Jared Williams of Cowichan Tribes spoke against the expansion plans. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Jared Williams of Cowichan Tribes spoke against the expansion plans. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

UPDATED: Fractious two-day hearing ends with a no for Cowichan Motorsport expansion

A marathon public hearing lasted for more than 13 hours over two days

North Cowichan councillors have put the brakes on a controversial expansion plan for the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.

After a marathon public hearing that lasted for more than 13 hours over two days, council voted 5-2 against a rezoning application that would have allowed the Circuit to create a new track and other facilities adjacent to the current operation on Highway 18.

Mayor Al Siebring and Coun. Tek Manhas voted in favour of the new plan with councillors Kate Marsh, Christopher Justice, Rob Douglas, Rosalie Sawrie and Debra Toporowski opposed.

The end of the line for the expansion attempt came at 2:30 a.m. Friday morning when the public hearing that featured input from more than 140 speakers — some got up to speak more than once — wrapped up and council moved into a council meeting to debate the issue.

The public hearing was a raucous affair at times with the acrimony that has been a part of the process for several months evident as speaker after speaker rose to have their three-minute say. Allegations of dishonesty and personal comments have been a part of the dialogue on social media and some of it carried over to the public hearing that began on Tuesday night and resumed Thursday.

At one point, Dr. Isabel Rimmer, of the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association, who has led the campaign against VIMC as a result of the noise she has endured for more than three years, sparked an ugly exchange.

After her three minute limit had been exceeded, Mayor Siebring gave Rimmer additional time but warned her she had gone into overtime. Rimmer kept speaking and Siebring shut her microphone off, prompting an outburst from the crowd as Rimmer kept shouting.

Siebring warned that “certain members of the audience would be removed” if they didn’t settle down.

“Over my dead body,” a man near the front of the hall shouted.

At that point, Siebring shut the hearing down and the police were called. About 10 minutes later, three RCMP officers appeared at the back of the theatre. Siebring says he had no choice but to call the police.

“Under Section 133 of the Community Charter, if I order someone out of the room for conduct that is disruptive to the process, that order is enforceable,” Siebring explained Friday morning.

“It’s RCMP who does that enforcement. It wasn’t clear to me how it was going to play out.

“I needed options that would keep order. When someone in the crowd yells ‘over my dead body’ in a very threatening manner, I think it’s completely appropriate to call in outside resources.”

The hearing was held in the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre due to the anticipated huge turnout for the event. On Tuesday night more than 500 people attended. The Thursday hearing attracted fewer people, approximately 400, but many stayed until the end.

After listening to a presentation from the municipality’s director of planning Rob Conway, more than two hours of input from VIMC’s technical experts who provided detailed analysis and explanations for environmental, archaeological, water and noise issues, more than nine hours of public opinion and reading dozens of pages of reports and opinions, the councillors each took their turn at explaining the reasons behind their decisions.

Clearly, input from Cowichan Tribes resonated with council. As well as delivering a five page letter critical of the proposed development, signed by Chief William Seymour, several Tribes members spoke at the hearing.

Elder Robert George, said he was speaking for himself, and described the property VIMC had hoped to develop as “our Garden of Eden” and explained Swuq’us (Mount Prevost) was an important element in his people’s creation story.

“I am the fifth generation in our family trying to protect our medicines, trees, water and animals,” George said, as councillors listened intently.

“One hundred acres of medicine is gone. We haven’t had too much success with colonization and dealing with people with money,” he said.

On Thursday evening, Jared Williams, who works with Cowichan Tribes elders, said he was also speaking for himself.

“After listening on Tuesday, I hear money, I hear economic growth,” William said.

“How is this economic development going to help our people? This is a very sacred place for us.”

Coun. Justice said the issue was complex and after turning to experts including Cowichan Tribes who expressed concerns about salmon, water and animals, he could not support the expansion.

Coun. Toporowski, who is also a Cowichan Tribes councillor, said there have been unwise land use decisions made on the traditional territory of First Nations people for 150 years.

“They should never have happened,” Toporowski said. “This council wants to do things differently,” she said.

Coun. Tek Manhas noted council has struggled with the Motorsport Circuit issue since “the day we were sworn in” but he was supporting the expansion proposal because of the opportunity for good paying jobs and other commitments made by VIMC including the construction of a water reservoir and providing $600,000 for other amenities.

Coun. Sawrie said she was anxious to do things differently than they had in the past.

“This has weighed heavily on us. There have been lots of tears and hugs, [but] I can’t move forward on this based on Cowichan Tribes’ letter,” Sawrie said.

Coun. Douglas also referred to the Tribe’s letter in explaining his no vote.

“The applicant has made significant commitments, but I’m still very concerned about noise and the natural and environmental impacts.”

Coun. Marsh said she was influenced by one speaker who said “we have to reconsider the ways we derive our entertainment” and Elder George “talking about creation stories” in making her decision.

“The thought of taking sacred land of the Cowichan people is untenable to me,” Marsh said.

Mayor Siebring was last to speak and acknowledged that the decision to permit Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit to build the first phase was problematic.

“It was not what I thought we were approving,” he conceded.

He accused GAIN (owner of VIMC) of reneging on a deal with the Vancouver Island Karting Association and said there were “trust issues” in dealing with the Circuit.

He touched on the issue of noise that has been most contentious since the Circuit opened in 2016 and said he had personally not observed excessive noise.

However, Siebring said he was supporting the application for rezoning based on the commitments that VIMC was making including limits on noise and cash for environmental and water projects. These commitments would be secured by covenant on the title and would force the Circuit to reduce noise on the original track operation.

“If we don’t approve this, all the other things that are on the table are gone,” Siebring said, announcing his support for expansion.

“We don’t have any way to get these things from VIMC unless it’s through covenant.”

Although the expansion plan has been rejected, it will be business as usual at the Highway 18 motorsport circuit.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Cowichan Valley Arts Council is offering courses in drawing May through August 2021. (Submitted)
A&E column: Art is everywhere in the Cowichan Valley

What’s going in the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

The CVRD introduces new app to contact residents during emergencies, a tool that chairman Aaron Stone says will improve communications. (File photo)
CVRD launches new app to spread information during emergencies

Cowichan Alert is a free app that can be downloaded onto smartphones, computers

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

The Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors in July 2021. (Malahat SkyWalk photo)
Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors this July

Highly anticipated attraction will take guests 250m above sea level

Editorial: Time to roll up our sleeves and pitch in

They’re just not quite sure they want to get a vaccine — yet

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Findings indicate a culture of racism, misogyny and bullying has gripped the game with 64 per cent of people involved saying players bully others outside of the rink. (Pixabay)
Misogyny, racism and bullying prevalent across Canadian youth hockey, survey finds

56% of youth hockey players and coaches say disrespect to women is a problem in Canada’s sport

Most Read