Stoney Hill Road opponents plan last-ditch plea for more study

Opponents of the Stoney Hill road are now prepared to plead with North Cowichan to delay approving the road while the develop a proposal to transform much of the Maple Bay Peninsula to parkland. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Opponents of the Stoney Hill road are now prepared to plead with North Cowichan to delay approving the road while the develop a proposal to transform much of the Maple Bay Peninsula to parkland.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

Stoney Hill residents opposing a new public road through their forested neighbourhood saw last week's vote as a starting point for talking about expanding parkland.

Several folks plan to address North Cowichan tomorrow about the municipality's $2.5-million gravel road. Some, signaled resident Icel Dobell, will ask council to halt the  process to gain more opinion about the project's impact on nature and privacy.

Those comments will come before council votes on a plan pulling municipal forestland to make way for the public road, and borrowing $2-million from Victoria to be repaid at $1,700 annually, over 25 years, by 73 land owners.

The other $500,000 will be paid by council through timber sales, and selling two of North Cowichan's six lots fronting Sansum Narrows.

Tomorrow's vote was paved by Friday's failure of the alternative approval process, which netted 919 forms, far short of the 2,150 — 10% of the municipality's population — needed to stop the road across Maple Bay Peninsula, or force a public referendum about it.

Still, council shouldn't ignore those 919 forms gathered fast, noted Dobell, whose pleas for more time to collect signatures were rejected by council.

"Two more weeks for the electoral forms would have been sufficient. The AAP doesn't allow public access to the information."

But Mayor Jon Lefebure explained the time frame was legally appropriate, and citizens have a community responsibility.

"We gave notice and provided information on the website, in articles in the newspapers, and talked to people on the radio. Council could have extended it, but that would mean re-advertising and redoing petitions," he said.

"On balance the majority of council decided people were given a reasonable chance to register their approval or disapproval. If someone's concerned it not proceed, they have to obtain a form and hand it in. The AAP isn't designed for an individual to go to door to door."

He also denied council is motivated by fear of more legal action by area landowner Paul Bourke. His 2009 action saw council, and Bird's Eye Cove Farm owner Heather Skoretz, agree to this road project, based on Bourke's claim a road was promised to Stoney Hill folks decades ago.

"We have a settlement agreement, and that guided us to coming to an agreement with Stoney Hill residents," Lefebure said of the deal that cost taxpayers about $74,000.

Meanwhile, Dobell cried foul about council's six-lot vote on a petition that ushered the AAP.

"Given council cast its six votes for the road, it seems like a conflict of interest."

Wrong, explained Lefebure.

"Council supported the petition coming forward. Our six were put in as benefiting properties, and we'll pay the annual $1,700 fee, times six."

Dobell also argued for time to study the idea of transforming much of the peninsula into a massive park, with properties bought from landowners, then joined to the region's 100-acre Sansum Point Park.

"This land is of national parks quality."

Lefebure understood, with reservations.

"The question is where will you get the funds, and will landowners sell? While we're keeping Stoney Hill as a rural area, having parkland out there is a perfect fit."

And today's vote isn't a fait accompli.

"These are motions to be voted on. Council can change its mind," he said, citing council's recent mind-change about Chemainus' new library site.


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