The Municipality of North Cowichan wants to see an environmental impact assessment completed on a controversial rezoning proposal in Cowichan Bay.
Council directed mayor Al Siebring at its meeting on March 6 to write a letter to the CVRD asking that the public hearing on the issue, scheduled for March 12 at the Island Savings Centre at 7 p.m., be postponed until the environmental impact assessment is completed.
North Cowichan Coun. Rob Douglas brought the issue to the table at the meeting.
“The Cowichan estuary is a unique area and, even though the rezoning application was made with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, a big part of the estuary that would be impacted by this rezoning request is within the jurisdiction of North Cowichan,” he said.
“It makes sense for the directors in the CVRD to have as much information as possible, including an independent environmental assessment, before they make a final decision on this application.”
In a tight 5-4 vote on Feb. 27, the CVRD’s board gave the first two readings to the rezoning application for a number of Crown leases on properties where the Westcan Terminal is situated.
The CVRD then referred the application to North Cowichan and other stakeholders for comment as part of the process.
Western Stevedoring controls the properties and stated when it first started the rezoning process more than two years ago that its main purpose is to amend the current zoning to allow its tenant, Pacific Industrial Marine, to continue the operation that the company has had in place for years.
But members of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration & Conservation Association and other environmental groups are taking issue with the rezoning application, fearing that the doors could soon be wide open to a lot more heavy manufacturing and its related pollution in Cowichan Bay, which could play havoc with its fragile ecosystem.
Numerous speakers at North Cowichan’s council meeting on Wednesday spoke against the rezoning.
Coun. Kate Marsh said she thinks it would be irresponsible for the CVRD to move forward with the application without an environmental assessment.
“It would be better if all the information was there in time for the public hearing,” she said.
Coun. Christopher Justice said that if it was the North Cowichan’s decision to make, he has no doubt an environmental assessment would be part of the process.
“Is it our business?” he asked.
“Absolutely. It’s an absence of policy that we don’t have a vote on this. The estuary is part of North’s Cowichan’s ecosystem as well.”
Mayor Al Siebring said he has no issue with asking for an environmental assessment, but he has concerns with interfering in another local government’s jurisdiction.
“If we start weighing in on CVRD issues, they could begin weighing in on ours,” he said.
“I feel like we’re operating in a vacuum. The decisions made at this table are made on the best advice of staff and we don’t have that here on this issue.”
The motion to send the letter asking for an environmental assessment to be completed before the public hearing was passed, with Siebring and Coun. Tek Manhas opposed.