Park plan faces protest

Mistrust brewing between residents and CRD over Island View Park document

Jason Austin

By Tim Collins/Contributor

A new course for Island View Beach Regional Park will soon be charted amidst a storm of conflicting opinions and brewing mistrust.

At issue is a document entitled the Draft Interim Park Management Plan for Island View Beach Regional Park. The plan was prepared by Capital Regional District (CRD) staff and is slated for presentation to the Regional Parks Committee. The CRD is still deciding whether the plan will be presented on Nov. 20 or at a date yet to be determined. This course of action is being maintained despite continued protests from critics of the plan and the launching of a website that severely criticizes virtually every aspect of the document.

If passed at the committee level the document will go to the CRD board where, if ratified, it will become the governing document for the park.

Critics of the plan say it will enshrine a legacy of distrust, anger and frustration between the CRD and stakeholders by mapping a future not in the best interests of park users. At the heart of the decades-long conflict is the question of what ideal of the property’s past is the appropriate template for the future.

“We just want them to leave our park alone,” said Jason Austin, the founder of a loose organization of area residents and concerned park users.

His organization, The Friends of Island View Beach, has been actively lobbying for the park to be maintained in the state in which the CRD found it.

Austin maintains the area has been grassland and meadows – agricultural land – for generations. His group argues that the CRD’s vision of the park as a wetland is an artificial construct and the result of the CRD’s environmentalist agenda. They say it’s an agenda brought to life by the CRD’s intentional failure to maintain century old drainage ditches and berms and by allowing the flapper gates that prevent seawater from running backward up the ditches at high tide to fall into disrepair.

“Look at the original 1858 survey documents for this land,” said Austin.

“The land is described as grassland and low rushes. There is no mention of a salt water marsh.”

Austin also pointed to a document dating back to one of the original land owners.

“In 1892, Puckle described it as 30 acres of good land. They grew oats here … vegetables. This was never what the CRD wants it to be now.”

Lynn Wilson, Senior Park Planner and CRD spokesperson acknowledges there was an “agricultural overlay” imposed upon the property over the past 150 years, but suggests that isn’t the natural state of the property.

“If you wanted that kind of landscape, perhaps it should have been kept in private ownership,” said Wilson. “But that isn’t the history of land acquisition.”

So what is the CRD’s plan for the property?

Critics maintain that it’s difficult to pin down.

The plan, coupled with the CRD’s record in the park since 1989, seems to indicate a predilection toward allowing the property to become a wetland. Despite a legal requirement to maintain the historic drainage ditches on the property (set out in a 1989 bylaw) the CRD failed to do so for over 20 years, despite repeated requests from area residents and Central Saanich district council. This resulted in what Vernon Michell called mosquito plague. Michell is an area resident whose family history on the land goes back over a hundred years,

When asked for an explanation of this failure to adhere to the bylaw, Wilson was uncertain.

“Maybe there hadn’t been a memory of that commitment,” said Wilson.

When reminded of correspondence and two petitions that would presumably have refreshed the CRD memory of their commitment, Wilson responded, “it wasn’t a priority for us, the way we understood the park was as a coastal wetland. We saw it was a natural area where drainage wasn’t part of the mix.”

That understanding of the park’s natural state is supported within the proposed plan. It says: “The vegetation communities in the coastal wetland have been impacted by the presence of the coastal berm and drainage ditches.”  It also states: “Within the park, the extensive system of drainage ditches has also contributed to changes to the wetland’s soil and vegetation composition.”

“This land wants to be wet,” said Wilson.

Yet the plan doesn’t specifically state that the ditches will be abandoned.

“We have policy direction from the parks committee to maintain ditches and the berms and we are now maintaining the ditches,” said Wilson. “We have not called for the ditches to be filled in within the plan.”

Wilson acknowledges environmental concerns are reflected within the plan that could lead people to believe that the CRD plans to allow the land to become a wetland. As well, there are aspects of the plan that allow that course of action. The plan calls for a continued study of what the CRD describes as the “natural ecosystem” and the ability to change the plan in lieu of such studies.

“It’s what’s called adaptive management, if you get new information you may change management approach,” said Wilson. “We would still have to go back to the Parks Board to do that.”

“I’ve read and re-read the plan,” said Austin. “There’s nothing in it that requires that sort of approval.”

And some area residents are distrustful of the CRD’s goals in the park.

“There’s a hidden agenda and no one really knows what it is, but there’s an obvious ecological slant,” said Dan Van Stolk, an area resident not affiliated with Austin’s group.

The mistrust between the CRD and some park users and area residents has resulted in the Friends of Island View Beach mounting their own public information strategy. They’ve posted a web site (www.friendsofislandviewbeach.com) and have hosted independent information sessions at the park.

Wilson said these actions are nothing more than fear mongering — the efforts of a few people to influence the future of the park.

According to Mark Hawkes, the president of Citizen Canine, the solution lies in better communication.

“They need to stop talking about each other and start talking to each other,” said Hawkes.

His group of dog owners was formed 11 years ago to present a united voice to confront what Hawkes said was a heavy-handed CRD approach to dogs in regional parks.

“Years ago, we taught the CRD that they can’t just ignore dog owners,” said Hawkes, adding through respectful consultation his group has managed to make some inroads into the “us and them” mentality that sometimes develops in issues of this kind.

