To preserve and protect an archipelago of 13 major islands off the coast of B.C. has long been the mandate of the Islands Trust. However, many people are unaware that the Trust Council has embarked on a review of this mandate. A defeated motion at the March Islands Trust council meeting has received little public attention and I believe those of us who support protection of the Gulf Islands from uncontrolled development should be very concerned.
The majority of trustees approved a motion that states that protecting First Nations cultural heritage is a top priority but they defeated a motion to give environmental preservation the same priority. In my view, there is a strange contradiction between the outcome of these two motions, given how closely tied Indigenous interests are to the natural world.
My observation from my home on Galiano is that our local committee appears to sidestep Islands Trust and Official Community Plan policies that relate to environmental preservation when it suits their purpose. For instance, I have been shocked to see how quickly residents’ environmental concerns are disregarded or diminished in the shadow of a current rezoning application for affordable and market housing on Galiano. The goal is laudable but the site is problematic.
The proposed housing would require clear-cutting a two-hectare portion of the Galiano Heritage Forest. It is 4-7 km from island services which, in the absence of public transportation, means tenants with limited incomes will need a vehicle. Access to the site is 500 metres along an undeveloped road through a riparian area that, if developed, will see 50-60 new vehicle trips a day. This development will add 48 new water consumers to an established neighbourhood that is less than 50 per cent built-out but already has documented water problems.
There are specific policies on forest fragmentation, protection of water and climate change when it comes to land use decisions. Yet despite obvious incongruencies between these policy directives and the proposed development, this rezoning application is continuing to progress through various stages of the approval process and we are being told that it is “generally consistent” with OCP and Trust policies.
Sadly, we are seeing two issues in conflict, both of which matter greatly to many islanders – the desire to preserve and protect our environment while building a healthy community. But we can’t build healthy communities without preserving and protecting the natural environment and resources upon which those communities depend. Last year’s State of the Islands Report showed that Gabriola, Hornby and Mayne are already at or near the acceptable threshold for ecosystem health.
If the needs of the community, which often result in increased density, are considered equally with environmental concerns and First Nations cultural heritage, my experience on Galiano foretells a future where Trust policies get lip service but Gulf Islands’ development – and ecosystem degradation marches on.