The Cowichan Valley Regional District is working to create a shared vision for addressing environmental issues regionally, and last week, Ladysmith council had a chance to weigh in.
Kate Miller, the environment manager with the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD)’s Environmental Policy Division, and James van Hemert, a consultant working with the CVRD Environmental Policy Division and Environment Commission, spoke to council Dec. 17 about the Regional Environmental Strategic Plan being prepared and asked council for its input on environmental priorities for the region.
The plan will be developed as a core guiding document for the CVRD, and in particular, the CVRD’s Environment Commission.
During their visit to council, van Hemert and Miller asked councillors for their input on three questions — What are your environmental priorities in the near term (one to five years), mid term (five to 20 years) and long term (beyond 20 years)? What role can the CVRD play in supporting or augmenting your environmental programs? How can this environmental plan support your priorities?
Ultimately, this plan will provide focus to regional initiatives, van Hemert told council.
“It will help us prioritize those initiatives on a short-term, medium- and ultimately long-term perspective,” he said. “It will provide a way to be fiscally prudent, to be informed by science. The plan will allow for a shared vision amongst the many stakeholders, including municipalities, and a shared vision that is enforced.”
Van Hemert has already worked with the sub-committee of the CVRD’s Environmental Commission to establish some objectives and priorities and has met with the CAOs of member municipalities, including Ladysmith city manager Ruth Malli.
Malli has shared some of the concerns from the staff level, including regional disposal of sludge and water quality in the harbour, explained van Hemert.
“Although some of the issues are clearly of concern here locally, they are regionally-focused issues, such as disposal of sludge is a regional issue that can best be, at least from a fiscal perspective, handled at a regional level,” he said. “So we’re pulling all this information together, and we’re assembling it in a way that we hope will provide for a coherent plan that will pull together and identify initiatives already being undertaken and highlight in particular region-wide efforts where we can pull together the resources and tremendous leveraging that the CVRD has already been able to avail of with respect to personnel resources and financial resources that is then available in turn to all the members and stakeholders.”
Councillors went around the table offering their thoughts on the questions asked by van Hemert and Miller, and they agreed on many things.
Mayor Rob Hutchins hoped to see education and outreach to increase citizen awareness in the plan.
“The whole issue of climate change, I’m not sure we’ve done a good enough job of educating the public, so I see a lot of people concerned, but I’m not sure how aware the general public is,” he said. “The Cowichan River Basin is a prime example of dramatic change in our climate. The rise in the temperature of the water since 1980 of the Cowichan River by 1.5 degrees centigrade. It’s documented; it’s there. How do we get that information out so it becomes public knowledge and people will take action?”
One of Coun. Steve Arnett’s priorities was that every municipality has ownership and control of the watershed.
Another priority for Arnett was public transportation.
“We know we’re going to have an increase in population, and we have ceiling amounts of resources,” he said. “We really need to get cars off the roads … Growth, we know, is coming to the Island, and we need to plan for that now instead of react down the road.”
Coun. Glenda Patterson agreed that water is a high priority, and she felt “growth control is absolutely huge.”
Coun. Duck Paterson agreed with Hutchins about raising public awareness, and he felt the plan will have to be a continuous public process. He was concerned about controlling illegal dumping, and he named water as a high priority.
“Every municipality should have control over the watershed,” he said.
Public control of the watershed is critical for Coun. Gordon Horth too. He liked the idea of looking for local solutions, rather than waiting for national policy.
Coun. Jill Dashwood added emergency preparedness and food security to the list of the priorities.
Coun. Bill Drysdale spoke in favour of getting control over the watershed and also noted that an immediate concern for the Town of Ladysmith is the waterfront.
“We can’t develop the waterfront until we solve the environmental issue,” he said.
Miller and van Hemert hope to return to council when they have a more fully-drafted plan for feedback.
“This isn’t just about creating reading material,” said van Hemert.”It’s about collecting as well a lot of the initiatives and actions that are already taking place and putting them into a framework that allows us to be fiscally responsible, to allow science to inform our decision making, and also to put focus on regional initiatives broadly in this region.”