Plans for the new Shawnigan Village Rail Trail are not being received well by a number of its neighbours.
The proposed SVRT extension project is an approximately two-kilometre multi-use public trail that is being planned by the Cowichan Valley Regional District within the E&N rail corridor next to Shawnigan Lake, between Mason’s Beach Park, Shawnigan Wharf Park and Old Mill Park.
The project, which is the third section of the ongoing trail project at the lake, has been identified by the district as an important community pathway connection opportunity within the Shawnigan Lake community parks and trails master plan that was developed, with input from the community, several years ago.
On its website, the CVRD says the trail would provide a separated and safe active transportation route promoting healthy outdoor recreation and community connections for residents and visitors alike.
But many in the Shawnigan community have taken exception to it since it was first proposed a number of years ago, and an online petition against it has collected 800 signatures so far.
Scott Piercy, owner of the Whistle Stop Shawnigan Lakeside B&B which would see the new trail cut through the property, said the Shawnigan Basin Society recently presented a 130-page report on the project to a CVRD committee.
The report concluded, among other findings, that any work within the lake’s riparian zone is likely to increase erosion and sedimentation, that increased sedimentation could have a negative effect on fish spawning and the habitat in general, and much of the natural undergrowth vegetation along the lake would have to be removed or disturbed.
Staff and the CVRD director for Shawnigan Lake Sierra Acton said after the presentation that the district would have to wait until its own environmental assessment of the project is complete before commenting.
Piercy said he felt the report was not taken seriously by the committee, and was dismayed that the committee dismissed it with hardly any discussion.
“As usual, the CVRD is not listening and are willing to ram this thing through, despite the report and what the people in the community are saying,” Piercy said.
“On top of the potential damage to the lake, there’s also issues like an increase in crime, more garbage and more pollution in the area if we open a public trail along the lake here. I’m also concerned that the CVRD may also install fences along the trail which would block access to the other side of my property.”
Russell Lyon, another lakeside property owner, is also opposed to the trail project for many of the same reasons as Piercy.
He said if the CVRD starts construction of the trail through his one-acre lot, he will seek a court order to stop it because the original grant on his property, dating back to 1890, only allows for the E&N trail portion of it to be used for railway or mining purposes, and does not allow for the construction of public trails.
Lyon also said the Union of British Columbia Municipalities endorsed a resolution in 2009 that the provincial and federal governments be asked to support joint-use agreements with railway companies for rails-with-trails corridor projects.
In response to the resolution, CP Rail said the railway company “can’t offer support for what, unfortunately, is a flawed approach.”
“The UBCM resolution, if implemented, would create an unacceptable environment for safe railway operations by bringing municipal residents in too close contact with day-to-day rail operations,” CP Rail said at the time.
Trains are not currently using the E&N corridor in Shawnigan Lake, but efforts to revive the railway continue.
Lyon said he, like most of his neighbours, has environmental, security and safety concerns that are incompatible with a public trail proceeding through his property.
“We’ll take this to court if necessary,” he said.
Brian Farquhar, the CVRD’s manager of parks and trails, said support for the trail has been long-standing in the broader community in Shawnigan Lake.
He said a rail-trail for use by cyclists and walkers along the lake has been identified as a high priority during the public consultations as several area development management plans were being formulated, including the Shawnigan Village Plan and the South Cowichan official community plan.
“The efforts by the CVRD to develop this trail began following the positive response we received from the community for it,” Farquhar said.
“We are aware that some property owners have expressed concerns, and we’ll see what we can do to deal with them, but their properties are outside the E&N corridor and we are only beholden to Transport Canada and the Island Corridor Foundation.”
As for the report by the Shawnigan Basin Society, Farquhar said the CVRD appreciates the information that it provided, and it has been passed on to the project’s environmental consultant for review.
“We will follow all the appropriate guidance given by the environmental consultant to prohibit sedimentation, and deal with other environmental issues,” he said.
“We have successfully completed two sections of the trail already without any environmental issues, and we still have further detailed engineering and design work ahead to deal with environmental concerns.”
Farquhar said the CVRD is not aware of any land covenants that would prevent trails along the railway corridor, and said the Capital, Nanaimo and Comox regional districts have already built a number of rail-trails without legal complications, as well as the CVRD in the Chemainus area.
Acton concurred with Farquhar that there is substantial community support and said the CVRD “heard loud and clear” that the continuation of the trail is a community priority during the largest community engagement exercise Shawnigan has ever seen — the Think Shawnigan Design Charette.
“The community is excited by this project and have already started to enjoy the sections that have been completed to date,” she said.
“On any given day there are many people enjoying the trail on foot or bike, it is even accessible for those with mobility issues. The community looks forward to greater connections to our village and the ability to stroll from Mason’s Beach all the way to Old Mill Park. There is currently no plan to put a fence up, and the ICF is willing to work with the community on omitting the fence requirement that is standard in their agreements.”