Wednesday’s extended North Cowichan council meeting, held at the Ramada Hotel, was unusual in several aspects.
It was strange to see councilors and staff perched at the front of a hotel ballroom – a move necessitated by the correct prediction that this particular meeting was going to draw a crowd – and there were some other unusual events throughout the long day.
Cannabis shops and forestry were on the agenda along with some usual municipal business but the application from Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit to expand their facility was what most people came for.
Essentially, it was merely a first step in a process, but given the controversy that has surrounded the Circuit over the last two or three years it garnered added importance. A presentation by the Circuit touched on all the hot topics: environmental concerns, economic spinoffs, employment, archaeological significance, and, of course, the big one … noise.
Normally, at this stage, councils opt to move to the next step that involves a public hearing, without a lot of debate.
That’s what eventually happened on Wednesday, but not before Coun. Christopher Justice posed numerous questions about noise, the issue that has outraged many members of the neighbouring community. It was a rather pointless exercise given the admission by the Circuit’s presenter that the sound expert was not available. Other technical questions would have been best saved for the public hearing but were also raised, delaying the vote. Ultimately, council voted unanimously to give second reading and move the process along.
Wisely, council decided to limit public input on the issue to just five speakers who had three minutes to make their point. From a list of 43 hopefuls, the five speakers all expressed support for the Circuit’s expansion.
Not so wise was Mayor Al Siebring’s suggestion that members of the audience stand to indicate their position on the expansion.
This came moments after Siebring admonished some proponents of the Circuit who were making their way to the front of the room to show their support. He scolded them, correctly pointing out that that type of demonstration could be intimidating. The mayor was effectively inviting another type of intimidating public display by having people stand to show what side of the fence they were on.
Not a good idea.