Environmental approach shows alarming inconsistencies

Columnist Rob Douglas thinks this award given North Cowichan for its Climate Action and Energy Plan was well-deserved, but the municipality is not applying the same principles to all its decisions. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Columnist Rob Douglas thinks this award given North Cowichan for its Climate Action and Energy Plan was well-deserved, but the municipality is not applying the same principles to all its decisions.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

In decades past, the Municipality of North Cowichan didn’t exactly set the bar in terms of environmental protection and sustainable forms of development.

But in recent years, there has clearly been a shift. It was only two years ago that North Cowichan updated its Official Community Plan, introducing a very progressive document that outlines a long-term vision for the municipality, with a strong focus on guarding the environment and adjusting to climate change.

And earlier this year, North Cowichan took another step forward, adopting the Climate Action and Energy Plan, a blueprint for reducing our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions during the coming years.

The Climate Action and Energy Plan recently won a top award at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, in the category of community planning and development. And it was well-deserved.

A visionary document, the Climate Action and Energy Plan charts how we can develop our land and resources in a more sustainable manner while at the same time building a more localized economy.

But just as our region’s largest municipality has taken a big step forward on the environmental front, it may also be taking two steps back.

Only months after adopting the Climate Action and Energy Plan, North Cowichan applied to remove 1.8 hectares of land on Beverly Street from the Agricultural Land Reserve for a proposed RCMP building that will cost us approximately $8 million.

This move triggered a backlash from the community, as the parcel lies within the boundaries of the Somenos Marsh, an ecologically sensitive area that residents want protected from further residential and commercial development.

And just last month, North Cowichan voted to develop 20% of Echo Heights, a 52-acre Coastal Douglas-fir forest located in Chemainus.

This despite strong opposition from residents, who cite the forest’s ecological and recreational value.

Both moves are clearly motivated by a desire to save money and generate new sources of revenue for the municipality.

North Cowichan anticipates saving more than $1 million by building the RCMP station on municipally owned land, and generating profits of $480,000 per year by sub-diving Echo Heights and selling the lots in phases during the next decade.

The cost pressures North Cowichan and other local governments across Canada now face must be acknowledged.

But developing ecologically sensitive areas to address our immediate financial problems is not a wise approach in the long-term.

We can’t burn the furniture to heat the house — at least not for long.

North Cowichan needs to find new and sustainable sources of revenue that will reduce the pressures to develop our natural spaces and continuously raise property taxes.

One municipality can’t address the issues of climate change and sustainable development on its own — these are global problems that will require concerted efforts from our major industrial powers.

But North Cowichan can certainly act as an example for the rest of the province — and the world for that matter.

And that starts with taking a more consistent approach with the environment.

Because we can’t have it both ways.

Rob Douglas writes monthly for the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial.

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