Westward Independent

North Cowichan Council Confronted By Unexpected Estuary Dilemma

by Adrienne Richards
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As the story of the Cowichan Bay Estuary and the Dinsdale Farm continues to peel apart like an onion, each layer exposing the deeper story, we will continue to cover this saga until the day there is some sort of ‘ending’.

As we have written at length, the Cowichan Bay Estuary has become a hot topic in the Valley, with some members of the public championing the ‘restoration’ narrative, while others have taken on the battle to fight the flooding of 180 acres of prime farmland that sits in the Estuary. Much of this contention to the flooding was obvious when farmers filled the roads outside the CVRD building the day that a meeting was held to decide if the CVRD was going to send a letter to the Agricultural Land Commission on Nature Trust’s (the owner of the land) behalf. Many layers have been exposed from emails between Nature Trust and staff at the CVRD, to Ministers that seem to also have been involved. As discussed in last month’s article on the topic, one theme seems to be occurring, elected officials seemed to have no idea about the project. Last month we brought forward a breakdown from the Freedom Of Information (FOIA) documents that centred around the CVRD. This month we have now received over 200 pages from more FOIA documents regarding North Cowichan’s involvement, or lack of.

From the documents we can see that in late December 2022 and Jan 2023 Goetz Schuerholz, Chair of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association (CERCA) is sending Council emails that lay out what council should do to abide by World Diversity Forum’s goals of 30% of land and 30% of water strictly protected (from people) by 2030, an odd ask of a country with 70% of land basically uninhabited. This Forum works in conjunction with the United Nations COP meetings. The meetings are sponsored by such global “nature protectors” as Nestle, Capgenini Invent, Cathay Financial Investments, SNC-Lavalin and more. Geotz,is the owner of TAESCO Transamerica Environmental Science Consultants Ltd. just one of the many companies that sell consulting and research around “sustainability” to private companies globally. TAESCO sells its services to entities such as Line Creek Resources Ltd., a multi-national coal-mining company, Canadian Forest Services, Shell International Ltd. the World Bank, and the BC government. The point of his emails was asking to put the Estuary and 6 mountains (North Cowichan’s 5k hectare forest) into a “protected zone” to abide by this 30 by 30 “agreement” – an agreement which has no legal standing, and is tantamount to a pinky promise at best.

Then on March 1st 2023 Council passed the following motion,: “THAT the Mayor write a letter to the Province requesting that the Province, in consultation with affected stakeholders, amend the 1987 Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan to reflect the current scientific knowledge of the role of estuaries in the ecosystem, land ownership and uses, and climate change; AND to request support from Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Valley Regional District, City of Duncan, Cowichan Estuary and Restoration and Conservation Association (CERCA).”

After this motion was passed, multiple forms of the letter to be sent to the Honourable Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, and was passed between staff and finally to the Mayor for approval. The letter consisted of asking Minister Cullen to: “Request to update the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan. In 2022, North Cowichan Council endorsed a report from Diamond Head Consulting recommending that the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan (CEEMP) be updated.” from the last plan from the ministry that was dated 1987. Even though, according to the multi-agency Cowichan Estuary Environment Management Committee; “The state of the estuary and the ecological and management issues were reviewed in the 2005 Review of the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan, and in the 2010 presentation entitled Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan Review 2010 Update”, it seemed Council was looking for an update to be done by the Provincial Ministry.

According to the 1987 Cowichan Estuary Environmental Plan, it was not seen to be needing any amendments in the foreseeable future, unless there were justifications for the changes based on vast changes to the area, and if it were amended to include consultation with all neighbouring properties – which we know still has not happened. Diamond Head Consulting noted that the old plan: “continues to reference old agreements and legislation, industrial parties that no longer exist, and does not include new parties that have since become active in the Estuary. Diamond Head also identified other areas of concern that have changed significantly since 1986, e.g.,,sea level rise and changing; precipitation/river discharge patterns;- the physical boundaries and ecological community of the estuary; consultation with First Nations has changed; and,- the use of the estuary as a moorage for Port Metro Vancouver.”

