By David Moore
[Editor’s note: the following is a letter sent by David Moore to the Powell River Regional Board on August 14, 2009, regarding Lehigh Minerals’ mining proposal and Crown land applications at Davie Bay.]
“There is a weakness – a Great Big Frailty – to the simplistic ‘economic’ argument for conservation of forests and wildlife. It’s like telling kids they need a mother because who else will make them toast and jam. True, but it misses the point. Every kid needs a mother for the irreplaceable goodness they give with or without the toast.”
(Rowan Jacobsen in Fruitless Fall)
It is important for the present and the future well-being of Texada Island (and the wider community) that our Regional Board firmly recommend against a proposal from Lehigh Minerals to develop a mine and barge port at Davie Bay. The reasons are many and I’ll list them in the order of priority which, in my view, makes a strong case for conservation.
But first I must state that it is wrong for people in general, and the media in particular, to characterize the issues and frame the debate as a polarized battle between those who are pro-mining and those who are anti-mining. That is divisive and over-simplified. Let’s look at the bigger picture and be sensible about planning decisions that will resonate into the future for generations.
For the last one hundred years the industrialized nations of the world have been gobbling up the planet’s finite natural resources at a rate that everyone and his dog knows cannot be sustained. The party’s over and the binge must be reduced drastically. Most politicians and bankers and business leaders will not be informing us and warning us of the accelerated rate of species extinctions, eco-system collapse, dying oceans, and the consequences of global climate change caused by industrial overshoot. As a society we need to tune in to what scientists are saying and slow the pace of resource extraction way down. Texada Island has several active limestone mines already and another is simply redundant and unneeded at this time.
It helps to consider the map of Texada and understand the location of Davie Bay and what lies close around it. Davie Bay is near the mid-point of Texada Island’s west coast. Like Powell River, it faces the glorious setting sun and its visual aspect is a stunning view of Vancouver Island. Davie Bay is a natural environment of exceptional beauty. Rocky and rugged, it is enhanced by the sculptural presence of small moundy islands which resemble huge whales at rest in the tidal pools. The fact that these tiny, fragile islands have received the land use designation ‘Resource’ by the Texada Island Official Community Plan cries out for an amended OCP, not for capitulation to Lehigh Minerals’ attempt to profit from a flawed plan. Sections of the OCP support environmental conservation and therefore the ambiguity problems deserve a closer look. Checking the map you’ll see that Davie Bay is about mid-way between Shelter Point Park and the recreation site of Shingle Beach. These are two other gems of Texada’s natural endowments which islanders and visitors revere for not only their beauty but the fact they have year round public road access. Stretching southeast from Mouat Bay near Shelter Point, leading in the direction of Davie Bay, is a wonderful hiking trail through the forest along the shoreline which is one of the best places in the Powell River Regional District to see old growth Douglas Firs which are hundreds of years old. About ten kilometres further southeast, Shingle Beach is a terrific spot for day visits or wilderness camping. The beach itself is perfect for kayaks and for people — it consists of a uniform coarse sand that cushions the bow of a boat landing and doesn’t stick to skin or bare feet! Looking out from Shingle Beach one can clearly glimpse in the near distance Lasqueti Island and between it and Texada the once private Jedediah Island. The latter is now a Provincial Park thanks to the efforts of dedicated conservationists; it now joins Sabine Channel Provincial Park, the nearby South Texada Island Provincial Park, and others which make these immediate waters into a boaters’ paradise. These small islands and sheltered waters make up an archipelago which from a bird’s-eye view have an obvious affinity to the whole southwest shore of Texada. Davie Bay is thus situated, one could say, on an axis which has in close proximity the natural attractions of Shelter Point, Mouat Bay, Shingle Beach and the Jedediah group. On this point alone I could rest my case that Davie Bay has a higher and better use than a barge port for a rock quarry.
