Viewpoint: Trust issues illustrate conflict
By JENNIFER MARGISON
Anyone who wants the Gulf Islands to be protected from uncontrolled development should be very concerned about what happened at the March 9 meeting of Islands Trust Council.
The meeting turned out to be a pivotal moment in the review of the Islands Trust Policy Statement, the umbrella document that determines land use policies for all of the islands.
A majority of trustees approved a motion to make protection of First Nations cultural heritage a top priority, but defeated a motion to do the same for the natural environment. It was a strange contradiction given how closely tied Indigenous interests are to the natural world.
Furthermore, by failing to prioritize protection of the environment, community needs will be given equal standing when it comes to land use decisions. This is a worrisome trend for the future management of our fragile islands. Without strong, protective legislation, ecosystems, which have no voice of their own, are defenceless against human encroachment.
This broken system of governance has allowed Galiano’s Local Trust Committee to sidestep environmental protection policies when it suits their purpose. For instance, it is shocking to see how residents’ environmental concerns have been disregarded or downplayed in the shadow of a current rezoning application for affordable housing. The goal is laudable but the site problematic.
The proposed housing would require clear-cutting a two-hectare portion of the Galiano Heritage Forest. It is 4.7 kilometres from island services, which, in the absence of public transportation, means tenants with limited incomes will need a vehicle. Access to the site is 500 meters along an undeveloped road through a riparian area that, if developed, will see 50 to 60 new vehicle trips a day. Additionally, this development will add 48 new water consumers to an established neighbourhood that is less than 50 per cent built-out and already has documented water problems.
There are specific Trust policies on forest fragmentation, protection of water and climate change when it comes to land-use decisions. Nevertheless, this rezoning application is continuing through various stages of the approval process and we are being told it is “generally consistent” with official community plan and Trust policies.
Sadly, we are seeing two issues in conflict, both of which matter greatly to many islanders: the desire to preserve and protect our environment while building a healthy community. But we can’t build healthy communities without preserving and protecting the natural environment and resources upon which those communities depend. Last year’s State of the Islands Report showed that Gabriola, Hornby and Mayne are already at or near the “acceptable threshold for ecosystem health.”
If the needs of the community — which often result in increased density — are considered equally with environmental concerns and First Nations cultural heritage, my experience on Galiano foretells a future where Trust policies get lip service while development and ecosystem degradation march on.
The writer is a Galiano Island resident.