Islands Trust policy update alarms islanders

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Residents of many communities in the Islands Trust Area have become concerned about a project to update the Trust Policy Statement, but officials say any changes that have been proposed are far from the “done deal” some people have proclaimed.

Salt Spring trustee Laura Patrick said Friday she had received many phone calls and emails from people who were upset Islands Trust Council is scheduled to consider first reading of a new draft policy statement without the public being invited to comment on it first.

“It is the right way to go forward,” Patrick said regarding first reading. “It’s going to be fair and transparent and out there, and this is the way to do it. Let’s get a proper draft on the table, and then let’s get feedback on it.”

Patrick also faced questions about the issue from a crowd of about 50 residents at Friday’s ASK Salt Spring session in the United Church meadow who felt the Trust was trying to push through major changes without proper public consultation.

Patrick noted the Trust’s programs committee has produced an evolving document under the “Islands 2050” project, with two sets of amendments to date in order to present an initial version for Trust Council’s consideration. At least two different versions of the draft have been circulating through social media since the programs committee’s last meeting on June 15 and neither one is correct, she said.

Patrick said there are parts of the proposed amendments she doesn’t agree with herself, but she is committed to the sequence of events. Many more amendments and editing can be expected before the statement gets to second reading, and even after that.

“I’m not blessing the policy — I’m blessing the process,” Patrick said.

People who are concerned that massive changes are coming without any chance to stop them have listed several key issues of concern. Top of mind for some is a proposed amendment that would prohibit new private docks through the entire Trust area, along with seawalls and other hard surfaces at the shoreline. Changes to definitions about agriculture and forestry as valuable traditional activities have also been flagged. Due to new areas of focus on reconciliation and climate change, draft language proposes that small-scale sustainable agriculture that increases local food security be prioritized. Maintaining tree cover as a priority has also been added to one draft.

John Money, a Saturna resident who formerly served as an islands trustee for 21 years, has written to several provincial ministries to protest what he terms to be a “heavy handed” policy statement and “an abuse of power” that would negate a local Trust committee’s ability to meet their community’s unique situations. Money said the process should be paused until town hall meetings can be conducted in person.

“A major policy review that dictates to every community and their official community plans should be taken out to each and every community, to as many local meetings as it takes for residents to understand and come to some kind of consensus,” Money wrote. “For the Islands Trust to expect the residents of all the communities in the Trust area to go onto the Islands Trust website to find the huge number of changes being done with no consultation is unrealistic, undemocratic and very poor thinking; I would go so far as to say that a very limited number of residents even know that this is happening.”

The Islands Trust issued a statement Friday assuring constituents the project is still in its early phase and that plenty of opportunities for input will be offered. The first formal opportunity will be a town hall session taking place on Zoom from 7 to 9 p.m. on July 7. The event runs the evening before Islands Trust Council considers first reading of the draft policy statement amendments.

“This is typically the stage where people get more deeply interested and comment on specific proposed policies,” Trust Council chair Peter Luckham observed in the statement. “We invite everyone to read the document cover to cover to get a complete understanding about what is being proposed, the rationale and the commitment to reconciliation.”

Luckham said people will have at least three months after first reading to provide feedback by email or letter, and there will also be a survey open for several weeks. Information about the draft bylaw will be provided on the Islands Trust website and at online open houses.

“All feedback will be considered as we work towards a revised version for second reading,” Luckham said.

More information, including the Islands 2050 project timeline, can be found at islandstrust.bc.ca.

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