It deserves wider public understanding that the Regional Board has been asked to consider the use of public land for a mining and export operation. Lehigh Minerals owns hundreds of hectares upland of Davie Bay, but they are asking the BC Government to lease them hundreds more for mineral extraction and the barge port. This Crown land is owned by all British Columbians and therefore the interests of all of us are at stake. We know that mining has been and still is an integral part of life on Texada, and its presence is evident and even dominant on the north end of the island. One does not have to be anti-mining to see that the Davie Bay location is highly inappropriate for the proposed use by Lehigh. Perhaps there could be, or will be other quarries on Texada, but let’s be honest – a quarry is forever. It’s blasting and digging and selling the mother earth herself. No one’s going to put it back. The existing abandoned quarries on Texada should be a reminder of what this industry leaves behind. They have their charms as great swimming holes, it’s true, but look around and notice that bio-diversity has been permanently eliminated. One needn’t ponder for long to grasp the short-sighted foolishness of inflicting this fate upon the region close to Davie Bay. Even if Lehigh agrees to a different barge port site, the Regional Board should acknowledge that wider area conservation values should prevail and have the resolve to recommend that Crown lands in this area are unavailable.
The power of money and the behaviour of corporations are a part of modern life. For better or worse, no one escapes these forces. As long as we have a democracy, though, it is still within the rights and responsibilities of the general public and their elected officials to exercise self-determination and uphold values of equity and justice. It is apathy and ignorance which allows corporate interests to exploit the common good for their narrow focus of profit and gain. In the case of Lehigh Minerals it is worth looking at the source of their power and influence. The parent company is Heidelberg Cement of Germany. Heidelberg is a very big multinational corporate entity. With the takeover of Hanson in 2007, the company is the largest aggregate and the fourth largest cement producer in the world. In 2008 it turned a profit of 1.9 billion euros, and currently employs approximately 65,000 people worldwide in 2,800 locations in 50 countries. It should not go unreported to the BC Integrated Land Management Bureau however, that Heidelberg has an appalling record of regulatory violations spanning decades of time. Earlier this year, the largest corporate fines ever handed out in Europe targeted Heidelberg with the largest individual fine of a whopping 252 million euros! This was for industry wide price fixing which had been going on for decades according to the German cartel office which issued the sanctions. Other companies included in the total fines of 660 million euros are Lafarge, Dyckerhoff, Holcim and Schwenk. Heidelberg Cement has built a profitable and powerful commercial empire on a foundation of rule breaking. If they came knocking at my door wanting to set up in my backyard they would be met with an instant ‘no thanks’ and a slammed door. The Regional Board must respect the values of its citizens and do exactly the same thing with the Lehigh applications. [Further information on Heidelberg Cement can be found at this English translation of the German Wikipedia page.]
Texada is a unique island on the BC coast that is renowned in the world of geology. It is a laboratory of ancient history which can teach us for years to come of the million-year-old movements of tectonic plates and the formation of the North American continent. It is not a broken off remnant of the mainland. Geological evidence shows that its origins are from afar and that it (along with Vancouver Island) came crushing into the mainland forming the Coast mountains and leaving a rich mineral wealth. The karst formations in proximity to the proposed quarry site are worthy of protection from industrial impact. Texada can also boast of its unique heritage in both animals and plants. A rare stickleback species inhabits Texada lakes and rare plants, such as the blue listed Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) and the Seaside Juniper (Juniperus maritima) have healthy populations on Texada. All these are extremely rare or non-existent on the mainland. The Texada climate is ideal for the Coastal Douglas Fir forest type which is now in need of protection. This is all to say that Texada Island has an important role to play in preserving the bio-diversity of BC and at the same time has much to offer for ‘green’ tourism and recreation. Agriculture on Texada also has unrealized potential for commercial development. There are alternatives to a dependency on mining resources for economic activity.
In conclusion, the social and cultural history of Davie Bay should not be disregarded. Some might speculate on the metaphysical how and why, but let’s not discount the history of Davie Bay and its power of attraction which has appealed to wanderers, artists, poets, hippies and squatters of many descriptions. Who among us has not sought out the intangible yet undeniable power of natural beauty in our search for fundamental truths, self-healing and longing for simplicity? Over the years the immigrants came and went, each taking something of spiritual value with them. For those whose sensitivities are so inclined, there is an unmistakable magic at Davie Bay. No, that’s not in the OCP, but please add this to the equation when considering if it is wise to blast the uplands into millions of tons of exploded and crushed rock and move it to offshore destinations over the now peaceful domain of Davie Bay.
David Moore, Powell River