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CRA vehemently opposes Echo Heights development

Copy of a letter to North Cowichan mayor and council: At its regular meeting of Nov. 20, 2013, against the advice of Mayor Jon Lefebure and Councillor Kate Marsh, both Chemainus residents, council voted to develop 20 per cent of the lands in Chemainus known as Echo Heights. This was done despite the continued objection of hundreds of residents of Chemainus who are represented by the Chemainus Residents Association as well as many more in Chemainus and elsewhere in North Cowichan and beyond who have expressed their opposition to this proposal in writing and in other forums over the past eight years.

This letter is to inform you that the Chemainus Residents Association does not accept any part of this decision. The suggestion that developing only a portion of the whole of Echo Heights forest should be deemed an acceptable compromise is to ignore the many arguments presented by many interested parties over the years as to the importance of preserving the forest in its entirety.

We cannot understand how council can continue to ignore the wishes of such a large part of the community regarding this important issue. In recent weeks we have been told that, if these lands are not developed at a profit to the municipality, then promised improvements to Chemainus might not be forthcoming. The current plans have been under discussion for more than two years and yet it is only in the past month or two that the suggestion has been made that there might be a direct link between the two.

If this is indeed the case we cannot help wondering why these plans and proposals, both here in Chemainus and elsewhere in North Cowichan, were made in the first place if financing for them depended on such tenuous and unacceptable terms.

We have also been told there are those in the community who support development in Echo Heights forest. Who are these supporters? Where have they been for the past eight years? We have been told "a couple of dozen letters" indicate support for the proposal. We have seen the several hundred letters and emails the municipality has received over the years and keep on file and have determined that 92 per cent of these support preservation of Echo Heights forest.

We note the historic presence at the Nov. 4 meeting of the Chemainus Advisory Committee of Chief Earl Jack of the Penelakut First Nation together with his delegation who requested a consultation process with respect to Echo Heights. Also present was lawyer Renee Racette, legal counsel for the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group. Ms. Racette repeated this request at council's regular meeting on Nov. 20.

At the time of its founding seven years ago the CRA drew the support of more than 500 residents who signed on and paid their dues when the only issue on the agenda was the preservation of the whole of Echo Heights forest. Each year since then at meetings of the association members have confirmed their support for that position. Since 2007, more than 1,600 people (to date) have signed a petition asking for the whole of the area to be designated a park in perpetuity. Of those, more than 1,000 are residents of North Cowichan, the majority of these being residents of the town of Chemainus.

This not just a matter of land use policy or even simple finance. Rather it is a matter of council keeping faith with residents of our community.

Bernie Jones

chair Chemainus Residents Association