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Trust's Bill 48 motion gets UBCM nod

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Thursday, October 02, 2003

By Gail Sjuberg

Local government politicians from around B.C. rallied last week to support an Islands Trust-sponsored motion asking for withdrawal of the province's proposed Bill 48. Unanimous support was given to the resolution, presented to the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) by Trust chair David Essig. "To have all the other areas support us in this, I think that's fantastic," said Salt Spring trustee Kimberly Lineger, who raised a red flag about Bill 48 and other provincial aquaculture policies along with Trust staff at the Trust Council meeting in June. "I think the unanimous passing was a really clear indication of how the municipalities and rural districts feel about it, so I'm hoping the minister [John van Dongen] takes that to heart and doesn't proceed with the legislation."

Bill 48 the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Statutes Amendment Act, 2003 would transfer "right to farm" policies to Crown foreshore and could override locally adopted zoning restrictions. With aquaculture considered a farm land use, Bill 48 could see finfish farms in Trust area waters, which is currently prohibited by local zoning. (Shellfish aquaculture is permitted in some shoreline zones.)

"Our islands are totally surrounded by shorelines, so this is a major issue for us," said Essig. "Coastal communities put a lot of energy and thought into shoreline planning at the local level and they rely on it for many reasons. It causes a lot of problems when the province overrules the local efforts."

Sharon Bywater a member of Salt Spring Island Residents for Responsible Land Use, the group organized to oppose the sablefish hatchery at Walker Hook was thrilled with the UBCM vote. "I hope the province's ears will be open and that the provincial government will listen to the communities," she said. "I think communities have a right to choose which industries they participate in. We're the ones who have to live with the impacts on our community, and the larger community that will be impacted by aquaculture."

Bywater said proposed Bill 48 should act as a "big wake-up call" to citizens whose voices are not being heard when it comes to province-wide legislation, including Bill 48 and the "working forest" initiative. "I don't think the people who voted for the Liberal government thought this would be the end result that they're voices wouldn't be heard."

Lineger is also feeling optimistic because of a recently reached agreement between Trust Council and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). It covers public consultation, resource sharing, inter-agency communication and decision-making processes for areas of mutual interest. "In conjunction with the letter of understanding with the ALC and [the Bill 48 resolution], I think we have a chance, at least, of working far better with the ALC and protecting agricultural land from undesirable uses."

Essig was a bit more cautious, noting that while the UBCM support is "significant," Bill 48's ultimate fate will still be determined by the provincial legislature next month. He urges people to express their opinion in writing to the Minister John Van Dongen and their MLA.

The UBCM convention ran in Vancouver September 22-26.

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