His group has consulted with the CRD and he has a much more robust confidence that their needs will be respected in any park plan.

But Austin maintains there have been no opportunities for his group and others to establish this sort of communication.

“The public meeting they (the CRD) had in January was an absolute disgrace,” said Austin. “Much of the information they presented they knew to be wrong and there was no chance for us to refute anything they said or to educate others.”

The CRD eschews the critics’ call for further consultation.

“We have a report prepared by Elevate Consulting that summarizes all of the public input,” said Wilson. “We had a very successful online survey of park users and several information sessions during the preparation of the plan. All that information will be presented to the Parks Board (of the CRD).” In all 77 survey responses were obtained.

Wilson said the “town hall sort of meeting” called for by critics of the plan would serve no useful purpose.

The proposed plan for Island View Beach is available at www.crd.bc.ca/parks/islandview/documents/2013-IVBDraftInterimPlan

“The land is described as grassland and low rushes. There is no mention of a salt water marsh.”

Austin also pointed to a document dating back to one of the original land owners.

“In 1892, Puckle described it as 30 acres of good land. They grew oats here … vegetables. This was never what the CRD wants it to be now.”

Lynn Wilson, Senior Park Planner and CRD spokesperson acknowledges there was an “agricultural overlay” imposed upon the property over the past 150 years, but suggests that isn’t the natural state of the property.

“If you wanted that kind of landscape, perhaps it should have been kept in private ownership,” said Wilson. “But that isn’t the history of land acquisition.”

So what is the CRD’s plan for the property?

Critics maintain that it’s difficult to pin down.

The plan, coupled with the CRD’s record in the park since 1989, seems to indicate a predilection toward allowing the property to become a wetland. Despite a legal requirement to maintain the historic drainage ditches on the property (set out in a 1989 bylaw) the CRD failed to do so for over 20 years, despite repeated requests from area residents and Central Saanich district council. This resulted in what Vernon Michell called a mosquito plague. Michell is an area resident whose family history on the land goes back over one hundred years,

When asked for an explanation of this failure to adhere to the bylaw, Wilson was uncertain.

“Maybe there hadn’t been a memory of that commitment,” said Wilson.

When reminded of correspondence and two petitions that would presumably have refreshed the CRD memory of their commitment, Wilson responded, “it wasn’t a priority for us, the way we understood the park was as a coastal wetland. We saw it was a natural area where drainage wasn’t part of the mix.”

That understanding of the park’s natural state is supported within the proposed plan. It says: “The vegetation communities in the coastal wetland have been impacted by the presence of the coastal berm and drainage ditches.” It also states: “Within the park, the extensive system of drainage ditches has also contributed to changes to the wetland’s soil and vegetation composition.”

“This land wants to be wet,” said Wilson.

Yet the plan doesn’t specifically state that the ditches will be abandoned.

“We have policy direction from the parks committee to maintain ditches and the berms and we are now maintaining the ditches,” said Wilson. “We have not called for the ditches to be filled in within the plan.”

Wilson acknowledges environmental concerns are reflected within the plan that could lead people to believe that the CRD plans to allow the land to become a wetland. As well, there are aspects of the plan that allow that course of action. The plan calls for a continued study of what the CRD describes as the “natural ecosystem” and the ability to change the plan in lieu of such studies.

“It’s what’s called adaptive management, if you get new information you may change management approach,” said Wilson. “We would still have to go back to the Parks Board to do that.”

“I’ve read and re-read the plan,” said Austin. “There’s nothing in it that requires that sort of approval.”

And some area residents are distrustful of the CRD’s goals in the park.

“There’s a hidden agenda and no one really knows what it is, but there’s an obvious ecological slant,” said Dan Van Stolk, an area resident not affiliated with Austin’s group.

The mistrust between the CRD and some park users and area residents has resulted in the Friends of Island View Beach mounting their own public information strategy. They’ve posted a web site (www.friendsofislandviewbeach.com) and have hosted independent information sessions at the park.

Wilson said these actions are nothing more than fear mongering — the efforts of a few people to influence the future of the park.

According to Mark Hawkes, the president of Citizen Canine, the solution lies in better communication.

“They need to stop talking about each other and start talking to each other,” said Hawkes.

His group of dog owners was formed 11 years ago to present a united voice to confront what Hawkes said was a heavy-handed CRD approach to dogs in regional parks.

“Years ago, we taught the CRD that they can’t just ignore dog owners,” said Hawkes, adding through respectful consultation his group has managed to make some inroads into the “us and them” mentality that sometimes develops in issues of this kind.

His group has consulted with the CRD and he has a much more robust confidence that their needs will be respected in any park plan.

But Austin maintains there have been no opportunities for his group and others to establish this sort of communication.

“The public meeting they (the CRD) had in January was an absolute disgrace,” said Austin. “Much of the information they presented they knew to be wrong and there was no chance for us to refute anything they said or to educate others.”

The CRD eschews the critics’ call for further consultation.

“We have a report prepared by Elevate Consulting that summarizes all of the public input,” said Wilson. “We had a very successful online survey of park users and several information sessions during the preparation of the plan. All that information will be presented to the Parks Board (of the CRD).”

In all, 77 survey responses were obtained.

Wilson said the “town hall sort of meeting” called for by critics of the plan would serve no useful purpose.