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Debate delayed about Maple Bay dock rezoning

Arvid Charlie, a Cowichan Tribes elder, tells North Cowichan council how private docks in the Stoney Hill area would impact the ecology, his band’s constitutional rights to harvest shellfish. - Peter W. Rusland
Arvid Charlie, a Cowichan Tribes elder, tells North Cowichan council how private docks in the Stoney Hill area would impact the ecology, his band’s constitutional rights to harvest shellfish.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

A catch-22 between landowner access to Maple Bay Peninsula, and Aboriginal shellfish harvesting has council booking more meetings with Cowichan Tribes.

North Cowichan council passed a motion March 5 to delay a decision to rezone Maple Bay Peninsula foreshore to permit private docks — wanted by some folks in case of emergency.

"Should there be a fire, we're tapped," resident Chris Stoker said.

Council's decision buys time for talks with Tribes about their historic and constitutional rights to harvest an array of shellfish in an area under development and preservation pressures.

The dock-construction conundrum centres on the fact many of the 40-some Stoney Hill Road properties are water-access only. They will remain that way until council officially orders a contentious, rerouted and revamped Stoney Hill Road along the peninsula.

But North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana said the municipality is unable to guarantee if there will be a road and current  A-2 zoning doesn't allow private dock building on the foreshore.

Council now has a half-dozen applications for permits to build docks. They'd likely be aluminum ones to duck creosote-wood pollution worries.

But Tribes elders want to redact dock building, perhaps in favour of community structures, to preserve diminished shellfish beaches.

Tribes Chief Chip Seymour's letter, read by Tracy Fleming, outlines how more docks would mean "grave deterioration" in relations between his band and North Cowichan.

Seymour cites the area's 50 known archaeological sites, a "litany of docks" between Sansum Point and Maple Bay, and Tribes constitutional right to harvest shell fish — signaling potential court action if those rights are threatened.

Tim Kulchyski, Tribes fisheries biologist, projected photos showing shellfish harvesting has become rare in the Gulf Islands — leaving just one local beach the size of council chambers open for his 5,400-member band to pick edible shellfish, and other traditional foods.

"The more you build without taking time to think about the process, the more issues you will have," he told council, noting growing boat traffic and derelict vessels.

"This is almost an insult to us. We have very little left. We're not saying 'No development', but we need to be proactive."

So does council, signalled Councillor John Koury.

"Landowners apply for a dock, but the province says 'No' because North Cowichan must deal with rezoning."

Stoney Hill resident Chris Stoker noted beaches are public property, so docks built above high-tide lines shouldn't hamper harvesting.

Tribes elder Arvid Charlie explained docks and boats shade marine ecology, affecting sea life.

"In 10 to 20 years there could be boathouses all along there."

Planner Scott Mack explained municipal efforts could be made to minimize dock size to what's necessary.

Mayor Jon Lefebure acknowledged the "conundrum" of docks and roads against interests of all.

"They should at least be able to apply for a dock."

Councillor Barb Lines urged council to delay its rezoning ruling, talk with Tribes, and "make sure we do this right."

Councillor Al Siebring some kind of water access is needed, but council shouldn't dismiss community docks.

The delay-motion vote saw councillors Ruth Hartmann, Koury and Siebring object to postponing W-1 rezoning debate.

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