The Department of National Defence can expect mail from the City of Nanaimo in the near future.
Nanaimo city councillors voted 5-3 to send a letter to the ministry urging a meeting with user groups with the intention of reaching a land-use agreement over outdoor recreation activities at Nanaimo Military Range.
Last month, Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt announced intentions to enforce boundaries of the Nanaimo Military Range near Westwood Lake. The property includes a buffer zone that covers the Westwood Ridges, which has become a popular recreational area for hikers, mountain bikers and other users over the years despite being an active weapons range.
City councillors’ decision comes two weeks after Lantzville councillors passed a similar motion requesting the DND reconsider its decision.
Coun. Erin Hemmens, who made the motion to send a letter, said she wants to see some kind of land-use agreement, adding that the public has not been included in the decision-making process.
“The motion advocates for process, which has been missed and which provides opportunity for members of our community to voice their concerns and advocate for their continued used of lands which they have stewarded for years,” she said.
Hemmens acknowledged that the land is federal and therefore the government can do what it wants with it, but felt council must encourage discussion between the DND and the user groups.
“I would … argue it is the responsibility of municipal government to encourage dialogue and conversation with other levels of government around matters which impact our residents,” she said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, who voted against the motion, said Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly should be the one to facilitate any meeting between private user groups and the DND. She also felt city councillors were going too far and should not be pushing for a land-use agreement.
“I don’t think we as a city should be requesting a meeting for private group, it will set a precedent for anything else,” she said.
Armstrong pointed out that the city recently went to court to have people removed from its own property, referring to Discontent City, the homeless camp that was at 1 Port Drive.
Coun. Jim Turley said he was concerned about the amount of city staff time that will be devoted to dealing with the issue when the majority of the land in question is located within the Regional District of Nanaimo.
“I am hoping that some of the expenses, if any, can be offloaded onto them,” he said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe expressed concerns that councillors would be inserting the city into an issue that it has no business being involved in.
“We are not talking about City of Nanaimo trails here and there are lots of those that recreational users can take advantage of,” Thorpe said. “We’re talking about private property and I don’t think we necessarily have the right to even interfere in decisions of the property owner.”
But Coun. Ben Geselbracht said it is councillors’ job to represent their constituents, pointing out that there are lots of areas with jurisdictional overlap.
“We as a city council represent our citizens and in a lot of cases, with housing, parks, transportation, sometimes it’s very messy jurisdiction. There is overlap between many different groups and I strongly believe that the role of a municipal leadership is to co-ordinate and support dialogue around critical issues of concern,” he said.
Coun. Zeni Maartman said councillors wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t try and speak for residents, while Coun. Tyler Brown noted that Hemmens’s motion is merely requesting dialogue.
“I think there is no harm in attempting to have a forum to try to find out if there is a way that multiple user groups can use these lands for very different purposes,” he said.
Manly said Monday that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been busy with D-Day anniversary recognition, but Manly will meet with a parliamentary secretary on the subject of the Nanaimo weapons range.
“They’ve heard from me, they know I want to talk to them…” he said. “We’re trying to look for a solution that works for everybody.”