Thursday, April 18, 2024
April 18, 2024

Efforts to preserve Rural character and boost self-reliance needed


The Islands Trust was launched in 1974 to preserve and protect, among other things, the rural character of this beautiful place. 

The date is very important as it indicates we are not trying to protect the islands as they were prior to white settlers’ arrival. Nor are we trying to protect the rural character in the latter half of the 19th century, when packs of wolves, cougars, elk and bears were commonplace, and First Nations people outnumbered the white people. 

The first 60 years of the 20th century featured an agrarian local economy, wherein there was broad agreement that self-reliance was important, both for individuals and  for Salt Spring Island as a community. That is what was to be preserved and protected.

My earliest memories, from the late ‘50s, is an island with only dirt roads except for the one paved a quarter mile up from the Fulford dock. Then in 1961, BC Ferries launched and Salt Spring became much more accessible.

In the next decade the roads were paved and the water system was expanded, both of which mimic urban development. People became very interested in all the Gulf Islands and there was development, some well thought out and some not. Property prices rose and large local landholders (including farmers) found it difficult to pay their taxes. Subdivisions became lucrative and commonplace. This is when the Islands Trust was created to deal with this urban expansion phenomenon.

What we have now is rural sprawl. Over 90 per cent of the population needs a car. The environmental goal of making it possible to live, work and play without a car has not been successful so far. We are a car-dependent community. The number of kilometers of road per person is way above average and the cost of that responsibility led, in part, to the defeat of the proposal to incorporate. Similarly, our water system aspires to the same level of service as a city, wherein the tax-funded portion is 33 feet between taxpayers. On Salt Spring Island it is often over 3,300 feet between taxpayers. Both road maintenance and water maintenance are issues that we have inherited from just before the days of the Islands Trust, and the sustainability of both have deteriorated since. The short-term benefit of having lots of roads per capita, and the urban water system making it all the way from Cusheon Lake to the top of the Cranberry Valley and out to Southey Point was great, but the bloom is off the rose. Short-term gain, long-term pain.

We really need to think beyond five-year plans!

In the ‘70s, the intention in creating the Islands Trust was not to protect rural sprawl but rather to protect the agrarian, self-reliant local culture valued at that time. The current direction of making and enforcing regulations that impede the ability of islanders to be self-reliant (individually and as a community) is in direct opposition to the initial intent of the Trust.

The good news is (ironically) that, because of climate change we will need to go back to being self-reliant to address new issues arising. We need to be smart. We need to think long term. Many of us have felt the supply-chain disruptions caused by COVID. These disruptions are a harbinger of what’s to come as climate change impacts progress. Whether it’s a heat dome, fire season, wind storms, or record rain, we need to begin preparations. We will be able to rely less and less on outside support. Let’s be smart and idealistic. 

The Trust could change course to support preparations, so that we are ready when the power goes out, when trees fall in record numbers, when the heat is lethal, and when flooding wipes out houses and roads. The worst case is where such events happen and we are isolated in a retirement community, reliant on outsiders who are dealing with their own issues. 

We still have some young people left here, who have the skills and energy to help us prepare. Let’s take care of them.

The writer is the president of SIREWALL Consulting Inc. and a member of the Islands Trust’s Housing Action Program Task Force.

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  1. Meror could sustainably solve every islands housing woes with his Rammed Earth solutions. In a perfect world were the IT actually worked for and cared about the folks who pay their salaries we would have eco villages owned by the Trust, designed by planners leaving the barest of footprints, collecting rainwater and reusing every last drop. No more wasteful freshwater-wasting septic systems, no more car-centric development. And before someone gets their knickers in a knot about the Trust owning/renting housing … wander over to the IT Conservancy website and read all about their role as “landlord” at the Ruby Alton house.


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