Jim Dias, as a the former CAO of North Cowichan, remembers an even more packed public meeting more than 20 years ago. (Citizen file)

Hearing brings memories of largest meeting turnout N. Cowichan has ever seen

Tuesday night’s huge turnout for a controversial public hearing was rare but not unprecedented.

Tuesday night’s huge turnout for a controversial public hearing was rare but not unprecedented.

In fact, it wasn’t even the largest gathering for a North Cowichan public meeting.

About 25 years ago — former North Cowichan chief administrative officer Jim Dias believes it was 1996 or 1997 — the theatre hall was rented for a public information meeting.

The issue, recalls Dias, who served the municipality for 36 years before retiring in 2010, was a proposed gas fired generation system for BC Hydro.

“The place was packed, there had to be over 700 people,” Dias says of the meeting that was presided over by then-mayor Rex Hollett. Other members of council included former mayors Tom Walker and Anne Murray and Coun. Glen Ridgway.

The plant was to be built in the South End Industrial Park that had been created following the municipality’s successful application to have more than 200 acres removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve. The site is close to where Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit’s facility is now located on Highway 18.

Dias says the meeting was not as structured as Tuesday’s public hearing during which Mayor Al Siebring kept a restless and anxious audience on their best behaviour…most of the time.

“Back in the day, things weren’t quite as tightly controlled. There wasn’t a speakers’ list. We followed general rules and there was some decorum,” Dias says.

“And there was nothing on social media in the morning,” he laughs. “Social media was the newspapers.”

Tom Walker, also recalls the meeting and the seemingly endless lineup of speakers.

“What I remember is that there wasn’t one single person in favour of the project,” said Walker as he selected a seat for the VIMC public hearing on Tuesday night.

The gas plant idea died before it got off the ground.

Jim Dias retired from North Cowichan in 2010 after 36 years, working his way up to the position of chief administrative officer in 1991.

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