Viewpoint: Environment’s protection sabotaged

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BY MAXINE LEICHTER

Many of us have long assumed that the Islands Trust area is a special place where the natural environment is protected. This belief is a mirage. 

Whether or not the environment gets protected is actually left to the discretion of locally elected trustees. If we elect trustees who favour development over environmental protection, that’s what we get. This means the Gulf Islands have no more protection than they would under any other local government.

How can this be? The Islands Trust Act clearly specifies that the “environment” and the “unique amenities” of the Gulf Islands are to be protected — but that protection has been eroded for years. 

Our official community plan (OCP) contains mostly aspirational goals describing a utopia where every need, be it economic, social or environmental, is met. Even the few hard and fast mandates in our OCP, such as limiting the eventual population of the island to 17,000, have been ignored. For example, bylaws have been passed over the past few years allowing thousands of additional suites and cottages with no requirement that they be affordable, or even go to island workers. And now our trustees are considering rezoning the entire island to allow for even   more secondary residences.

The Trust Act requires that island bylaws be consistent with a policy statement adopted by Trust Council. But this requirement was subverted when Trust Council adopted a policy that local bylaws don’t have to be consistent with the policy statement if there is “sufficient reason.”

To make matters worse, last year, during discussions on a new policy statement, Trust Council passed motions to re-define the object of the Trust to include “protection of healthy and inclusive communities including, but not limited to, housing and transportation.” How is that protecting the “environment” and “unique amenities” of the islands?

Motions to make protection of the natural environment a top priority were rejected by the majority, including our trustees. Some trustees even argued that the word “environment” in the Trust object should be interpreted to include “people.” 

It’s easy and tempting to follow the same growth pattern as other communities. But that’s not what the Trust Act says. Those who wrote the Trust Act would roll over in their graves if they could see how the words “environment” and “unique amenities” have been distorted to enable, rather than limit, development.

The voices in favour of continuing the current trend speak loudly. Protections will decline unless the community objects. 

The Islands Trust Policy Statement is being revised this year. I urge you to write to our trustees at ssiinfo@islandstrust.bc.ca  and ask them not to violate population limits in our OCP, and to support motions at Trust Council affirming that the word “environment” in the Trust Act means “natural environment” and that “unique amenities” means one-of-a-kind features that do not exist anywhere else.

7 Comments
  1. T says

    Thousands of additional suites, pray tell where are they? Just wondering if you were born on Salt Spring, or are you a transplant from some other place brought in to save the Gulf Islands?

  2. T says

    The Islands Trust actually specifies “preserve and protect the trust area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of the residents of the trust area and of British Columbia generally.” Perhaps there is some disconnect on what one considers benefits to residents. Housing is a benefit?

  3. AJHD says

    Housing is not in the Trust mandate, nor is this an area of jurisdiction for them. They can only advocate on this subject. Multi density housing contributes to the water and sewage problems on the islands that are now over the “tipping point of environmental health”(Trust 2016). Contamination from too many septic fields entering the groundwater is causing acidification and raises the C02 levels in the oceans. This negatively impacts the sea life and contributes to the current climate crisis. Just one more reason to focus all the Trust policy statements on protection and preservation of the island eco systems.

    1. T says

      The OCP must have statements and map designations for:
      Residential development required to meet anticipated housing needs over a period of at least five years.
      An official community plan must also include:

      Housing Planning Policies: Housing policies for affordable housing, rental housing and special needs housing
      Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets: Targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and policies and actions of the local government proposed to achieve those targets
      https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/planning-land-use/local-government-planning/official-community-plans

  4. Elizabeth Bennett says

    The response to Maxine Leichter’s editorial is not indicative as to how Canada welcomes people into its communities and to require a litmus test to prove one was born on Salt Spring in order to voice their opinion is indefensible. This is a bullying technique to state a completely false premise in order for those who read or discuss Maxine Leichter’s editorial to then fully discount it because of where she was born. You have maligned her and the valid arguments she puts forth. It would be incumbent upon those living on Salt Spring and the Trust to reflect on her insights. Her editorials and comments made before the Trust have unselfishly focused on solving problems in relation to Salt Spring’s limited resources. Her background as a professional is in Planning and she appears competent in speaking on the environment. Her arguments are cohesive and make sense. She clearly understands what happens when enough water is unavailable, when sewage is not properly disposed of and when density becomes an issue for all. It has nothing to do with affordability. We all have different views of what constitutes the OCP and the Trust Act but the environment as interpreted when written should be honored and that was defined as the “natural” environment. Mrs. Leichter has every right to voice her opinion not only as a citizen but also as someone who is passionate about Salt Spring Island’s sustainability.

    Enough is enough. The discourse has turned ugly. Can we stop blaming others for our inability to afford to live as we feel we are entitled?

    Perhaps we should take steps to independently and openly evaluate our population. How many people live on the island, their ages? How many people are needed to fill the critical jobs? What are considered critical? What are the skills necessary? Do we currently have these skills? Will current wages be sufficient to live here? How many additional dwellings have been created with the promise of alleviating the housing shortage and the promise of affordability? How will these be monitored? Do these dwellings meet health, safety and environmental protection regulations? Are property taxes assessed on these units? Many more questions need to be answered. There will always be a segment of the population who cannot afford to live here as in many areas of the world but living on an island contains far more obstacles than most. By taking the time to educate ourselves we make better decisions rather than responding in a knee jerk reaction to those who yell the loudest. As an island we have fewer options and whatever is decided, it will have long lasting effects not only from an environment and resource impact but also from an economic impact where it will reduce the value of individual assets because of non-enforcement of bylaws, rezoning and density changes.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    1. shelley mahoney says

      Elizabeth, the census will give you all the info you need regarding who lives here, what are their ages, how many homeowners, how many non resident owners. The Salt Spring Island Foundation released studies that answer your other questions as well. CHEK News recently reported that SSI needs 300 apartments to meet its needs.

      It doesn’t matter how loud you yell, or how many trees Maxine kills to have her relentless anti-housing letters published….nothing will change until we have a real government.

      1. T says

        Your comments re: available information are absolutely correct. The demographics of SSI are changing significantly, becoming older and richer and more entitled. The “amenities” will not be available for long, if there is no one available to provide the amenities because they can’t afford to live on the island. And as for the water problem, if a meter of water falls on Salt Spring annually, we must look at how to capture it. There are solutions if one choses to look for them.

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