Union Bay Estates has a large development planned for Union Bay. Photo courtesy of JET Productions

Union Bay Estates has a large development planned for Union Bay. Photo courtesy of JET Productions

Coal hills remediation underway

Proposed development in Union Bay 20 years in the making

The Union Bay Discovery Centre is the first building proposed for Union Bay Estates (UBE), the company formerly known as Kensington Island Properties. The plan is to build a real estate sales centre with a neighbourhood cafe in the eastern wing of the building on Russell Street.

“It will be an audio visual presentation centre. It’s going to be high tech,” said UBE vice-president Brian McMahon, who expects approval this month from the regional district board.

The company’s long-term goal is to build a golf course, a marina walkway, a water filtration system and housing. The residential component of the development will be a maximum of 2,889 units, including carriage houses, affordable housing and secondary suites.

“We put forward our first subdivision application in March of last year,” McMahon said. “It still hasn’t been approved. We were requested to come up with a few other things that we have since done. We are now anticipating that we’ll be moving forward very shortly.”

In a March 2018 interview, he had hoped to begin constructing homes this summer.

“After 20 years, hope is the only thing you got left,” McMahon said.

SLR Consulting is working with the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to address contamination issues associated with the coal hills. The ministry issued a release letter in May allowing the CVRD to move forward with the review process for a development permit for the Discovery Centre.

“As further applications come in, the ministry may require further work,” said Scott Smith, general manager of planning and development services. “This is a very large project, so there’s a lot of moving parts and different aspects to it.”

Union Bay was developed in the 19th century as a coal washery and port facility to export coal from Cumberland mines. The Crown foreshore contains a large ‘coal hills’ deposit, MOE said. In the early-20th century, Weldwood (which became West Fraser Timber) logged the upland forested area and leased the Crown foreshore. In the early-1990s, Weldwood sold the upland area to UBE. Weldwood retained the foreshore lease.

The ministry says site investigations in the early-2000s found high sulfur coal waste that produces acid rock drainage and metal-laden discharges to creeks and the marine aquatic environment. In 2005, clean portions of the site “received determinations of non-contamination from the ministry to enable development,” an MOE statement says. The remainder of UBE lands require remediation prior to redevelopment.

“The majority of the coal hills proper are on Crown land that was under lease to West Fraser or their predecessors. Remediation of this portion is being undertaken by the Province and West Fraser separately from the UBE remediation of the uplands.”

West Fraser and the Province reached agreement for the remediation of the tailings pile in 2017. The portion formerly owned by UBE has been transferred to the Province. Crown lands and UBE lands will be remediated separately. West Fraser is developing a design for an engineered cover of the coal hills, expected for review later this year.

“Once the coal hills remediation is complete, FLNR (Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) will be responsible for ongoing monitoring and maintenance,” MOE said.

SLR Consulting applied last month to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) for an Approval in Principal, which is under review and would support proposed remediation work on the UBE uplands.

“We are doing everything in concert with the Ministry of Environment,” McMahon said. “We are spending a ton of money making sure we’re doing everything the right way.”

Consultants continue to work with MOE on the company’s application for a wastewater treatment facility.

“I believe we have jumped through all the hurdles now,” McMahon said. “We’re at a point now where we’re going to be submitting our security for it, and we anticipate work going forward at some point this year.”

Comox Valley Record