CRD ignoring citizen concerns on Island View Beach, advocates say

A long-standing controversy regarding one of the Capital Regional District’s most popular parks shows no sign of abating.

A long-standing controversy regarding one of the Capital Regional District’s most popular parks shows no sign of abating.

The issue goes back to 2011, when the CRD was called to task for failing to meet its responsibilities for cleaning drainage ditches  at the park. The ditches help control infestations of mosquitoes — something that has plagued the area over the years.

In 2013, a new CRD “interim management plan” was proposed by staff. The plan caught the attention of the park’s most vocal proponents, The Friends of Island View Beach (FOIVB).

“The information that they presented at that time was … designed to advance their own agenda with little regard to what the people using the park actually wanted,” said Jason Austin, president of the FOIVB. “That basic approach hasn’t changed to this day.”

Concerns raised by the FOIVB at the time centered upon the belief the CRD wanted to abandon the berms and ditches that helped the property to stay dry (and mosquito free).

In 2013, Lynn Wilson, a CRD park planner who continues to be involved in preparing recommendations regarding the park’s future, told a Black Press reporter that “this park wants to be wet.”

After ongoing criticism of the proposed management plan, the CRD withdrew that plan in 2013.

In May 2014, the CRD obtained approval for a new approach to the process; an approach that would be based upon “factual, technical, and scientific” information that would ensure the public was fully informed and engaged in the process.

However, the public meetings that followed mainly focused on the species at risk within park boundaries. That’s when the troubles began anew for the CRD.

Their initial presentations listed some 30 species at risk within the park  but, after the FOIVB called that number into question, the CRD eventually reduced the number to nine.

Even then, according to Austin, the public presentations continued to inflate the issue of species at risk.

“The fact is we are all concerned about species at risk, but let’s deal with the information on a factual basis,” Austin said. “Policies regarding species at risk should be a shield to protect those living things.”

According to Austin, the CRD seemed to ignore one of its own consultant’s reports (the Fairbanks report) which would have called into question the veracity of even the nine species claimed to be at risk.

“That report read, ‘the report of Fleshy Jaumea is suspect – there is no precise information confirming its presence at Island View Beach and there is little or no suitable habitat within the regional park’, and later said ‘American Glehnia is also known from adjacent lands but neither has been reported from Island View Beach Regional Park’,” said Austin.

The FOIVB hold that, since the information provided by the CRD was not accurate, any public responses based upon that information holds no validity. “You can’t feed people a lot of false information, then take their responses and say ‘this is what the people want’,” said Austin.

Mike Walton, Senior Manager for Regional Parks, disagrees. He said the process followed by the CRD was well executed and completely valid.

“We received 73 completed response forms (from the public) and 462 individual comments,” he said. “I have full confidence in the process to this point.”

However, that confidence wasn’t shared by Central Saanich Council. In January, the CRD made a presentation to council that led to similar questions being raised about the scientific validity of some of the information. A council resolution at that time read, in part, “if the CRD is unable to provide references for the data provided that they commission a study by an independent firm regarding the validity of the facts.” A listing of material was subsequently provided to Central Saanich, but that listing failed to reference subject matter to which it was related, provided no page numbers, and generally failed to meet an accepted standard for reference attribution.

“Yes, we got that listing,” said Mayor Ryan Windsor, “but it really didn’t tell us much. And I don’t believe that they followed up on commissioning an independent study.”

The resource listing provided by the CRD was “useless,” said Austin. “It would be like a student who submits a paper to a professor and, instead of footnoting, points at a stack of books saying ‘I found all my information in there’. They would fail; and so too should the CRD. It’s shameful.”

A final attempt by the FOIVB to discover the source of information used by the CRD came last month with the submission of a Freedom of Information request. The CRD responded with a bill for $1,165 tied to what the CRD claimed was a requirement for extracting over 1,600 pages of material.

“We did not ask for a treatise on these species, only for the records that led to the listing of their so called species at risk,” said Austin. “This is again a deliberate attempt to prevent the facts from coming out.”

Walton stands by the CRD’s position. “I’m confident of the process … it’s been well explained and we’ve accounted for the information that was used.”

For her part, Susan Brice, the chair of the CRD’s Regional Parks Committee, said that while some mistakes may have been made, “it is an ongoing process and I’ll ensure that we address the public to resolve concerns.”