The Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) has found itself entangled in a web of controversy surrounding Phase 3 of the Shawnigan Village Rail Trail (SVRT). From potential environmental impacts to alleged regulatory violations, this project has raised concerns and opposition from various quarters, with locals fighting back to protect their interests.
The project, aimed at constructing a 720-meter-long multi-use recreational trail between the railway tracks and the shoreline, has faced criticism since retired biologist Dave Munday’s presentation on June 2, 2021. Munday, also the president of the Shawnigan Basin Society, delivered a comprehensive 130-page report to the EASC, highlighting potential environmental impacts. Surprisingly, this damning report went ignored, leaving many perplexed, especially considering the project’s location in a Green Party riding and an area known for its environmental advocacy.
One of the major concerns revolves around the volume of soil to be deposited along the High Water Mark (HWM) of Shawnigan Lake. The CVRD’s Request For Proposals estimates this at 2,700 cubic meters, with the potential for infilling the lake if not transported off-site, amounting to a staggering 3,900 cubic meters or 390 dump truck loads.
The construction plan involves a 4-5 meter wide gravel trail on land owned by the Island Corridor Foundation, with a 0.9-meter buffer inside the mandatory 15-meter buffer allowed. The estimates include the removal of 3,000 square meters of vegetation, 1,200 cubic meters of excavations to be transported off-site or deposited along the HWM, and 2,700 cubic meters of embankment fill deposited along the HWM to elevate the trail bed above the flood zone.
CVRD staff enlisted Justin Lange of Madrone Environmental Services Ltd. to provide opinions supporting the trail alignment. Lange’s recommendations, encapsulated in Madrone’s October 19, 2021 Environmental Impact Assessment/Environmental Management Plan, raised eyebrows. Concerns were expressed about potential risks, such as a ruptured hydraulic line, and the need for measures like biodegradable hydraulic fluid, avoiding work during inclement weather, and using sediment fences. However, it’s noted that no Approval application was made, and Lange’s opinions are viewed by critics as intellectually dishonest, seemingly intended to achieve a predetermined outcome.
In a surprising turn of events, the CVRD passed Bylaw 4360 in July 2022, lowering the HWM without any evaluation or change in recommendations by Quality Enhancement Plans (QEPs). This move applied a 0.9-meter setback, contrary to the 15-20 meter setback required by the Riparian Areas Protection Regulation.
During an EASC meeting in April 2022, Shawnigan Director Sierra Acton questioned Lange about the CVRD’s adherence to its own rules. Lange’s response emphasized going “above and beyond” the regulations, referencing the Water Sustainability Act and Project Review with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. However, critics argue that Phase 3 SVRT failed to meet even the basic riparian protection standards.
In 2023, the CVRD retained a new QEP, Lehna Malmkvist of Swell Environmental Consulting Ltd., whose Environmental Management Plan (EMP) Report echoed Lange’s opinions from 2021. This raised concerns about the standard of care required from a QEP, as the report failed to evaluate the reasonableness of the 116.3-meter HWM or the 0.9-meter buffer for the project footprint.
Notably, no Approval Application was submitted under the Water Sustainability Regulation. Instead, a Notification application for a culvert installation and stream work was approved by the Ministry of Forests, albeit with specific conditions. Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a Letter of Advice, emphasizing adherence to Swell’s EMP recommendations. However, this letter does not provide relief from RAPR obligations, indicating the CVRD’s failure to meet setback and riparian rules.
Locals, particularly those owning properties in the affected area, are voicing their concerns over lost privacy, with potential impacts on historical homes dating back to the late 1800s. The backlash from the community against the project is gaining momentum, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive reevaluation and adherence to environmental regulations.
The controversy surrounding the Phase 3 Shawnigan Village Rail Trail project underscores the importance of transparent and accountable decision-making in environmental initiatives. Alleged violations, from disregarding damning environmental reports to questionable bylaw changes, demand a thorough review to ensure the protection of sensitive ecosystems and the rights of affected communities. As the community fights back, the CVRD faces a crucial moment in demonstrating its commitment to environmental stewardship and regulatory compliance.
Edited by staff for length and summation, based on detailed information provided by Russell Lyon, a resident directly affected by this pathway.