After being sent back to regroup following an unsuccessful and contentious effort in 2013 to introduce a new management plan for Island View Beach, the CRD is now back, forging ahead on the development of a new plan. On February 5, they completed the first step in that process but once again the effort is not without its critics.
The process, as mapped out by CRD staff, listed the first step in the development of a management plan as providing factual, scientific information about the park’s natural environment by way of their web site and through three public meetings. The last of those meetings took place at the Saanich Fairgrounds on Feb. 5 and was attended by a collection of about 70 interested residents, academics and CRD staff. Previous meetings had been held at the Leonardo da Vinci Centre in Victoria, and at Heritage Park.
The last two of those meetings were attended by representatives of a group called the Friends of Island View Beach (FIVB), a group that has consistently criticized the information being presented by the CRD as being inaccurate and misleading. Jason Austin of FIVB maintains that his efforts to present a power point presentation that specifically challenged the CRD’s information were met with what Austin has called stonewalling by the people running the meeting.
“The first time I tried to give my point of view, the people running the meeting gave me five minutes at the end of the meeting, and then cut me off saying that they had to pack up the hall,” said Austin. “At the last meeting I wanted to present my information, and I was essentially shouted down by one of the academics that is associated with the CRD and has provided them with information that I was going to challenge.”
Mike Walton, the CRD’s Senior Park Manager, disputes that characterization of the meetings.
“I thought that the meetings went very well,” said Walton. “The goal wasn’t for people just to talk to us, but to each other … to share their points of view… and I think we achieved that.”
When asked about statements posted by FIVB both at the meetings and on the FIVB web site that accused the CRD of distributing “misleading environmental information” and being guilty of a “breach of their duty … to the public”, Todd Golumbia, one of the CRD’s chief architects of the new process, defended the information in an interview.
“I stand by the information that we presented,” said Golumbia. “I’ve reviewed all of the information that is available … consulted with experts in the field … and we’ve listened to some of the concerns expressed by people attending the meeting and gone back and reviewed the information. I’m confident that, as much as is possible, we’ve got it right. These are very complex issues and there is a lot of information out there.”
Walton also stands by the information that was presented but acknowledges that the process inflames the people’s passions regarding the way that park land should be managed.
“We have a responsibility as stewards of the land,” said Walton. “But I’ll be the first to acknowledge that parks are for people … as well as protected species.”
“It’s a socio-ecological system — people and environment — and it’s our job to bring them together.”
Walton acknowledges that the process can be difficult for all sides and points of view.
“We have to look for common ground, elevate the value of each other’s expectations …” said Walton. “We’re going to have some difficult conversations. Some people may have to think hard about the values of some things that they have never thought about and we have to challenge ourselves.”
According to Susan Brice, the Chair of the CRD’s Regional Parks Board, the enmity and mistrust between some area residents and the CRD are apparent.
“I think that a lot of it goes back a few years when something called the Cordova Strategy was brought forward. That wasn’t a CRD document, but some people saw it as a planned strategy to fundamentally change the way the park operates,” said Brice. “It’s hard to un-ring that bell, but it’s time to move forward.”
Brice said it’s important that people realize that it will be elected representatives who decide how the park is used.
“It’s been a multi-use park for decades and as far as I’m concerned it’s going to stay that way,” said Brice. “We’re going to manage the ditches, control mosquitoes and people will be allowed to enjoy the park. I’m willing to let this process play out.”
The next steps in that process involve the CRD’s gathering of information in small meetings with a variety of stakeholders, setting up round table discussion sessions and presenting a draft management plan to another set of public meetings in the hopes of getting feedback from the public.
Austin said he is unimpressed.
“The process has started off flawed. I only hope that it gets better.”
— Tim Collins/Contributor