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  • Gayle Baker

Trustee Laura Patrick Discusses Logging and Environmentally-Conscious Development

November 15:

Twelve came to ask questions during this session of ASK Salt Spring. While the record for this first six weeks of operation is 15 when Adam Olsen was there, 12 is a satisfying trend. As many stayed during much of the conversation, there was a period of over an hour when all seats around the table were taken. (Luckily there were extra seats stored along the walls had they been needed.

Laura arrived at 10:00, and we spent the first half hour until our first guest arrived discussing what had been learned from Adam several weeks ago. We discussed the complaint-driven system of road maintenance, the lack of qualified early childhood education teachers, and the difficulty of making major changes in our healthcare system while doctors remain privatized and far less willing to embrace major changes.

This spurred a conversation about healthcare and the supposition that our problem is not the scarcity of doctors but the far greater problem of staffing our healthcare facilities - due, largely, to the difficulty of getting housing on Salt Spring. Our first guest chimed in with her concerns. She is a newly-arrived homeowner with skills, certifications, and the willingness to work in her career as an Occupational Therapist. The need for her skills is clearly there. Unfortunately, rules and regulations for certification have changed multiple times while she has been trying to navigate the system, each time forcing her to do more, despite the fact that her application was submitted before the changes. Why wasn’t her application grandfathered? Although the availability of an Ombudsman was suggested, the conclusion seemed to be that she needed to find someone in the system who could help her achieve success. The current Occupational Therapist on Salt Spring was suggested as a resource.

The conversation turned to logging on private land and stayed there for close to an hour. We learned that one major challenge was that Salt Spring and the other Gulf Islands do not have the power to regulate logging on private land. (This issue of logging on private land is severely impacting all the islands.) While municipalities have this power, it was simply not included in the legislative authority we were given. Adam is planning to present a bill this spring that will give certain powers to certain regions, depending upon their needs, rather than the current system that requires one size to fit all.

If he is successful, legislation could be written to give the power to regulate logging on private land to Islands Trust. With this completed, Islands Trust could draft a bylaw making such regulation legal. While this is an exciting option for the long game, there was some disappointment that this solution could be years away from implementation.

The conversation turned to protecting our coastal Douglas fir and the process to create a Development Permit Area (DPA) to do so. In hopes of creating such a DPA, Islands Trust is in the process of mapping to get the data needed for this potential solution. The hope is to layer layer multiple DPAs (such as dangerous slopes, riparian, and, possibly, even wildfire protection) on to sensitive areas so that multiple criteria would have be addressed before a permit were issued.

The suggestion was made that, while enthusiastically supporting Adam on legislation as well as working toward creating a coastal Douglas fir DPA, some better mapping may allow the Islands Trust to place more of our sensitive areas into already-existing DPAs in a relatively speedy time frame.

One guest asked questions about what its currently being done concerning mapping old growth with the possibility that she might take on this project as a citizen-based initiative. We briefly discussed the importance of citizen science in finding answers and learned that there is a convenient application that volunteers can use on Salt Spring to identify streams. It is possible that such an application is available for mapping old growth as well.

We learned that most mills in British Columbia have closed - and that too many of our logs are being sent overseas. And, that BC Ferries are subsidizing this unfortunate situation as long, fully-loaded trucks leave the island for free, paying far less to return empty.

The conversation shifted to development in ecologically-sensitive areas and a mention of a 15,000-20,000 square foot home being built, reportedly permitted as a single-family dwelling but likely destined to be a spa. There was a brief discussion about the penalty for lying to the Islands Trust.

The concept of Conservation Subdivisions and Home Plate development was introduced, options in which ecology and construction can partner successfully. Unfortunately, these options are not in our Official Community Plan (OCP,) another strong reason to support the Islands Trust initiative to renew certain most pressing sections of the OCP in the very near future.

It was agreed that if we want to protect sensitive land, there needs to be a foundation with cash-on-hand to buy properties before they are sold to less ecologically-responsible developers. With acquisition of targeted land, eco housing could be a step nearer to becoming a reality. Unfortunately, large sums of funding would need to be secured and available, not an easy task.

Two more guests arrived, both focused on creating environmentally-conscious affordable housing. One spoke with passion about his life-long commitment to build rammed earth homes - organic buildings that are an integral part of the earth - significantly different from most of our disposable, throw-away homes. He would like to build small (100 square feet) rammed earth affordable homes that owners could complete as they wished. He does not want to spend his energy fighting building regulations and restrictive bylaws to do this.

We discussed ways that he could accomplish his dream, mentioning teaming with Salt Spring Solutions as well as meeting with a building inspector to identify challenge before proceeding. The Housing Council was discussed as a good place for him to begin his journey. He left with an enthusiastic welcome to come back to ASK Salt Spring anytime for support - as well as a request to be informed about his progress.

Another guest spoke of a British Columbian community that went through the process to legalize tiny homes - but was too soon devastated by a flood. With attention of the emergency, the idea withered. There was discussion about wide-spread Salt Spring support for tiny, ecologically-responsible, affordable housing but seemingly no legal way to make these tiny homes a reality. While both ecologically-sustainable building as well as affordable housing is in our OCP, regulations still allow a building to cover 30% of the land. Laura voiced her frustration about this conflict.

A family new to Salt Spring arrived and joined in the conversation, speaking about how difficult it was for them to find housing for themselves and their family. Convinced that their children were likely to stay for many years into adulthood, they were frustrated that they were not being allowed to legally build housing designed to house the extended, multi-generational family they anticipated. Saying that the nuclear family is not normal, they wanted to see housing arrangements that would meet the needs of not only multi-generations but families built out of deep friendships in addition to blood ties.

This family had recently moved from Ontario and, while delighted to be here, were struggling with the fractured governance and difficulty getting answers and accomplishing anything. While they joined in with the housing conversation, their main question was about finding a doctor. They were told where to find a list of doctors (FETCH and the Lions’ Directory,) recognizing that they may have to simply begin calling each one to find one who accepts new patients. They were also told that some doctors take patients through recommendations and that others in the room would be happy to meet with their doctor to provide a recommendation for them. (They were also reminded that Lady Minto Hospital is always available for them and their family when medical help was needed until they found their own doctor.)

One individual came seeking a confidential meeting. After some private discussion, it was determined that a meeting with Gary Holman might be his next step. With no way to call to make an appointment, he was guided to the CRD offices, with the offer that he could always come back to ASK Salt Spring if he needed further help.

We concluded with a plea by the newcomers for Salt Springers to begin to work together. The wealth of resources are clear, but too many groups are working separately, trying to do the same thing and never collaborating. It was asked, Why can’t Salt Springers come together as a community?

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