Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mega-Yacht Marina -- Enter The Lawyers

There's been a lot of action over the last few days concerning the proposed mega-yacht marina in Victoria's Inner Harbour. This development, if it goes through, will see a large portion of the harbour turned over to huge yachts of 50m or more in length and access for paddles from the harbour to the ocean curtailed if not eliminated outright. Needless to say local paddling groups and others have rallied against this proposal.
Although some Federal regulatory hurdles have been passed, the proposal still needs provincial and civic approvals before it can proceed. Although Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell claims to be getting mixed signals from Victoria's city council, it seems it is the Province who is giving mixed signals. He recently told the Victoria Times-Colonist, “It’s now up to the City of Victoria to rezone the property slated for the mega-yacht marina if it doesn’t want the development to go ahead.” That's the exact opposite of what the province told Victoria in 2008 when the province's Integrated Land Management Bureau sent the city a letter saying the province did not support rezoning part of the water lot as park until the marina proposal went through.
Minister Bell seems to feel that the province has no wherewithal to interfere with the proposal. Let me quote Monday magazine:
Despite Bell’s protestation that the decision to lease the Crown water lot is purely bureaucratic and technical in nature, section 11 (1) of the British Columbia Land Act states, “… the minister may dispose of surveyed or unsurveyed Crown land by any of the following means, as the minister considers advisable in the public interest, to a person entitled under this Act.”
It’s the “public interest” part of that paragraph that has given opponents of the plan fresh reason to question the grounds on which the forthcoming lease decision will be made.
Then the Victoria Chamber of Commerce got in on the act by saying that the City could be on the hook for millions in damages if they don't approve the marina. Let me again quote Monday magazine:
Esquimalt-Royal Roads NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis this week likened the marina debacle to that of 28,000 hectares of land released by then-forest minister Rich Coleman from the provincial tree farm license inventory in 2007. CRD residents are now on the hook for almost $19 million to ensure some of those waterfront stretches are kept under public ownership. With the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce estimating a $23 million payout to the marina developers if the City should rezone the proposed Songhees marina site, Karagianis thinks it strange the public should be forced, once again, to buy back an asset currently under public control.
To me, this is the ultimate crime -- that The People may have to pay damages because The Peoples' Representatives decided that land owned by The People should remain in the hands of The People for the use and enjoyment of All The People, and not squandered away so a small private special interest group can make a few dollars.
And it's not just the current mayor that is opposed to the project. In an unprecedented action, Victoria's five previous mayors issued a joint statement opposing the project (including the current mayor, that's 34 years worth of mayoralty experience). Their statement asks, “At what point will commercial exploitation and congestion destroy the delicate balance of this tiny jewel of a harbour, and the attractive ambiance for tourists and citizens alike be lost forever?”
And now, the lawyers have entered the fray. First, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations have filed an application with federal courts asking for a judicial review of a decision to issue a navigable waters permit for the marina. According to the Victoria Times-Colonist:
"The Victoria International Marina is project is unacceptable to us in its proposed form," Songhees Chief Robert Sam said in a statement... The Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations hold treaty and aboriginal rights as well as title interests in the area of the project, said the statement, which adds "their rights will be adversely impacted by the proposed marina."
The federal government failed to adequately consult with First Nations, who also have concerns about the environmental assessment process and with the decision to grant the navigable waters permit, the statement said.
"Our rights have been ignored in the review process of the Victoria International Marina," said Chief Andy Thomas of the Esquimalt Nation.
The Dogwood Initiative, an environmental lobby group, has also filed an application in Federal court, claiming that "the transportation minister erred in granting the navigable waters approval, saying stakeholders were not given adequate notice of the project or the chance to be heard. There was a lack of consultation and a failure to consider that the navigable rights of others would be extinguished and interfered with." Arguing that the federal govenment had should have carried out an aeronautical study, as required by the Aeronautics Act, and by Transport Canada, the application further stated that "[f]or all practical purposes the marina will eliminate the only safe passageway through the middle harbour for non-powered vessels, eliminating the ability to paddle from the Inner Harbour to the Outer Harbour and the open ocean."
The Dogwood Initiative also claimed that construction and dredging operations could release toxic sediments. A spokesman told C-FAX news that people in an area have a right to control that area and to say how it's used and developed, and the people aren't being listened to in this manner.
What does the developer have to say about this latest developments? ""We are still taking it all in and trying to figure out what it means," a spokesperson said.

Click here for our previous coverage of this issue.
Click here to help save Victoria's harbour.

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