One might be forgiven if the whole story sounds all too familiar.
On the one side stands the Capital Regional District (CRD), trying to develop a new management plan for the Island View Beach Regional Park. The existing plan dates back to 1989 and the CRD maintains that substantial changes in the park boundaries and use patterns have necessitated the update. The new plan, according to the CRD, will present “the vision, goals, direction statements and management objectives and actions for environmental conservation, cultural heritage management, visitor experience and parks operations and development.”
On the other side there is a small but dedicated and highly persistent group of area residents and other park users dubbed The Friends of Island View Beach (FOIVB). Their stated goal is to ensure any new park plan takes into account the actual needs and wishes of park users.
The Friends are suspicious of the CRD, citing past failures to adequately maintain ditches (which at various times led to mosquito infestations) and pointing to what they call deliberate misstatements and serious flaws in the CRD’s consultation processes.
It’s a battle that last came to a head in 2013 when the CRD responded to critics and was moved to withdraw a draft management plan for the park and return for further study and public consultation.
Now the CRD is back with a new approach in 2015.
If their reception at the Jan. 26 meeting of Central Saanich’s Parks and Recreation Committee is any indication, they have a tough time ahead. (See related story on this page)
That presentation was followed by a delegation from the Friends of Island View Beach, claiming there were serious misstatements within the CRD’s presentation.
“They (the CRD) have known since January 14 that we had serious concerns about the material they had posted on their website,” said Jason Austin, a spokesperson for FOIVB, “We sent two e-mails to staff on the 14th and another to CRD directors on January 19, begging them to check their facts before proceeding but they just ignored us.”
The Friends also voiced their concerns at the Jan. 21 meeting of the CRD’s Regional Parks Committee.
“We were allotted four minutes to state our case, but they basically ignored us ... questioning our expertise,” said Austin.
According to Mike Walton, the CRD’s Senior Manager for Regional Parks, there is no intent to provide false information and no hidden agenda driving the current process.
“I’m confident in the information that we have ... our intent at this point is to simply share the information on what the science is telling us,” he said. “We have a four step process that is going to invite a lot of public input and we expect a robust conversation around these points.”
When asked about demonstrably inaccurate information within the CRD presentation (for example they list the average width of the ditches in the park as three times their actual width and have changed the dates on some archival photographs) Walton said that the public process would catch and correct any actual mistakes in the information.
“I’m not prepared to say that this is a mea culpa situation yet,” said Walton. “If we’ve made mistakes, we’ll own up to them after the public input is complete.”
“It’s all very frustrating,” said Dr. Barbara Powell, another member of the Friends of Island View Beach.
“If you look at their so-called factual and scientific information, they list 33 species at risk within the park. But 11 of those are migratory marine birds that may stop off on the waters near the park but do not live or breed there. Several other species that they list may be endangered in general, but are thriving within the park under the current conditions.”
Powell said that she has little faith in the management plan process.
Central Saanich Mayor, Ryan Windsor, is a little more critical of the problems within the CRD’s information.
“As long as this is an issue for our community’s residents, this is going to be an important issue for council,” he said. “We have to hold the CRD accountable for what they present ... ensure that they’ve done their due diligence. We certainly don’t want a repetition of the mistakes of the past. It’s a new day. Let’s make sure we stay on track.”
As for the Friends of Island View Beach, they intend to stay their own course to protect the park and its users from change that isn’t what those users want, they say, and not what the park needs.
“It sometimes feels as though they (the CRD) are trying to wear us down through sheer fatigue,” said Austin. “But we love this park and we’re not going away.”
The next step in the CRD’s process is a series of public meetings to be held in Victoria and at the Saanich fairground. Details can be found at crd.bc.ca. Information about the Friends of Island View Beach can be found at www.friendsofislandviewbeach.com.
— Tim Collins/Contributor