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Much-debated Stoney Hill road given green light

Cowichan Tribes
Cowichan Tribes' elder Arvid Charlie has reminded North Cowichan councillors and staff about Tribes three conditions for allowing the Stoney Hill road project.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland file

Rare ecological and Native archaeological sites will be dodged as fall work starts on new gravel-graded roads across Maple Bay Peninsula.

North Cowichan councillors unanimously passed several project bylaws Wednesday.

Their nod paved the way for the controversial $2.5-million network along — and branching from — Stoney Hill Road winding through municipal forests, and Bird's Eye Cove Farm.

Councillors accepted results in environmental and archaeological studies identifying sensitive sites to be avoided.

"There are no environmental issues we can't deal with," stated municipal CAO Dave Devana.

Crews will "for the most part, follow the existing road" with work to start around Halloween.

One bylaw toward the safer, yet still-rural, roads — reaching 73 home properties and parklands — lets council fund road designing and building.

Another bylaw lets a taxpayer reserve fund pay North Cowichan's $500,000 slice of those costs. That bylaw also allows council to borrow $2 million to be repaid by taxing peninsula landowners.

The $2-million loan has a 25-year term.

Public forest land for the widened, straightened road was also pulled from North Cowichan's forest reserve in another bylaw.

Municipal engineering manager Dave Conway's report explains the environmental study is done, and the phased archaeological -impact assessment is "well underway."

That AIA has been completed concerning land cross Bird's Eye cove farm, he notes, and has been handed to Cowichan Tribes for comment.

Tribes elder Arvid Charlie reminded council, through aide Tracy Fleming, that Cowichan Tribes is unopposed to the road revamp given three conditions.

Tribes must have comment time on the archaeological report; the route needs flexibility to be shifted from sensitive sites; and an approved Tribes member must be present during all road work to ensure sensitive sites are saved.

Two archaeological sites require protection under B.C.'s Heritage Conservation Act, Conway notes.

"Shell middens and stone artifacts were discovered at the site and both are related to rock-shelter features."

Charlie has explained elders' remains may be in those rock shelters.

Two other areas were found to have low-to-moderate potential as archaeological sites, Conway adds.

Tribes initial comments say vegetation must be kept near the sites, and contractor awareness of them must be ensured.

Conway notes one culturally modified tree and a midden were found along Fairweather Road.

Meanwhile, the environmental study found one rare plant, Ozette coralroot, was found on the farm land. The plant was provincially red-listed in March 2014.

The proposed route was studied during the winter and spring.

Thirty management areas were tagged with directions about avoiding trees, buffering around wetland and more.

The study pinpointed raptor stick nests. It concludes those nests could be protected since affected trees would remain after construction, or the route can be moved to dodge those trees, explains Convway.

Mayor Jon Lefebure noted Agricultural Land Commission approval for the road route was pending.

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