“This isn’t a done deal.”
That statement by Mike Walton at the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) first public meeting regarding Island View Beach went a long way to characterizing the situation in which the CRD finds itself in their latest attempt to develop and shepherd through a new management plan for Island View Beach Regional Park.
That meeting, held at the Leonardo da Vinci Centre in Victoria on Jan. 28, attracted about 25 interested people and gave CRD staff the opportunity to present what they have called the scientific facts regarding the park.
The CRD’s last attempt at this process came to an abrupt halt in May of 2013 when they were sent back to their desks by the CRD Regional Parks Committee Board to regroup and bring forward a plan based on “factual, technical and scientific information about the natural environment found in the park.”
The credit for that move was claimed by a group called The Friends of Island View Beach (FIVB); a group that has consistently challenged the veracity of much of the information put forward by CRD staff in 2013. At the time, they claimed the regional government had a predetermined agenda to fundamentally change the way that the park is used.
No representation of the FIVB was present at the Jan. 28 public meeting.
“We called for the postponement of the public meetings because, again, we have caught CRD staff presenting information to the public that supports their position but that isn’t accurate or scientific,” said Jason Austin, the spokesperson for FIVB.
“Their presentation is incomplete, ridden with mistakes, half truths and pure fabrication and with what appears to be a deliberate intent to deceive the public as to the number of species at risk in the park.”
Austin called the decision to proceed with the meetings despite the demonstrated inaccuracies in the information being presented as “irresponsible and arrogant.”
“We’re on the outside looking in again, and the CRD staff are not listening to what we have to say,” said Austin. “They are simply not telling the truth.”
“It’s very difficult to deal with people who send you an e-mail calling you a liar,” said Walton when asked why the FIVB have not earned a more active role in this renewed planning process.
“And at any rate, the FIVB are just one of the many stakeholders. We’re not going to give anyone a privileged level of influence in this process.”
Walton did not identify any other organized stakeholders, speaking instead of meeting people who live in the neighbourhood of the park. He further maintained the CRD has a responsibility to act as stewards of the land and that it will always be difficult to balance that responsibility with allowing public use of park lands.
Species at risk?
The presentation of the CRD staff at the public meeting seemed to recognize that responsibility by speaking about the species at risk at Island View Beach, but Austin maintained it was a cynical bit of theatre, again supplying information that is not factual, he said.
“They use the terms Island View Beach and Island View Beach Regional Park as meaning the same thing,” said Austin. “They clearly aren’t.”
“Island View Beach extends far beyond the park’s boundaries and what happens in the park may have no impact on those other areas.”
Austin said that he raised this issue in a Jan. 14 email to Walton, pointing out the presentation material implied a gross overestimation of species at risk within the park and asking that presentation materials be changed to reflect only what was happening in the park, as per the CRD’s 2013 direction.
He said he received no response until Jan. 29 in which Walton acknowledged the following: “Island View Beach” and “Island View Regional Park” are terms we use in our presentation materials. Much of the general information we present applies to both contexts. Regarding your concerns around species at risk (SAR) there are 33 known (SAR) in and around the park. Nine species at risk are known to be resident or breeding in the park.”
Despite that acknowledgment, the presentation materials were not changed and the slide presented at the Jan. 28 meeting public meeting read: “There are 33 confirmed species at risk at Island View Beach.”
“Did the people hearing that presentation know that they were being told about a much larger region?” asked Austin. “I’d bet that very few of them realized that the true number of species at risk in the park had just been inflated by over 300 per cent.”
Other issues in play
But the species at risk within the park were not the only issues raised at the public meeting. Much of the presentation dealt with the long standing controversy regarding the ditches within the park. Originally constructed around 1936, the ditches have served to drain surface water and help to alleviate the mosquito infestations that have plagued the area.
“Actually, as you can see,” said Todd Golumbia, the CRD’s Environmental Conservation Specialist, “the ditches don’t actually drain (the land) that well.”
He told the public meeting mosquitoes actually may be breeding in the ditches.
The statements infuriate Austin and his members.
“Anything CRD staff say about the ditches has to be taken with a grain of salt. Since before 2010, CRD park staff were advocating filling in the ditches and breaching the sea wall to flood the park.”
Under the existing park bylaw CRD Parks staff have the duty to maintain the ditches and keep them clear of debris.
“They ignored that duty for over 20 years despite frequent calls to do so, including from Central Saanich,” said Austin.
Another concern of the FIVB involves climate change and rising sea levels.
Although the public presentation did address sea levels on a general level, no specific climate change forecasts were presented. When asked about climate change and rising sea levels and what could be done to protect the park, Golumbia said, “Well, we’re not going to stop that … maybe we don’t want to stop it.”
Independent assessment needed
Austin maintains that the CRD staff has lost the confidence of the public and the Central Saanich municipal council, which has asked that the CRD verify its information or get a third party to do so.
“It’s for that reason that my group have been calling for two years for an independent environmental assessment of the park,” said Austin. “This will provide guidance, and show if there are species at risk in the park that need protection, and what the protection might be.”
“In the meantime,” said Austin, “this process should be put on hold.
Further public meetings are still scheduled with no changes to the information being presented. Dates and times are available at www.crd.bc.ca.
– by Tim Collins/Contributor