Lake Cowichan council in hot seat on AAPs

Former mayor Jack Peake kicked it off, asking both Mayor Ross Forrest and council’s CVRD representative Bob Day about them.

Mayor Ross Forrest

Mayor Ross Forrest

Although it’s the Cowichan Valley Regional District that is going through the alternative approval process (AAP) for two controversial bylaws at present, three Lake Cowichan residents grilled their town council about the situation at the regular council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Former mayor Jack Peake kicked it off, asking both Mayor Ross Forrest and council’s CVRD representative Bob Day about them.

“We know now that the one about Bylaw 3930 [which dealt with Cowichan watershed concerns] got messed up, and is on hold till the new year, but we still have the flood control one, which is moving forward and requires consideration under the AAP process. Would it not make sense for the council to express their position on this item and then to hold a public meeting for everyone to understand what they are getting into? These AAPs tend to fly over and above most taxpayers and they don’t understand what they’re all about,” he said.

Day replied that the CVRD board had already decided to go ahead with the AAP process and urged Peake to re-read the bylaw.

Peake persisted, saying he expected to hear, either right then or in the future, why the town’s representative had endorsed the step.

They then got into an extended conversation, in which Day explained that there has been a lot of time, money and effort that’s gone in over a number of years getting the idea to this stage.

“This is only part of that process. It’s not an issue that has been going on as you portrayed it. There’s been a lot of conversation… [that] has taken place over eight years with First Nations, local governments, the watershed groups.”

Peake agreed that discussions about raising the Lake Cowichan weir had been around for years, even dating back to when he was mayor.

“However, I’m not convinced that this weir raising issue should be funded by a few of us in the regional district when two of the issues don’t even fall within our domain: fish and the Crofton mill. We seem to be taking on responsibilities for those organizations and places that we have no responsibility for. There’s my issue,” he said.

Peake said he was concerned that the approval process “flies things under the radar when people don’t fully understand what they are going to end up with”.

He said he was concerned that people didn’t read the CVRD’s newspaper ads about the bylaws.

“That’s what bothers me. If everybody is informed, and it goes through, fine and dandy. But make sure everybody is informed about what this thing really says.”

Forrest intervened.

“If I could just step in for a second,” he said. “Coun. Day is our representative on the CVRD board, with the endorsement of council, and he has the right to vote on things there.”

He also said he didn’t see that the town had an obligation to hold public meetings on every subject handled by the CVRD “just so people can gather information. That’s a CVRD responsibility. We realize it affects our taxpayers and that’s why we have somebody who attends those meetings and sits on that board and makes those decisions for this table.”

Then Forrest went further, bluntly telling Peake, “It’s just my view, but I’m not going to have this council have the expense of a public meeting because you’re not happy with what the decision is. I realize you’re not the only one, but it’s up to the public to get themselves informed. There’s a lot of information in the papers. It is not entirely our responsibility to continually inform the people that aren’t happy with it.”

Day then returned to the original subject.

“This whole issue was started to get local control of the watershed a few years back. It’s all part of that process,” he said, then explained that grant money was involved.

“While even to me the timeline of the process doesn’t make sense, grants don’t always line up to what regional districts are thinking about doing so if we’re successful in getting a grant and bringing partners together to put funds together to raise and operate a weir and to continue to do that, there has to be a [regional] function to tax or to put those funds into to spend money,” he said.

In flood management, there has to be a regional function created to maintain and keep the dikes working properly. Otherwise the funds for their maintenance would just come out of general government, Day explained.

“It’s not fair, in my opinion, that people that live and operate in other watersheds should be paying for things that go on in our watershed. They can deal with their own issues when they have them. We need to deal with ours. And when it comes to fish, that’s part of local control of our watershed, in my opinion,” he said.

“Fish should be the first thing on the agenda. It’s like sending the canary down into the coal mines. If we don’t have fish are we sustainable? I’d say we’re heading down the road to not being sustainable.

“This is part of the process that is going to get us the local watershed control instead of having people at the provincial level making those decisions. And we’ll still be in partnerships with them, still be partners with DFO. We’d still be under the same initiatives. We’re not going to be catching all the salmon on our own dime and doing those kinds of things. All that’s been considered, talked about. That’s why I was able to endorse this,” he continued.

Lake Cowichan resident Hubert Crevels was concerned that Day might be confusing the two bylaws but Day was ready for that.

“My short answer to that: we’re all part of this watershed. What goes on up at those hillsides up there, with logging and everything, has a direct effect on what happens down at the bottom of the watershed. Just like building Cowichan Commons, that perhaps doesn’t have proper drainage.

“When you destroy natural habitat, take away it’s ability to absorb the water and it goes shooting down to the bottom of the hill you’re going to have flooding. We’re part of that situation. That’s why I voted to endorse that bylaw separately as well. I didn’t confuse the two,” he said.

Lake Cowichan resident Randy Miles then asked, “So we’re maintaining the dike down there? And, when Honeymoon Bay Resort floods out they’re going to contribute to dike it, or to whatever needs to be dredged?”

Day said Lake Cowichan was “contributing” to the dike management costs and that dealing with flood management at Honeymoon Bay would be part of flood management, too.

“If that’s necessary; it’s all part of flood management. It’s a regional issue,” he said.

Coun. Tim McGonigle, who formerly represented Lake Cowichan at the CVRD board, then explained that the money to improve the dikes was 100 per cent from grants so, without a process for a continuing function, there is no maintenance money for those dikes.

He also explained that the arts and culture AAP was to change the ad hoc status of the financing.

“During the last three years, arts and culture has procured funds through the regional grant-in-aid process. So the idea of this is to take it from the regional grant-in-aid and put it in a function. You are currently paying for arts and culture through that process as a Lake Cowichan taxpayer,” he said.

Peake wanted more information.

“Does that money that’s coming under the arts and culture function, is it the same amount that has been funded in the past or is it a higher amount?” he asked.

Day replied, “The way it was explained to me is that it’s the same amount but if money was taken from grants-in-aid to go into arts and culture. Now they are taking it out of that and making it separate. They are also supplying staff that were paid inside Island Savings and re-allocating that time to that function. That’s where you would see paycheques come out of that account because part of that person’s time would come out of that account.”

Peake then asked, “Are we balancing here?” and Day said that was it, despite it looking complicated.

As talk about the AAP wound down, Crevels asked if it was possible for the two residents at one location to both sign the same form and was told they could not.

Day also addressed the subject of people trying to pick up a pile of forms.

“There was someone who went to the CVRD and wanted 100 copies. I hate to see this, as much as it goes under the radar for some people who don’t read newspapers. But there is a fear that some people will then treat it like a gas station petition. It’s in the hands of each individual,” he said.

Crevels was concerned about people who might not be able to get the form.

“Could the town maybe have 100 forms so people could come here and get one?” he asked.

Forrest replied, “That would be up to the CVRD. We’ll see if that would be allowed. It’s not a town initiative. We can try to help out; but this is the CVRD. It is not our issue. Let’s make that clear.”

Miles wasn’t done, either.

“This is all our issue. Bob sits on the CVRD board. This process, AAP, is ridiculous. If you’re going to make everyone go down there and personally take a signed copy or whatever, it isn’t going to happen. It’s a way of shoving this through. If you could just sit on your computer and go: ‘click and send’ like you do for banking, or buy airline tickets, on secure websites, it would be okay. This is ridiculous. I feel like I’m being duped somewhat. I know the opposition to this is huge here,” he said.

Forrest shared his frustration.

“I’m not saying we agree with the AAP process. But you’re sitting in the wrong forum here with that complaint. You should be going to the CVRD with that opinion,” he told Miles.