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Aquaculture on Trust Council menu

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Wednesday, March 05, 2003

By Gail Sjuberg

When Islands Trust Council gathers on Salt Spring this week, a sample of recent Salt Spring controversy will land on its meeting doorstep. A group of islanders plans to bring out the placards Friday afternoon to impress on council a desire to see on-land aquaculture banned in the Trust area.

Salt Spring residents Kathy Scarfo, Chris Acheson and Donna Martin have also registered as delegations to speak about aquaculture at the opening of the business meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. Nina Raginsky, one of the people involved in a group called Salt Spring Residents for Responsible Land Use, said a desire to stop growth of on-land aquaculture on all Trust islands would be brought to council's attention. Impact on the islands' rural character, available farmland and tourism industry, plus the potential loss of wild fish stocks should be considered, she said.

While aquaculture as a land use issue was not the core topic of a legal opinion released by Victoria law firm Woodward and Company last week, the group may still be buoyed by its contents. It suggests the Agricultural Land Commission and Ministry of Transportation would be open to receiving more wide-ranging input from the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) when it comes to commenting on an application for a 20-year lease of land between Henry Caldwell and Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. (If a lease of more than three years is desired, the process is considered a "subdivision" in Agricultural Land Reserve lands even though no fee-simple lot is created.)

Trustees Kimberly Lineger and Eric Booth, and the Advisory Planning Commission, had been advised they could only consider the technical merits of the subdivision application, not related land-use or environmental issues.

In a letter addressed to the Islands Trust, lawyer Jack Woodward asks that the "public interest" including aesthetic and environmental concerns be considered in comments provided to the Ministry of Transportation (MOT), as provided in legislation and case law. MOT has significant latitude when it considers subdivision approval, he wrote. Woodward also asks the Trust to request an environmental impact and planning study from MOT, as provided for under Section 86(1) of the Land Title Act, and a public hearing. "It is apparent from community response that this information has not been provided to the Islands Trust or community members and is of extreme importance to substantiate or alleviate public concern," stated Woodward.

Rob Howat, the Ministry of Transportation subdivision approving officer for Salt Spring, confirmed the legislative process outlined in the letter is correct, although a public "hearing" would not be held. He said that while the legislation allows him to hold a public hearing, MOT is not "financially or administratively set up to do it."

What he has done in the past and is willing to do in the Walker Hook case is attend a public meeting organized by another party. Howat is also scheduled to visit the site Friday. "I make my decision based on all the reporting agencies health officer, Trust, Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and we rely on them heavily to put forward any concerns they might have regarding the proposal." Neighbours' comments are also considered, he said.

Woodward notes that the Agricultural Land Reserve Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulation contains provisions for the ALC to hold a public meeting and considered any information from a local government respecting a subdivision application.

Chris Acheson, a member of the group that hired Woodward's legal service, said an environmental impact study should definitely be done and a public meeting held. "Trustees need to respond to the Ministry of Transportation about this and we believe it's clearly not in the best interests of the island and contradicts our OCP and the type of development you would allow in an environmentally sensitive area," said Acheson. "We are talking about putting an exfiltration system on Walker Hook that has never had an environmental impact study done on it. The whole idea of sablefish farming has never had an environmental impact study done on it and the concept of aquaculture on land in environmentally sensitive areas has never had an environmental impact study done on it."

John Gauld, the Trust's regional planning manager, said the LTC's February 22 resolution and detailed comments have already been forwarded to the Agricultural Land Commission. (Gauld added that he can't comment on the contents of Woodward's letter.)

Rejection of the subdivision would only halt the hatchery project if the company felt it could not proceed without the certainty of a 20-year lease of the land, as opposed to renewing three-year leases.

Raginsky also advised the Driftwood that First Nation interests in the Walker Hook area, which contained the Shuye'num village site, are now being considered by legal counsel.

Other public concerns to be raised by delegates at the Trust Council meeting Friday afternoon are treaty negotiations, governance renewal, treaty negotiations, Galiano forest lots and environmental education partnership are also being addressed by other individuals from Salt Spring, North Pender and Galiano islands.

A town hall session from 3:30-5 p.m. Friday also allows more informal discussion between the public and trustees. Salt Spring trustee Eric Booth is also scheduled to make a presentation on a proposal for tax and voting changes on financial matters at the Thursday afternoon "strategic planning" session of council. Discussion of the 2003/04 budget will occur Friday morning.

A community potluck dinner, tribute to past trustees, town hall and entertainment also runs Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Farmers Institute. Advance tickets, available at the Ganges Trust office, are required. The entire Trust Council meeting runs from Wednesday through Saturday afternoons.

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