DNEWS: follow the money

By Tom Read

This familiar-looking island is known as "Electoral Area D" to the Regional District, Province of BC and Government of Canada.  The image above, labelled only "Electoral Area D," came from the Federal census website, where you'll not easily find the name "Texada Island."  Instead, you have to search on "Electorial Area D of the Powell River Regional District" to get information about our island. 

This familiar-looking island is known as "Electoral Area D" to the Regional District, Province of BC and Government of Canada. The image above, labelled only "Electoral Area D," came from the Federal census website, where you'll not easily find the name "Texada Island." Instead, you have to search on "Electorial Area D of the Powell River Regional District" to get information about our island.

Texada Island is known merely as “Electoral Area D” to local, provincial and federal governments. Several interesting government and corporate actions that affect Texada have surfaced in recent weeks. In a former life I was educated and worked briefly as a journalist, so I thought I’d put on my “citizen journalist” hat and share some Texadafied news and views. Welcome to DNEWS:

Davie Bay is a beautiful stretch of Texada shoreline. Of course, almost everywhere on the island is beautiful, but there’s good reason why some friends of ours chose a spot next to Davie Bay for their wedding last summer. It’s got charming little islands just off-shore and spectacular views of the Georgia Strait, including Lasqueti and Vancouver Islands. Texada’s Official Community Plan (OCP) considers Davie Bay a potential park site, plus lots of rockfish reportedly live there.

Texadans learned in March that Lehigh Cement Ltd, an American-based subsidiary of a German multi-national corporation has applied to the BC Integrated Land Management Bureau (ILMB) for a lease on Crown land at Davie Bay for “light industrial” development. If we follow the money, this proposal appears to lead directly back to federal “stimulus spending” in Canada and the USA. The company wants to start quarrying aggregate rock for anticipated road-building projects next year in western North America.

Lehigh owns mineral-rich land just up from the bay. A map submitted by the company to ILMB shows a proposed conveyor and barge-loading system running from Lehigh’s land out across the publicly-owned bay onto those previously mentioned charming little islands, thus providing easy deep-water access for barge loading. According to its submitted plan, the company wants the facility up and running by next spring and plans to employ up to a dozen workers depending on demand from its clients.

Now for the other side of “charming little islands.” Texada proudly calls itself “The Industrial Island,” and our OCP views mining as critical to our local economy. Since last fall we’ve seen a growing number of layoffs at Blubber Bay Quarry and LaFarge Texada Quarrying. Is this a classic “environment vs. jobs” conflict in the making, or can we find some middle ground? Meanwhile, the Powell River Regional District is asking ILMB to put Lehigh’s proposal on “hold” until the company conducts one or more public meetings on Texada about the project. Stay tuned…

(2) Speaking of stimulus funding, we’re getting a piece of the action right here on Texada: approximately $57,000 in hastily-granted federal funds will be matched with about $19,000 in Texadans’ tax dollars for a total of about $76,000 to be spent on a shovel-ready project: resurfacing and fencing upgrades for the public tennis courts at Gillies Bay! No grumbling or snickering, please. We need those courts in good shape for the annual Sandcastle Weekend bed races. And if you’re going to have tennis courts, then you’ve got to maintain ‘em in top condition, right?

(3) Along with tennis, island living certainly includes ferries. Alas, Texada’s North Island Princess limped off to drydock Tuesday afternoon. I say “limped” because it had been operating on one engine since Sunday, and required the services of a $300-per-hour tug to maneuver into port. Let’s see, at $300-per-hour for two or three days that’s… probably one reason why ferry fares keep rising. Anyway, Mother Nature threw in high winds and a vicious chop all day Tuesday, causing the good ship NIP to give it all up for a refit. Meanwhile, the Tachek (originally known as Texada Queen when she was commissioned in 1969 for the local route, and fondly remembered as the Upchuck by a couple generations of Texada teens) steamed over from Hornby Island to rescue stranded travelers on both sides of Malaspina Strait, including us. Our normal six-hour trip to Powell River turned into an 18-hour day while we waited. And waited. But that’s island life, eh?

(4) Next-to-last, I think there’s a power play becoming visible in Powell River politics that could spill over onto Texada. It arises from the many run-of-river hydro-electric projects trying to run amok all over the back country behind Powell River — with enthusiastic support from several members of the Powell River City Council. But the rural directors who represent the lands where those rivers and overhead power lines flow within the Powell River Regional District are not so keen.

The minutes of several PRRD directors’ meetings during the last few years tell a story of deep concern about potential environmental damage from uncoordinated power line and road construction by different run-of-river companies. They also speak of trees cut down for right-of-way clearing and left to rot, when they might have been used by the local wood products industry. They tell of rural directors’ persistent and vocal refusal to support the run-of-river projects until these and other issues are addressed.

Now it’s become obvious that run-of-river power projects are getting caught up in campaign rhetoric preceding BC’s May 12 election (Powell River Peak, Wednesday, April 1 edition). The PRRD directors, whether intentionally or not, seem to be playing a part in that rhetoric while engaging in an entirely local drama, as well.

So here’s the power play as I see it, no pun intended: just last month, one of the two Powell River city councilors who sit on the Regional District Board wondered publicly why the city reps couldn’t vote on rural area land-use issues, such as the run-of-river projects. Quoting from the March 26 Minutes under New Business:

“Director McNaughton questioned why City directors do not participate in discussions on independent power projects [IPPs] or other similar proposals which have similar impacts. He also questioned whether controversial motions should be worded so that the Board as a whole is not perceived as being responsible for recommendations on which only some directors vote, e.g., motions pertaining to IPPs.

Director Brabazon commented on electoral area directors’ frustration with increased transmission lines, noting the Provincial government is running a gold rush on independent power projects with no serious consideration of potential impacts. Chair Palmer indicated the Board was not opposed to Plutonic but wanted the Province to recognize and respect certain values.

Director McNaughton stressed that, in his view, all directors need to be able to participate in dialogue on certain issues respecting the region as a whole. Further to this point, he questioned how a mega-project like the independent power projects got to be a planning issue?”

You may not be aware that the city directors sometimes get two votes each to reflect the larger urban population they represent. (Click here for an explanation of the unique voting system used by BC regional districts.) With their “weighted” votes, the city directors could come very close to outvoting the rural directors on any given issue. Texada is a rural electoral area. How would Texadans feel about Powell River City Councilors discussing and voting on island land use issues, or on any Texada issue they deem to have “regional significance?” Do we want our land use issues controlled by the City of Powell River?

(5) Finally, what’s DNEWS without a weather report? It is late afternoon on April 1 as I write these words, but when I woke up today the world had turned snow white. Ground, trees, chicken-coop, barn – everything covered in snow, with more falling. In a few hours the snow vanished under a steady rain, which is good because we’ve had a dry late winter and early spring so far. Then the rain stopped. Our island’s rainforest needs lots of rain, and that’s no April Fool’s joke. More moisture, please.

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