In early April 2023 letters were then sent to: Chief Cindy Daniels-Cowichan Tribes, Michelle Staples- Mayor of the City of Duncan, Aaron Stone – Chair, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and Dr. Goetz Schuerholz, Chair, Cowichan Estuary and Restoration and Conservation Association to: “consider providing a letter of support for our request to the Honourable Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, to update the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan”

On May 13th 2023 an email was received from the office of the Minister stating “Dear Mayor Douglas: Please see attached letter regarding some of the current challenges in the Cowichan Estuary, and your request to amend the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan (CEEMP).”

Within the attachment, it seemed the Minister did not feel a full plan was needed, or maybe he knew something others’ did not? “I understand that prior reviews of the CEEMP in 2005 and 2010 highlighted several positive outcomes of the plan as well as some areas for improvement. As a starting point I will look to regional staff to review those prior reports and work with the CEEMC to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing plan. In the interim, please continue to work with Jesse Patterson, Ecosystems Section Head, Land Use Policy, Planning and Ecosystems Division, as the Chair of the CEEMC on any short-term process improvements”

On May 19th 2023 Mayor Douglas wrote to CAO Swabey in response to the letter from the Ministers office: “In terms of next steps, I am thinking municipal staff should contact Jesse Paterson (chair of the Estuary committee) to discuss timelines for provincial staff to review prior reports and to bring this topic forward as an future estuary committee meeting.”

On May 24th 2023 Thomas Reid, of Nature Trust, writes in to thank staff for allowing him to present on future plans for the estuary the week before. The same Tom Reid that has an @naturetrust AND an @gov.bc.ca email address, who has not yet responded to our queries as to why this is.

When it looks as if staff and the Mayor are going to slowly look into the whole topic at a future date, all of a sudden the Citizen newspaper breaks the news, as does the Estuary Resilience website regarding the flooding of the farmland and the dike removals. The staff are caught off guard as North Cowichan’s head engineer sends an email to N.C.’s Environmental Programs Coordinator, stating “Will you look at this!!! Where is the communication.”, the reply being: “First I’ve heard of it ! Looks like it’s Tom Reid’s group. Maybe Dave P was aware, but this is the first I’ve heard of it from anyone.”

Coincidentally, or not, in May of 2023, less than a month before the ‘big reveal’ of the real plan, Nature Trust was granted $3,493,975 by the Federal Government’s “BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund projects” to top off their 2019 grant set to run out March 2024 of $8,552,415 to: “‘Enhancing Estuary Resilience: An Innovative Approach to Sustaining Fish and Fish Habitat in a Changing Climate’

Under “partner quotes” for the project we see the same Minister who North Cowichan had spent a month formulating a letter and gathering support for a letter to, and who had told North Cowichan that there were some issues with their request, and indicated they may not need a whole new plan was now stated as saying: “Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship shares, “We are delighted to collaborate on this project to restore the natural estuarine marshlands in the Cowichan Estuary. Our government is committed to the sustainable management and protection of water resources in B.C., and this project aligns perfectly with our goals. By restoring the natural marshland, we are enhancing the ecological health of this important ecosystem and improving the water quality of the surrounding areas. This project will set an excellent example for the preservation of Canada’s aquatic ecosystems, and we are proud to be a part of it. We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts and seeing the positive impact of this project on the Cowichan Estuary and the communities that rely on it.” Interesting change of tune by the Minister, stay tuned.

As soon as this flooding was announced, a direct neighbour of the estuary sprang into action and created a non profit called Land Keepers, and with help from volunteers, COAP Inc. also stepped in to help with FOIA’s and Town halls, Land Keepers retained lawyers, and began the long fight to save the Farmland. While still fighting the flooding, Land Keepers has also expanded to fight alongside other farmers all over the province battling water rights and more. Land Keepers Society is a non-profit run entirely by devoted volunteers and all the money raised goes to unbiased independent scientific studies and lawyers. You can support LK by becoming a member, a volunteer, or donating. We must stand up and protect one another in this time of irrational measures.

Visit www.landkeeperssociety.com or call Jack McLeod at 587-991-5452 if you would like to receive correspondence by mail.
* FOI Document available on our website at www.wwind.ca

Download the FOI here

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