Saanich North and the Islands BC Liberal candidate Stephen Roberts. (Steven Heywood/News staff)

Candidate’s Salt Spring Island pool plan panned

Saanich North and the Islands candidate Roberts says he respects First Nations, consulted with them

The BC Liberal candidate in Saanich North and the Islands is finding himself in the deep end of a swimming pool project he’d planned for his own property on Salt Spring Island.

Three residents on Salt Spring Island, in a letter this week to the Peninsula News Review, stated candiate Stephen Roberts had planned to build a swimming pool and ancillary structures “outside a significant registered archaeological site.”

In the letter, Donna Martin, Phil Vernon and Jean Wilkinson allege Roberts “proposes to build atop this recorded cultural site rather than adjust the footprint of his swimming pool development.” They likened that proposal to that of a developer on Grace Islet, whose house construaction plan in 2015 on a culturally-signicicant site angered First Nations and led to the province buying the property in order to protect it.

Roberts responded, saying the project was suspended in May 2016 after archaeologists with the province reccommended changes to his plans and suspended a permit application. Roberts said he hasn’t pursed the project since then, noting he’s had other priorities — namely running in this year’s B.C. election.

As well, Roberts said once the archaeologists’ reports came in to him, he met with members of the local First Nation and others on his property to discuss their interests and concerns.

“I had shelved the project away,” Roberts said, “and told the contractor to stop as it was becoming quite complicated.”

The authors of the letter to the PNR also forwarded an email dated May 17, 2016 from Gary Brewer, a project officer with the B.C. Archaeology Branch. In it, Brewer wrote that “subsequent to the on-site meeting of Friday, May 13, 2016” … “it appears that the potential for significant impacts … are much greater than anticipated. Rather than impact (sic) the site further through additional archaeological testing we have suspended the permit and requested a meeting with the permit holder …”

Roberts said he hadn’t paid the pool any mind until a provincial archaeologist sought to renew a permit to continue investigating the project late in 2016, which meant there had to be a consultation period with First Nations. He said he’d gone through two consultations in 2016 with only one response from First Nations.

“I want to be respectful of First Nations rights,” Roberts said.

He added the Archaeological Branch had reccommended in July 2015 to move the pool and mitigate ground distrubance as much as possible and he had no issue with doing that. Roberts added that like any homeowner making a building permit application, he followed the rules and relied on advice from the experts.

“We believe it is time our province did a better job of protecting the preserving indigenous cultiural sites, rather than permitting ther destruction,” stated the complainants’ letter.

Roberts didn’t disagree. He said areas of cultural significance are not on land titles and only come up when homeowners seek building permits — he said they should be. He added there may be maps of stretches of coastline that are within those areas, but they are not readily available.

Roberts said he has no immediate plans to build his swimming pool. If he does, he said, he’d consult with First Nations and the experts to ensure anything found during construction is treated with respect.

A call made to Chief William Seymour of the Cowichan Tribes was not immediately returned.

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