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Trust Council motion aims to limit scale of aquaculture

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Tuesday, June 17, 2003

By Gail Sjuberg

Salt Spring's Local Trust Committee (LTC) continued to absorb heat for its handling of the Walker's Hook sablefin hatchery subdivision application, while Islands Trust Council took another step toward trying to control future expansion of the aquaculture industry in the Trust area.

At its quarterly meeting on North Pender Island June 11-13, trustees passed a recommendation that Trust staff seek agreements with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods (MAFF), and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to develop farm regulations addressing the scale and intensity of both conventional agriculture and on-land aquaculture "in a manner consistent with the provincial object of the Islands Trust and with the scale and character of small islands."

Fear that Bill 48 (2003), the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Statutes Amendment Act, could even override the current Trust area prohibition on finfish farms in marine waters also spilled over at the meeting. Bill 48 received first reading May 12. If passed, it would allow the province to designate Crown land as a "farming area" and limit local governments' authority in relation to agriculture or aquaculture practices in those areas.

Linda Adams, the director of Trust area services, told council that "a little window" of control could be opened through adoption of "farm bylaws that MAFF has approved."

The Bill 48 discussion emerged after a Woodward & Company letter and supporting correspondence was dropped by articling student Jeanie Lanine during the town hall session the day before. In a June 10 letter to the Trust, lawyer Jack Woodward, working on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Land Use, insists the Salt Spring LTC could have prohibited Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. and Walker's Hook property owner Henry Caldwell from entering into a 20-year lease agreement (considered a subdivision in this case) - limiting it to renewable three-year leases as a result.

"Despite assurances from individual trustees (Kimberly Lineger and Eric Booth) that the Trust has not approved this subdivision application, facts speak louder than words. The voters on Salt Spring Island will be distressed to learn that their trustees are refusing to protect and preserve Walker's Hook by exercising their jurisdiction to stop this subdivision application from proceeding."

At a February 22 meeting, the LTC responded to the ALC's request for local government permission by listing its major concerns with the proposal and conditions it demanded before the subdivision was allowed. The committee did not explicitly state either approval or refusal of the 20-year lease/subdivision application.

Lineger described the February 22 decision as "one of those damned if you do and damned if you don't situations." If the LTC refused to approve the subdivision, the project would have proceeded on a three-year renewal lease basis, she said, but no tombolo-area protection would have been guaranteed. "Our concern was that the conditions we allowed for the protection of the tombolo wouldn't get picked up anywhere, and the only way we could do that was if we forwarded our comments, so while we didn't outright refuse it and didn't outright support it, we forwarded our comments."

The real problem, she noted, is that Salt Spring's land use bylaw does not prohibit on-land aquaculture. "Any decision we made [regarding the lease or subdivision], we couldn't have won anyway." But Lineger is especially leery of the province's proposed Bill 48, which is due to return for further readings in the fall legislative session. "It looks like they've had enough with local communities trying to stop aquaculture in their communities," said Lineger, "so they're making it harder for us to try to control aquaculture."

About 35 people attended the one-hour town hall session where community members discussed issues informally with council. That was followed by eight registered delegations, for a total of three hours of Trust-public interaction.

The main topic on people's minds was vacation rentals - with eight individuals speaking in favour of the practice and one against. North Pender's land use bylaw does not prohibit short-term accommodation rentals and South Pender's recently adopted official community plan directs that applicable land-use regulations should be made with the aim of "[minimizing] adverse effects on adjacent lots and the community in general."

Some Pender residents have been trying to curtail vacation rental accommodation. North Pender trustee Wayne Wright said the issue was not on his LTC's work program. "We don't intend to bring it back unless we're forced by the community," he said.

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