Ben Maartman, left, and Murray McNab are running for regional director for North Oyster-Diamond in the Cowichan Valley Regional District byelection. (Photos submitted)

Ben Maartman, left, and Murray McNab are running for regional director for North Oyster-Diamond in the Cowichan Valley Regional District byelection. (Photos submitted)

Candidates share their vision for the future of Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Area H

Ben Maartman and Murray McNab debated their ideas for Area H during a candidates forum hosted by YES

The Yellow Point Ecological Society hosted a candidates forum between Cowichan Valley Regional District Area H director candidates Murray McNab and Ben Maartman, on Nov. 16.

RELATED: Ben Maartman and Murray McNab run for CVRD directorship in Area H By-Election

Approximately 34 people tuned in to the forum held via Zoom. The candidates fielded 12 questions from the public on a range of issues effecting Area H.

Yellow Point Meadows development sparks disagreement

The biggest point of contention between the candidates came during discussion of the Yellow Point Meadows development.

Yellow Point Meadows is on the land of the Old Rice Farm. Frank Rice Sr. and Agnes Rice purchased the 141 acre farm in 1932. It was owned by one generation before it was sold to Yellow Point Ventures in 2006.

Yellow Point Ventures has subdivided the 141 acres into a series of smaller lots. The entire area remains in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and the minimum lot size allowed on ALR land is five acres. The Agricultural Land Commission pointed out several pieces of land to be kept as 10 acres. There are two other pieces kept at 12, and 18 acres.

McNab is president and 10 per cent owner of Yellow Point Ventures. On his website, McNab has stated that if he is elected Area H director, he will step down from his position with Yellow Point Ventures. He said he will declare a conflict of interest if and when any issues regarding the subject property on Yellow Point Road and Viola Lane are brought to CVRD attention.

Maartman criticized the development, saying that it was a “prime example” of a development to make money. He also pointed to concerns around water security, and argued that the land does not have the necessary water supply for farming.

“When you go on the B.C. registry for wells, you can see the wells on this property range from zero gallons per minute, to a couple of point five gallons per minute, up to a max of four gallons per minute. These properties are never going to get farmed. They don’t have the water needed to sustain a residence.”

McNab pushed back, disputing the figures, and saying that the land will be productive.

“The facts and figures on the well production aren’t correct,” he said. “Every well there — to be approved by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure — has to have over half a gallon per minute. I myself live on a five acre piece that has a well that produces less than a gallon a minute, and we do very well with two residences.”

McNab said that residents of Yellow Point Meadows would have to store surface water. He contended that Yellow Point Meadows has “lots of water” for both irrigation and residences.

“It will produce much more when all these small farms are operational than it has in the last 30 years as a large piece,” McNab said.

But Maartman continued to reference the data from the B.C. registry of wells, and maintained that the land is not suitable for farming.

“That’s the data, that’s the evidence. It’s what’s written on the registry. It’s very little water for residents. You are not going to farm those properties.”

Later on in the forum, McNab was asked how he would represent the interests of Area H on CVRD decisions around Yellow Point Meadows if he recused himself from those discussions.

McNab said he could handle the conflict properly, and added that it would only be if issues of rezoning occurred that the CVRD would have to make a decision on the land.

“If something isn’t being rezoned, then it’s something that has been agreed upon under the OCP, and it can go forward. I would be against things being rezoned to allow for more density,” McNab said.

He also highlighted the need for an Area H Advisory Planning Committee to guide the decisions of the Area H director at the CVRD board table.

“We’ve seen in the past where an APC has made a decision, and the director somehow gets confused between here and Duncan, and votes the other way. That should never happen. That’s why we have an APC, and the director must bring that recommendation to the board.”

Maartman slammed McNab for having a conflict of interest, and said that potential conflicts need to be closely monitored.

