Nature Without Borders was endorsed by all jurisdictions in the Comox Valley. That means the Village of Cumberland, The Town of Comox, the City of Courtenay anf the Comox Valley Regional District all agreed that the ecosystem losses in the Valley had to stop; we need to protect what's left and grow our community in those areas that do not contain these last, few, sensitive areas.
One of the first tests of this type of thinking came up during the Town of Comox's OCP renewal process. The mature treed area known as the North East Woods (DL 194) was slated for development with a new road slicing through the incredibly sensitive hydrology that feeds Hilton Sprong, active farmland and eventually into Lazo Marsh. It was touted by planners and politicians as the next expansion of the Town.
It took over 300 letters from residents to remind Council and the planning department that this is an area that should be conserved for many reasons.
Kudos to the Town and to Mayor Ives for moving decisivly to acquire this land though a land grant from the Province and make it parkland therby conserving it's environmental and recreational values. I wish the Town all the best of luck in weaving this land grant request through the Provincial bureaucratic process. You have the vast majority of residents' support on this.
It needs to be pointed out however that it took the public outcry to mobilize the conservation effort. Council and planners were preparing to develop this land even though they had endorsed a document that suggests areas like this be conserved for the future health and well-being of both humans and the natural world.
Next, along comes a development proposal for the Vanier Oaks property (still owned by School District #71) to the City of Courtenay planning department.
The Vanier Oaks property is on a fairly steep hillside that is home to a unique Gary Oak forest, a closed canopy fir forest and the headwaters of Towhee Creek. Just the fact that three sensitive and locally rare ecosystems exist on this property shoould motivate Council and the planning department to do everything in their power to discourage development on this property.
But no, Council does the opposite. They make it easier for this development proposal to go forward by passing a motion to allow the subdivision of the land before an approved plan is in place. The City does not even have a plan as to how they will service this development let alone had a complete application presented to them for development by the proponent.
Of course, in all scenarios, mitigation of impact to the ecosystems is possible. We know however, that mitigation not only does not work well; the ecosystems always suffer and eventually fail and there is absolutely no follow-up monitoring or accountability for proving the mitigation worked.
The economic argument presented by SD#71 is a good one. The School District is suffering from a lack of sustainable funding from the Province and has been encouraged to sell off redundant assets such as the Vanier Oak property. The funds from this sale will, as described by the Superintendent of Schools Sherry Elwood, provide an upgrade to the flagship school in the district, G.P.Vanier Senior Secondary School, that will only provide the type of education we expect our schools to be providing!
One of the most serious lost lessons here is that we need to protect these last few remaining ecosystems. By developing this land we send the wrong signals to everyone.
So far, here are two examples of a continuing loss of important, rare and sensitive ecosystems brought on by Councils allowing development to occur as a natural couse of events and without a thought to the committments made when endorsing NWB, The CVSS, the RGS and even common sense.
The NE Woods may be saved but the possible destruction of Towhee Creek and a loss of mature forest seems inevitable. I am worried about the Garry Oak ecosystem as well but there is protection for this grove in place and the proponent seems to see the value in protecting it and even expanding it and keeping the footprint of the development well away.
What is next? Conservation means we look at each development proposal, each subdivision request with an eye to the future and we find the courage to discourage developments on senstive land and we work together as a community to find trades and swaps and other creative schemes to allow developers to build while we set a new course in protection and conservation of those systems that give us life itself.