone somehow, that’s our largest concern.”

Lefebure later said there are existing docks in the area that could be used in the event of an emergency and said council has had staff investigate the viability of community docks.

Fred Oud lives elsewhere in North Cowichan but owns property at Stoney Hill. He told council in no uncertain terms he wanted his dock.

“Get that zoning fixed, I want my foreshore lease,” he said. “Get on with giving me my foreshore lease.”

Wendy MacPherson said her neighbourhood is tired.

“We’re tired of fighting North Cowichan and the greater community for our right to have a basic need — a road to our houses. Now we seem to be in a fight to preserve our right to have a dock,” she said.

She said council’s rezoning to disallow docks would downgrade her property.

“We have always been entitled to have docks. Everyone who has bought those properties out there did so knowing that docks were allowed to be put in. Any future docks, then that would be debatable but at this point whether we plan on building those docks or not, we had the right to do it,” she said.

MacPherson rejected the premise that the First Nation uses the area as harvesting grounds, citing a report in council’s possession stating there are “no significant shellfish beaches on the foreshore,” given its rocky terrain and because of wind and tidal patterns.

But Lefebure said just because residents haven’t seen band members harvesting, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing so.

“Quite often it’s late at night at low tide when they might use the area,” he explained.

Tracy Fleming, referrals coordinator for Cowichan Tribes, explained Aug. 19 that Stoney Hill and the Maple Bay Peninsula are very important to Cowichan Tribes.

“They have a very long history there of cultural and spiritual uses as well as resource harvesting,” she said.

Having a dock is a privilege not a right, Fleming added, given that it’s crown land they’re talking about.

“Crown land requires deep conversation with the local First Nation, i.e. Cowichan Tribes, so we expect that that will be happening in the next few months and, as staff has said here, that rezoning evolves,” Fleming said.

Lefebure admits it’s a tricky situation.

“We’ll have to listen to everybody and try to figure it out,” he said, noting it’s unlikely those with existing docks would be made to remove them.

“Some of them would have received approval from the province so they’re legal,” he said. “There would be some that were build without any permits at all. Inevitably that happens as well. I think their future would be in jeopardy. That could be an enforcement issue or a decision by council whether or not to pursue that but the major affect would be on new applications.”