Echo Heights forest battle is not going away any time soon

The Chemainus Residents Association wants council to save all of Echo Heights. -
The Chemainus Residents Association wants council to save all of Echo Heights.
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North Cowichan may have already made a decision to develop 20% of Echo Heights forest in Chemainus.

But no one expects the debate about the municipal forestland — now ongoing for nearly a decade — to end any time soon.

The Chemainus Residents Association says council has failed to keep the faith with the residents of Chemainus.

“We’ve been telling council for eight years that we don’t want to see development on the forest,” said Bernie Jones, chairman of the association. “We’ve submitted petitions with over 1,600 names on them, we conducted an analysis where 92% of correspondence said to save it all ... This doesn’t make sense.

“It’s a very special area. It sees Coastal Douglas fir trees grow, and they only grow on B.C.’s coast,” he said. “There’s only a small number of areas that have them now and they need to be protected so we don’t lose them.”

North Cowichan plans to develop a portion of the forest that was disturbed by development in the 1990s, as well as a little more. North Cowichan Councillor John Koury supports the decision, saying profits from the development of the land will benefit the entire community. Koury called the plan proper asset management.

“Well-planned public investments should stimulate the private sector to also invest, creating jobs and opportunity, something we really need,” he wrote.

“The CRA is mounting an absolute-zero development campaign. I’m not convinced this is a broadly supported view and it certainly does not serve the best interest of Chemainus, We need to have the courage not only to draw defendable conclusions but allow our well-trained staff to follow through with them.”

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure — along with Councillor Kate Marsh — voted against the plan. But now that it has been approved, Lefebure has hopes the move will be a positive thing for all.

“I was not interested in the 20% and subdivision model, but I was still willing to talk about developing the 15% of the forest that was previously disturbed. However, council has made its decision so now my job is to make it the best we can make it,” said the mayor.

“We’ve told staff we want to see something innovative and not just your business-as-usual subdivision,” he said. “Staff will bring back their proposed plan to council and we will either adopt it, ask for more work to be done, or reject it.

“Re-zoning would see a public process, and we would likely have an information meeting first. Then we’ll have a formal public hearing before council decides.”

Jones wondered why council hasn’t listened to the public already.

“We cannot understand how council can continue to ignore the wishes of such a large part of the community regarding this important issue. In recent weeks we have been told that, if these lands are not developed at a profit to the municipality, then promised improvements to Chemainus might not be forthcoming,” wrote Jones.

“If this is indeed the case we cannot help wondering why these plans and proposals, both here in Chemainus and elsewhere in North Cowichan, were made in the first place if financing for them depended on such tenuous and unacceptable terms.”

Lefebure chose to approach that scenario from the opposite end.

“The reality is we pay for community development projects via a variety of sources. That can be through grants, taxes or municipally-owned land.

“If there’s more money from generating the sale of land, then there’s more money for projects, but council still has the ultimate decision.”

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