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Cowichan ecology-lovers march on marsh development
Forget building a new police station on farmland beside Somenos Marsh.
And save as much marsh-area property as possible as parkland to buffer looming floods.
Those and other messages were unanimously voiced to North Cowichan councillors and staff during Friday’s emotional meeting, opened by Cowichan Tribes elder Arvid Charlie, in the Cowichan Theatre.
“Don’t destroy this marsh,” resident Glenn Spicer told a guest panel that included Mayor Jon Lefebure and others who fought mike and power-point picture problems during the two-hour meeting attended by about 200.
Spicer and many others bluntly and politely protested council’s coming decision — and a lack of public input — concerning using a 1.8 hectare property beside the marsh for a new North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP station.
Council has applied to the Agricultural Land Commission to pull the parcel from farmland use. So has the Fun Pacific golf-driving range next door, fuelling fears of denser strip development along Beverly Street beside the marsh.
Another parcel possibly up for grabs will be the school board’s complex on Beverly Street. The district has tentative plans to move its operations, perhaps into a vacant school.
North Cowichan’s new station — needing highway access — would be built by taxpayers and rented to the Mounties. It would replace the current publicly owned, cramped, damp, cop shop on Canada Avenue.
But some residents urged council to build elsewhere, or on the current station site.
“I’m appalled they’re even talking about building on the marsh,” said Maureen Gallacher, during the question and answer session.
“Every green space behind, and in front of, the dikes belongs in a conservation area,” stated marsh society president Paul Fletcher, stressing the wetland’s wildlife, spiritual and holistic values.
“Please don’t mess with the marsh,” implored Diana Hardacre.
Another woman said she’d lose respect for the RCMP if the new station goes near the marsh.
“Build up, instead of out,” she said, noting a three-floor apartment sits beside the current detachment.
Catherine Swan was committed to saving the marsh’s ‘important bird area’ designation.
“Doing anything to hurt Somenos Marsh would be a big mistake,” she said, fearing the station, and maybe a new Cowichan District Hospital, could go near the sensitive wetland, or in floodplain areas.
“How could any government even consider doing this (building) unless the hospital and police station go on stilts?”
Lefebure and staff explained no decisions have been made yet on sites for the station and CDH, encouraging public comments (email@example.com).
He noted the dike project was a partnership between Duncan, Tribes, Cowichan Valley Regional District and North Cowichan taxpayers.
But various folks expressed worries the new multi-million dollar dikes — abutting the marsh along Somenos Creek, Lakes Road, Beverly and the Timbercrest subdivision — will simply affect natural flows, swamp homes and businesses if more major flooding happens, and funnel water into low-lying lands in Duncan and North Cowichan.
“Where are the retention ponds?” demanded Paul Lazenby. “We’ve built a boat basin.”
Using overhead maps, North Cowichan’s senior staffers Dave Devana, John Mackay and Clay Reitsma gave the house a hydrology lesson on the diking work.
“We’re trying to mimic nature,” engineer Mackay said of detailed dike designs.
Reitsma agreed Cowichan River’s logs and gravel clog proper drainage; a problem that can’t really be addressed as the river is a fish-bearing waterway.
Still, council and its partners tried to let nature take its course concerning marsh drainage.
“We tried to keep dikes out of the marsh areas and, as much as possible, allow it to be a marsh,” Reitsma said.
Soft-spoken Tribes fisheries biologist, Tim Kolchyski, reflected Arvid Charlie’s beliefs the flooding fracas began when settlers gradually altered the landscape Cowichan people had comfortably — sometimes soggily — co-existed on for centuries.
“We all have to change our thoughts and practices,” he said.