An amazing public meeting

By Tom Read

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

For years, our region has tried to avoid implementing a poorly conceived, oppressive piece of environmental legislation spewed forth from Victoria called the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR). I’ve written about it in this space before, pondering Texada Island’s fate. Alas, we can dodge this bullet no longer, because the Powell River Regional District, which includes Texada, is finally moving to comply with the RAR. This means public meetings.

The first Texada meeting happened this week. Islanders were invited to a “roadshow” featuring three regional district directors, one staff planner and one consultant. So on a cold but dry Tuesday evening, off we drove to the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay, stopping first in Van Anda to pick up an elderly friend who doesn’t drive anymore. Our friend, Phyllis, lives by the ocean and has drainage ditches on either side of her property. She was quite worried about the RAR’s potential impact, and she wanted to attend the meeting to ask questions and express her opinion.

About 25 islanders showed up, a decent-sized group. I had already seen the consultant’s presentation (posted online here), so I knew that he wanted to saddle us with development permits, or “DPs” as the jargon goes. At this point I’d like to remind the reader that our Regional District is one of the very few in BC that deliberately employs no building inspectors or bylaw enforcement officers. We enjoy a greater degree of freedom – and a greater degree of personal responsibility — than other places as a result of this policy. Texada’s Official Community Plan Vision Statement starts with the words, “The Texada Island community is committed to maintaining a spacious, independent and sustainable rural lifestyle with minimum regulations.” And we mean it, too.

So I was feeling a bit resentful at this meeting because our tax dollars were being used to hire a consultant who claimed we had to adopt one of the most expensive, intrusive and therefore oppressive of urban-style land use regulations, the dreaded “DP.” This new regulatory push arrived in the name of protecting the island’s fish and to help our Regional District avoid potential lawsuits (not necessarily in that order).

The consultant lives in the city of Courtenay and served as a regional district planner on Vancouver Island for many years. He spoke in jargon. He gave off an air of “I’m an experienced professional planner and I know what’s best for you.” He kept referring to places on Vancouver Island, (population 700,000) as examples that Texada Island (population 1,107) should emulate. He claimed, over and over, that we had to adopt DPs as the only effective way to protect Texada’s fish. He insisted that only DPs could offer significant protection from legal liability to our Regional District, leaving the vague but menacing threat of potential lawsuits in the air. Most of all he tried to convey his biased viewpoint as having a sense of inevitability, which reminded me of the “resistance is futile” mantra of cyborg conquerors in a Star Trek episode.

Mr. Consultant obviously underestimated Texadans. We politely pointed out to him that nobody protects the fish on this island the way we do. We explained that local residents possessed more common sense than to pay $2,500 or more to a consulting biologist just to determine whether a particular body of water near our property contained fish, as would be required using the DP approach. Mr. Consultant appeared surprised to learn, from research done by yours truly, that a legal opinion on the RAR, paid for by the Union of BC Municipalities, showed that the risk of legal liability for Regional Districts is low.

A glimmer that something good might happen came when the audience told Mr. Consultant that we wanted to hear details about other options for complying with the RAR. The least readable of his presentation slides showed a text-packed chart comparing five different approaches; he had only discussed two in any detail: DPs and the even more oppressive Zoning option. What about the others, we asked? So, with some reluctance, Mr. Consultant gradually explained the less regulatory ways to comply with the RAR, all the while peppered with questions from what had become a very animated audience.

The attending Regional District directors caught the mood, too, as they heard Mr. Consultant concede that there are very real, much less costly and less egregious options spelled out right in the RAR legislation. To cap things off, Texada’s area Director, Dave Murphy, stood at the end of the meeting and proclaimed himself firmly in favour of freedom — there will be no RAR-inspired DPs on our island if he can help it.

As we were leaving the hall I heard someone call out, in a triumphant voice, “who says public meetings are unproductive?” And as we drove Phyllis back to Van Anda, she sounded much relieved, too.

“Decisions are made by those who show up,” goes the saying; this was a night for Texada to shine as a community.

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March 2009
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