The Juan de Fuca Electoral Area will be given an equal voice in a dispute resolution scheme that will see the province break an impasse over the Capital Regional District’s Regional Growth Strategy plan.
The CRD board has asked Community Minister Peter Fassbender to consider non-binding mediation.
The Regional Growth Strategy is a provincially mandated master plan that deals with every aspect of future development – land use, ecosystem preservation, transportation, economic potential, food security and measures to contain urban sprawl.
But although the new strategy was five years in the making, when it was delivered to the region’s 13 municipalities for review, only six were in favor, including Sooke. All municipalities must agree to the document before it can be passed.
Most councils that rejected the plan opposed piping water into rural areas because they believe it’s the major driver of urban sprawl.
It’s a sticking point for Mike Hicks, director for Juan de Fuca, who has argued the right to have piped water into the Juan de Fuca, an unincorporated area, for years.
“We’re on the verge of never having the right to clean, piped water. There’s a lot on the line for us,” Hicks told CRD directors last Wednesday.
And with the CRD giving the Juan de Fuca a voice equal to a municipality in the dispute resolution, it’s a victory of sorts for Hicks.
“I just want it to be fair. We don’t have the same conditions as a municipality,” he said.
Going to mediation – and then possibly to binding arbitration – could potentially add another year to the process of updating the growth strategy, which has already been in the works for five years.
It could also cost participating municipalities about $60,000 each.
Coun. Rick Kasper, a Sooke rep on the CRD board, isn’t convinced binding-arbitration is avoidable.
“Water is the fundamental issue. These [council] positions are well entrenched. All the other stuff can be dealt with because they’re not major things.”
The Regional Growth Strategy is only supposed to be a guiding document. The regional board and the regional growth strategy cannot override the planning powers of a municipality or regional area.
“This something that doesn’t get through the thick skulls down at the regional board table,” Kasper said.
“They seem to think this is an all-powerful document. The only thing we’re legally required to do is reference the regional growth strategy as a document.”