By Frants Attorp
With regard to the proposed Vortex development at the site of the former Fulford Inn (17 commercial guest accommodation units, a restaurant and associated facilities), the public should be aware that the Local Trust Committee, in granting a variance to decrease septic setback distances from Soule Creek and Fulford Harbour, did not heed the recommendation of Trust staff.
“Staff do not support this variance request and consider it to be contrary to land use bylaw and OCP provisions for water quality protection,” the staff report states. Here is the rationale: “Adjacent to a fish-bearing stream. Adjacent to a sensitive estuarine ecosystem. Projected to be subject to climate change-induced flooding. Presence of recorded archaeological site.”
Trust bylaw regulations require a minimum septic setback of 30 metres, which is a safety margin based on scientific research. The variance now allows a setback of just 10 metres from Soule Creek and 26 metres from the harbour.
The CRD’s Coastal Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment Report projects that the majority of the lot where the Fulford Inn was situated, including all of the road in front, will eventually be covered by sea water. Other climate change hazards include increased wave action and slope instability.
Additionally, the Trust’s senior freshwater specialist says the site is at risk of a “potentially tidal dominated groundwater table” and warns that groundwater diversion, if necessary, could pose unknown risks to the receiving environment.
In contrast to these concerns, the applicant is claiming that ground discharge from the septic system “could improve water status in the riparian area adjacent to Soule Creek or the estuary as well as adding to base stream flow.” One can only wonder if cleaners, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals will be among the improvements.
The LTC chose the least restrictive of Trust staff’s three alternatives, which is to approve the variance but require monitoring of the sewage disposal system for the first five years. The other two options were to deny the permit (forcing a revised septic plan), or ask for more information in the form of a hydrology report and a professional biologist report.
The applicant has applied to the CRD to have the site included in the Fulford Water Service Area. A capacity study is required “to determine the impact on the Fulford Water System and capability of Weston Lake to provide water through the dry season.”
Given the commercial zoning, some type of commercial development is to be expected. But an examination of the details shows that the proposal is extremely complex, largely because the property is so close to sea level and deeply embedded in the water environment. Regardless of how well-designed the septic system is, it will be rendered useless if the entire site is flooded during a tidal surge. Flooding does not have to come across the road, but could occur from behind as sea water is forced up Fulford Creek.
Many questions arise, such as: Who is looking out for the marine life in and around Fulford Harbour? How, in a rapidly changing world, can anyone predict if Weston Lake will be able to meet future water demands for a significantly expanded network of users? And, above all, why have trustees not adopted “the precautionary principle” as specified in our OCP?