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Trustees reverse hatchery subdivision decision

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Tuesday, July 01, 2003

By Gail Sjuberg

Exerting pressure paid off last week for a citizens group fighting the sablefish hatchery at Walker Hook when the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) changed its stance on the 20-year lease/subdivision application. The Thursday afternoon public meeting heard from about 10 individuals wanting the LTC to refuse authorization of the subdivision by writing a letter to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) and the Ministry of Transportation (MOT), as outlined in a paid ad from Salt Spring Island Residents for Responsible Land Use in the June 25 Driftwood.

"The only people saying 'yes' [to the subdivision] are those who will profit directly from it and the province, which is trying to force aquaculture down everyone's throats," said Maliview resident Sharon Bywater in the meeting's first round of public input. "You have everything to gain by doing this. You have nothing to lose and you have community support to do this."

Members of the public then heard again why trustees Eric Booth, Kimberly Lineger and David Essig felt their February decision to articulate several concerns about the project to the ALC but neither approve nor refuse the 20-year lease/subdivision was the correct one for the time. As Booth said, the LTC believed the project would proceed as planned with or without the 20-year lease. By not outright refusing approval, a 20-year rather than three-year lease was up for consideration by the ALC and MOT subdivision approving officer.

But after a second wave of pressure came from Chris Acheson, Woodward & Company articling lawyer Jeanie Lanine, and James and Kathy Scarfo on Thursday, Lineger decided to go with the meeting's flow. "I'm willing to go out on a political limb by making a stand and writing the letter to the ALC to clarify our position . . . ." she said. In explaining her change of heart, Lineger pointed to the provincial government's proposed Bill 48 the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Statutes Amendment Act 2003 which if passed would erode local government control over fish farm siting and likely eliminate the Trust area prohibition on even finfish farms in marine waters.

Bill 48 received first reading in the legislature on May 12 and is due to return to the fall sitting. "Given the position of the provincial government, it's time to test the Islands Trust Act out in this case," she said. "Too many times I see the provincial government overrule us . . . given Bill 48 and the direction the province is going, I think that it's time we took a stand on this and this is it." Huge applause filled the room following Lineger's mini-spiel, and Booth and Essig joined Lineger in voting for her motion.

Before the deed was done, however, Trust regional planning manager John Gauld piped up with a note of caution to suggest trustees should receive their own legal advice in the matter, as opposed to hearing only Woodward & Company views. Another motion to seek legal advice was then passed by the committee. Whether the LTC's revoking of subdivision approval will fly with provincial authorities may still need confirmation. Community member Julia Hengstler observed the trustees' move to not approve the subdivision could be "the vanguard of opposition to Bill 48" and she said other coastal communities should be contacted to organize concerted opposition to the provincial government's plan.

Some people urging the LTC to retroactively not approve the subdivision had questioned what "protection" the tombolo had really received through the trustees' actions, since digging, disturbance of First Nations remains and well construction had all been allowed to occur. "My point is that protection of the tombolo through a 20-year lease is a joke," said area resident Donna Martin. Gauld noted construction of buildings on that part of the land would be prohibited through the lease arrangement. Earlier in the meeting, both Booth and Lineger had said lease parties Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. and property owner Henry Caldwell wanted to protect the area and agreed with tombolo protection conditions. A covenant had even been discussed, said Lineger.

Demands for an environmental assessment to be undertaken were also repeated, and Arnie Hengstler observed there had been little mention of the ultimate impact the farmed sablefish would have on wild stocks and the coastal environment. Kathy Scarfo picked up on one of Essig's earlier statements that the LTC felt refusing the 20-year lease/subdivision would have been "futile" for trying to stop the project by stating it would not be futile to stand up and say no. "What you do then is give the community a voice, which is what you were elected to do," said Scarfo.

Following the LTC's switched decision, more general talk of the Islands Trust's role and "democracy" ensued. Essig later said he was happy to see democracy in action at the meeting. "Please don't feel you have ever lost your voice . . . . We do listen to you." He also recited one of his favourite quotes from philosopher Hannah Arendt: "Civil society begins to fall apart when people feel they have lost their voice." Regarding Bill 48, Essig reported that the Islands Trust executive committee had already written a letter asking the province to reconsider it, and said the Trust is sponsoring a Union of B.C. Municipalities resolution to that effect.

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