Wally Vowels Foreground) has resigned his position with the Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society in the wake of a stop order issued by the District of Sooke, Vowels, seen here at the site of the new hatchery, has been a driving force behind the project. (Tim Collins/ Sooke News Mirror)

Stop work order at Sooke salmon hatchery devastates volunteers

CRD steps in as some volunteers give up their efforts

The District of Sooke has issued a stop work order on the new Charters Creek Salmon Hatchery after the Juan de Fuca Salmon Enhancement Society failed to obtain a building permit.

Municipal staff visited the site Thursday with an order that halts construction on the project which began in December.

The enhancement society says it applied for the permit, but it was not issued in a timely matter, prompting society volunteers to go ahead with work without the permit.

RELATED: Mayor vows to fix building permit delay

“It’s all part of a toxic situation in Sooke. When we started the process applying for the building permit there were more than 70 permits waiting for approval and we had a timeline that we had to meet so we just got started,” said Wally Vowels, one of the volunteers spearheading the project.

“It’s not like we were doing this in secret. We let them know all along what we were doing and sent them engineers reports to show them that we were doing things right.”

A sticking point between the society and the district arose when the district demanded that the society apply for an exemption to allow it to build on a flood plain.

RELATED: New hatchery in Sooke a boon to salmon stocks

“Yes, we are on a flood plain, but there is a general exemption under the regulations for the type of use we have going on. All we have is a concrete floor, some tanks and fish. No one lives in the building and we store no other materials that would qualify under their assumed goods regulation,” Vowels said.

“All the electrical is above the 100-year flood level, so we have done everything we needed to do.”

The stop work order was put into play by acting CAO Don Schaffer, who said the project appeared to be proceeding in violation of the municipal rules.

“If we don’t enforce the rules here, how do we enforce them elsewhere?” asked Schaffer, adding the issue has been going on for months and felt some action was needed.

Mayor Maja Tait expressed her concern about the situation, saying she and other councillors are trying to address the issue.

“[Council] has largely tried to stay out of the way of this issue up to now. I can say that we are hugely supportive of the work of the salmon enhancement society. There are some very good people there doing tremendous work,” Tait said.

She said Larson Engineering has stepped up to volunteer its staff to produce the reports needed to allow a flood plain exemption to be considered by the district council.

The issue is expected to be discussed at Monday’s council meeting.

RELATED: Volunteers work to save salmon and whales

Part of the solution may lie in a move by the Capital Regional District to take over the administrative aspects of the hatchery’s construction.

“The new hatchery is on CRD land and fully supported by the CRD,” said Mike Hicks, CRD director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.

“Bob Lapham (the CRD’s chief administrative officer) has now become involved and will be compiling the needed documents and presenting them to Sooke.”

Hicks, who is a volunteer with the construction project, cautioned the hatchery has the fish arriving in October, transferred from the existing hatchery, and the building must be completed by then.

“This is devastating to the volunteers. People like Wally [Vowels] have put their heart and soul into this project,” he said.

Vowels has resigned his position with the salmon enhancement society and is taking a step back from the project.

“I’m nauseated by this whole process and for my own health, I am going to step back for the time being,” Vowels said. “It’s a sad thing.”


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