Chemainus River Campground owners John Wyatt (back) and Jeri Wyatt (front) have been backed by former MLA Bill Routley (middle) in their pitch to remain open as a campground. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Island campground on the chopping block as ALC deadline looms

Owners fighting to continue facility’s operation, with a huge outpouring of support

North Cowichan council is putting its full-fledged support behind the owners of the Chemainus River Campground who face a deadline from the Agricultural Land Commission at the end of the month for the property to cease being a campground and revert back to agricultural status.

So is Bill Routley, a former MLA and longtime friend of owners John and Jeri Wyatt, who wants to see what he calls an “injustice” corrected.

So are countless campground patrons numbering more than 1,000 who’ve signed a petition since August – not to mention countless others who’ve called or emailed to voice their displeasure with the decision.

This all started when the Wyatts made an application to expand the number of sites at the popular campground and the ALC seemed bewildered by its operation outside of pure agricultural use.

North Cowichan council passed a motion at its Sept. 4 meeting to direct staff to submit a notice to the ALC under Section 29 of the ALC Act to exclude the Chemainus River Campground lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In addition, Mayor Al Siebring was authorized to write the Minister of Agriculture, with copies to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, to cite three main concerns.

The letter will emphasize shutting down the campground would result in a loss of temporary and permanent housing which is unreasonable given the current housing crisis; the land was forested and never previously used for agriculture purposes; and the existing water licence, which permits 1,000 gallons a day from the Chemainus River for domestic use, would not support agriculture use without a substantial increase to the water licence to accommodate agriculture use during the growing season and that resource is obviously severely tapped.

Siebring will also attempt to arrange meetings with provincial representatives at the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities convention, but time is clearly of the essence for the Wyatts.

“It never had agricultural capacity,” noted Siebring of the land.

The Wyatts could be fined up to $100,000 if they don’t comply by Oct. 1.

“North Cowichan has really stepped up,” said Jeri Wyatt. “I’ve never felt to so much confidence in them as I do now.”

Routley has long been a proponent of the Agricultural Land Reserve’s preservation of land for its intended use, but can’t see the logic in this case. He appeared as a delegation on the Wyatts’ behalf at the council meeting.

“The land is primarily forest land,” Routley said. “It was never, ever farmland. This was a forest. The best soil on the site is growing 50- to 80-year-old trees.

“Two-thirds of the property is very poor soil,” added John Wyatt.

“I’m frustrated they somehow got caught in this bureaucratic mess from way back when,” said Routley. “There’s got to be some kind of process failure that led to this.”

When the Wyatts bought the nine-hectare property, it was agricultural land zoned for a campground.

“They bought it specifically because of what the campground-approved zoning offered them,” noted Routley.

“We did this for our retirement,” said Jeri.

“In one full swipe, we could lose the whole darn thing. I hope the ALC will take a better look at this and do what’s right.”

“I’m confident the local government gets it,” said Routley. “They’re going to show the ALC the issues.

“This is quite a horrendous situation in my view. I hate seeing Jeri and John put through the stress they are in this situation.”

“We don’t have any trouble here and we meet so many people from all over the world,” noted Jeri.

“We treat everybody the same,” said John. “We treat them as what we would like to be treated.”

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Concern is growing from left, for Jeri Wyatt, Bill Routley and John Wyatt, as an Oct. 1 deadline imposed by the Agricultural Land Commission looms for the Chemainus River Campground to cease operation as a campground. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Chemainus River Campground site map is displayed by John and Jeri Wyatt. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Poor soil quality at the Chemainus River Campgrounds site is evident in this Madrone Environmental Services map. (Photo by Don Bodger)

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