“If there’s a discussion of a water line going down Yellow Point Road, it’s in your benefit to have that happen, because you have properties from zero gallons per minute — as recorded — on these properties that you say are still in the ALR and are going to produce more.”

Updating Official Community Plan

The CVRD is in the midst of harmonizing all existing electoral area community plans into once official community plan for the electoral areas. They are looking to modernize the harmonized OCP to address regional trends. However, there will be some area specific pieces of the OCP.

McNab hopes to see action on specific issues for Area H like allowing lots to be subdivided between family members, and increasing the size of secondary dwellings. This would allow family members to care for aging parents who live on those properties, and keep them out of the health care system. He said that in a post-COVID environment he would host town halls and seek input from Area H residents about what they would like to see in an updated OCP.

Maartman said that the OCP was one of the most critical pieces for the director over the next two years. He said he would prioritize parts of Area H that needed to be protected, while balancing the need for new developments. He referenced Yellow Point Meadows as a development that could be addressed in an OCP.

Relationship with Stz’uminus First Nation a priority

Maartman had the opportunity to meet with Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris to discuss their shared vision for the area. He said that they shared priorities around protecting the community, increasing communications, water security, and keeping taxes low. They also shared synergies around the lack of transit service for Oyster Bay.

RELATED: Roxanne Harris elected Chief for Stz’uminus First Nation

McNab said he has a long history of working with Stz’uminus First Nation, and that he understands the issues faced by Stz’uminus are also issues faced by Area H. He said that there would be many benefits for Stz’uminus, Area H — and the CVRD in general — by working together more closely on shared issues.

Agreement on water security, housing affordability, and transit

When it came to other big issues facing Area H, the candidates were largely in agreement.

Both candidates identified water security as the biggest long term issue facing Area H. The main source of water for Area H is the fractured rock aquifer that sits under the Nanaimo Airport.

Area H residents were deeply concerned by the potential for ground water contamination after the recent fire at Schnitzer Steel. Island Health found that there was no contamination from the fire. Both candidates advocated for Schnitzer’s operation to be reduced in size, or moved out of the area completely.

RELATED: After testing, Island Health deems water safe around industrial fire site

Another area of agreement was around housing affordability in Area H, although the candidates presented different ideas of how to achieve that.

Maartman said that as area director he would leverage provincial and federal funding for affordable housing initiatives to be spent within Area H.

McNab said that under a new OCP, allowing for lots to be subdivided for family members, and increasing the square footage of secondary residences on those lots, would give more people the opportunity for affordable housing in the area.

An ongoing issue for Area H residents is the lack of transit services between their area and the regional district of Nanaimo. Both candidates noted that a transit link between the CVRD and the RDN makes “connective sense”, and that far more residents of Area H want to go to Nanaimo than Duncan.

Candidates promise to increase communication

Both candidates committed to setting up a website for Area H residents where they would communicate what actions were being taken at the CVRD board. They also talked about using social media, and newsletters.

McNab suggested having two annual town hall meetings at different locations in Area H once the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Where and when to vote

Due to COVID-19, all eligible voters in Area H may choose to vote by mail. Voters must apply for a mail ballot through the CVRD website or make arrangements by contacting the Mail Ballot Presiding Election Official directly at 250-746-2508, or by email at shannon.carlow@cvrd.bc.ca.

All vote by mail ballots must be received by the Chief Election Officer by 8 p.m. on Nov. 28. Canada Post cannot guarantee delivery times, so those voting by mail should allow extra time for their ballots to be delivered.

Advance voting days will be held Wednesday, Nov. 18 and Tuesday, Nov. 24 at the MicroTel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Oyster Bay, 12570 Trans Canada Hwy.

General voting day will be Saturday, Nov. 28, and voting will take place at North Oyster Elementary School, 13270 Cedar Rd.

Area H includes residents living in the Diamond Improvement District, Yellow Point, Oyster Bay Reserve No. 12 and Chemainus Reserve No. 13.

Municipal election

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