Tim Collins/News staff
The saga of the Island View Beach management plan took an unexpected turn at the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the CRD when board chair, Barb Desjardins, told committee members she had received a letter from the Tsawout First Nation.
The opening paragraph of that correspondence read:
“The Tsawout First Nation does not support the current draft Island View Beach Regional Park Management Plan. (the plan) does not provide a decision -making role for the Tsawout First Nation in the management of our traditional lands that are included within the park”
Gwen Underwood, the Tsawout Lands Manager said that, despite meeting with the CRD for years, their concerns have not been addressed. She went on to say that most of the users of the park are very respectful of the area, but cited dog walking companies who arrive at the beach with up to eight dogs at a time as an example of a practice that needs to be addressed.
“We aren’t just stakeholders in this process. We’ve been here for thousands of years and we need to be treated as a local government,” said Underwood. “It’s why we sent the letter.”
In response to the correspondence, Desjardins called for any decision on the management plan to be delayed until at least August to allow staff to review the issues raised by the Tsawout and respond to the CRD board.
Despite the delayed vote, the Board heard impassioned presentations from ten separate delegations regarding the plan; delegations that highlighted the deep divide that exists between the two sides of the issue.
On one side, the majority of the delegations represented the view of those who, among other issues, want the CRD to live up to it’s responsibility to maintain the berm in the park and keep the drainage ditches cleared to prevent infestations of mosquitoes that plague the area when that maintenance does not take place. That group also generally advocates the human enjoyment of the park, citing the fact that this was agricultural land before being designated as a regional park, not the idyllic natural wetland portrayed by some critics of the active use of the area.
Jason Austin, one of the organizers of the Friends of Island View Beach, presented visual evidence of the failure of the CRD to clear the ditches and said the group would continue to fight to prevent a large area of beachfront on the northern section of the park from being closed to the more than 400,000 annual users of the park.
On the opposing side, three delegations appeared to defend what some have characterized as “the naturalist agenda”.
Ann Nightingale, a Saanichton resident, gave a presentation in which she accused the Friends of Island View Beach as speaking only for their own self-interests. She maintained that she had been made to feel “gullible, simple, foolish, stupid and duped” through her interaction with the organization and went on to criticize the news coverage of the conflict as also being motivated by self interest, although she gave no indication of the nature of the alleged media self-interest.
Several of the delegations also addressed the issue of off-leash dogs in the park with a variety of allegations being levelled by critics of dogs in the park and a series of counter testimonials being offered by long-time park users supportive of the practice who said that dogs posed little or no problem for either the beach or beach users.
The proposed management plan issue will be returning to the CRD in August.