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Meeting debates hatchery issues

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Wednesday, April 02, 2003

By Gail Sjuberg

A rare public meeting between about 70 islanders and a provincial government official, prompted by alarm over a sablefin hatchery being built at Walker Hook, unfolded with civility at Lions Hall Friday afternoon. While not considered an official "public hearing," several of the 25 people who spoke against approval of a 20-year lease between landowner Henry Caldwell and Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. read from prepared statements, making it feel more "official" than most public gatherings. Victoria lawyer Jack Woodward also made a detailed presentation opposing the subdivision on behalf of a group called Salt Spring Residents for Responsible Land Use.

On the listening end of it all was Rob Howat, Ministry of Transportation subdivision approving officer for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Based on his own evaluation and legislation he must heed, and comments from various government agencies and the public, he will decide if the 20-year lease will be approved. At Friday's meeting, those opposed cited worries about the hatchery causing increased truck traffic in the area and its effect on both safety and road condition. They said it was cited in the wrong place, surrounded by a residential neighbourhood with high density by Salt Spring standards, and that it would negatively impact the island's tourism industry. "We could lose a lot more from aquaculture than we could get from the few jobs it might provide," said Maliview resident Sharon Bywater.

Lawyer Woodward took the most time to try persuading Howat the subdivision of Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) lands to facilitate the hatchery was "against the public interest" one reason it may be refused. He cited official community plan and Islands Trust Policy Statement clauses, and a similar case in Vancouver that saw the B.C. Supreme Court uphold an appeal of a subdivision refusal. Citing Section 86 of the Land Title Act, Woodward said it could also be refused for "injuriously affecting established amenities of neighbouring properties." Woodward said that was a key point because in provincially mandated Trust legislation, "amenities" are defined as the natural attributes of the entire island not man-made facilities.

"On this land [in the Trust area] there is an established written policy and you have to decide if this subdivision is consistent with these principles." Walker Hook is also listed in Salt Spring's official community plan as one of three places cited as desirable for future park acquisition. "You have an OCP in front of you that names only three places," said Woodward. Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission (PARC) chair Bill Curtin said the Walker Hook area had also been identified by PARC as ideal for future parkland. "Give Salt Spring time to do what is right and serve the public interest," he urged.

Woodward also said Howat should be guided by Agricultural Land Commission rules that state a subdivision of ALR lands should improve the farming capability of the lands in question. He provided documents on the provincially registered archaeological sites of First Nations importance in the area. "The building is being built on top of midden," he said.

Islander Murray Reiss, speaking as chair of the 600-member Growing Circle Food Co-operative, also noted the disconnect between the OCP that forbids fish farming in our marine waters and having a hatchery whose product serves fish farms in other communities. "We would be forced to participate in an industry we've stated we want no part of," said Reiss.

Speaking in support of the application were Chris Hatfield, who has been involved in aquaculture for many years, local aquaculture worker Matt Salo, who recently acquired shares in Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd., and Lorraine Norfolk. Salo said it was important some industry exists in our society, and that compromise was needed. "I think [this hatchery] is a good compromise in terms of the production of food and protection of the environment," he said. "There is no question the hatchery has no environmental impact." Hatfield said he was speaking up for people who need to make a living from farming and said the island shouldn't rely entirely on tourism. "Surely we're not going to turn this community into only making beds for Americans," he said.

Norfolk told Howat the crowd in the room opposed to the subdivision represented only about "half of one per cent of the population of Salt Spring." Marilyn Marshall later estimated that based on usual calculations of expressed public opinion, "each one of us represents 100 people." Later in the week, trustee Kimberly Lineger said she was pleased with the way the meeting turned out. "I was really happy to see that the group was able to go beyond differences of opinion and hear what each side had to say," she commented. "It was important to hear both sides of the story." Howat said the meeting gave him "lots to digest" and that a notice of conditional approval or rejection would be sent to the Islands Trust. Trustee Lineger said she would make that information available as soon as it was received. "You're a brave man to come into the lion's den like this," said islander Harry Warner to Howat. "The word 'stupid' crossed my mind," he joked in response. But in explaining his rationale for meeting with the public, he said it had become "abundantly clear" that people wanted to talk to him about the subdivision.

Howat was accompanied by Mike Donald, MOT senior district engineering technician. Nina Raginsky also thanked Lineger for chairing the meeting and ensuring it was not divisive. Howat said final approval of any subdivision is appealable through the courts. The sablefin hatchery can still proceed without subdivision approval, but with three-year renewable leases.

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