The Cowichan Lake Chamber of Commerce meeting that took place on May 23, proved to be the perfect venue for local business owners to ask questions and voice concerns to Mayor Ross Forrest.
Forrest was the guest speaker for the evening and through his presentation of the town’s Revitalization Plans along South Shore Road, he was able to answer many questions and address many concerns local business owners have. Once again the bulk of these questions and concerns centred around what can be done about derelict buildings on the west end of South Shore Road. But there were also concerns expressed over the need for more beach access for tourists and locals (many pointed to Saywell Park as an option), the dust accumulation brought on by logging trucks passing through town, town expansion and the need for more industrial businesses, and the progress of the water park proposed for Centennial Park.
Chamber President Rita Dustow, along with Visitor Centre Coordinator, Katherine Worsley and other chamber members, have drafted a letter which they have been circulating to all the businesses along South Shore Road and getting business owners to sign. The chamber intends to send this letter to the owners of these derelict properties and buildings. “We hope to encourage them to do improvements especially now that the roads and sidewalks are to be improved,” says Dustow.
Forrest agreed with this tactic. “I’ll tell you the best way to make things work,” Forrest told those in attendance. “There was one business owner in town that didn’t like the way another commercial building in town looked. She phoned me and wanted me to deal with it. And I said, that’s fine, we can deal with it, but I think it would be better if you as a business owner phone this other businessman and complain.”
Forrest encouraged business owners to pressure those that are not keeping up with the repair of their buildings and suggested that maybe this would have more impact than the town always intervening. However, the town has also recently sent out letters to a couple of property owners asking them to clean up their buildings.
Coun. Day suggested chamber members get together and send letters that are not confrontational but instead encourage these business owners to clean up their buildings or their properties.
The matter of more beach access around the lake, and specifically closer to the downtown area, also seemed to be a popular sentiment among those who attended. Worsley and several others pushed for the idea of a beach down at Saywell Park and Worsley pointed out that many visitors ask about beach access. The town currently only has Little Beach and the Duck Pond for river access and Lakeview Park for lake access.
Forrest pointed out that the water line at Saywell is a sensitive riparian zone. He says that the town has met with Catalyst, who, since the drowning of an individual in 2011, has offered to put some funds towards a beach access at Saywell. “It’s tough to do because it’s the (responsibility of the) Ministry of Environment, and it’s a riparian zone and it’s very difficult but we might have an opportunity to put a beach a few feet back from the water with a walkway and a big wharf there for swimming.”
The project is waiting for a job creation program through the Cowichan Lake Education Centre, and if this goes through, it may be possible to begin the project this year.
Logging trucks passing through town and the dust and debris they leave behind, along with the damage they do to the roads, was brought up a couple of times. One individual even cited an example of dust accumulating in vents and causing the back-up of water systems.
Coun. Ingram brought up the fact that washing down the trucks before they come through town is an environmental issue. “The lumber companies are looking at some kind of avenue to relieve the dust and debris. But one of the biggest problems with having a car wash for all the big vehicles is the residue oil and stuff from them.” She also stated that the lumber companies are looking at ways of lowering the chance of contamination into the lake if a wash station is set up.
Forrest stated that this is an issue that needs to be collaborated on with the logging companies. “We’ve got to work together with them. I think we’ve got a pretty good relationship with the logging companies and that’s necessary. Maybe they will be willing to partner up later and pay something so we can keep our streets cleaner.”
When it comes to town expansion, Forrest says the town does not have any industrial land base, and that any industrial businesses would have to operate outside of the town limits, and thus outside of the town’s jurisdiction. He does not object to the idea of any businesses coming into the area, saying that it would still help generate revenue in the town, just not through tax dollars.
The water park proposed for Centennial Park has been put on hold, according to Coun. Day. The original $12,000 in grant monies are still available to be used, but he says that there is no point in going ahead with the park until other funds have been secured.
“We don’t want to spend that $12,000 until we have more to go with it,” added Forrest. “And if we can get some government grants and get our costs down to where we’re paying two thirds or a half instead of a 100 per cent that’s what we look to do.”
The meeting ajourned with many feeling good about the discussion that occurred. Forrest even stated in passing that he might have to come to chamber meetings a couple of times a year because he was so pleased with the public discussion and input.
In the coming weeks, the Lake Cowichan Gazette will have a more detailed article on the Revitalization Plan, the presentation that Forrest gave on the plan, and the discussion that was had about it at this chamber meeting.