Where are we going?

Citizens of North Cowichan are being invited to attend a variety of meetings in the coming weeks. I wonder if they should bother.

First, there was the open house for a five-year financial plan on Feb. 16. Then the official community plan (OCP) road show gets underway with staff and politicians showing off the draft of a report charting our future. Soon after that will be meetings about building more than 200 homes in Echo Heights Forest in Chemainus.

The torrid pace makes one want to lie down and have a rest. And that might be the best thing to do instead of attending any of these meetings. Because, you see, these are all meetings to tell us: “This is what we are going to do, despite what you said.”

It is worth pointing out that this week marks the fifth anniversary of the infamous “charrette” that was held by North Cowichan to show off, for the first time, its plans to develop Echo Heights. About 80 per cent of residents who attended that meeting objected so strongly that consultants and staff retreated with their collective tails between their legs.

In a matter of a few weeks, the Chemainus Residents Association was born and more than 500 townsfolk took out memberships. Within the year, 1,400 people had signed the petition protesting development of the 52-acre municipal property that has been called “a treasure” by leading botanists and First Nation medicine gatherers.

But the municipality has the audacity to trot out its snazzy new plan to develop Echo Heights – a plan that is amazingly like the first, except for the absence of affordable housing and green building practices. North Cowichan will say the development is integral to its five-year financial plan. It has already told us that revenues earned will pay for the new Chemainus Road bridge (to maneuver around future Halalt blockades?) and a community centre, the need for which is very much up on the air.

At the same time, North Cowichan trots out its long-overdue draft OCP that is littered with words such as “sustainability” and “environmental”. But there is not a shred of evidence to show that these words have any real meaning… and there are no capital costs for stewardship on any balance sheet.

When the municipality brought its maps to ‘consultation’ meetings in Chemainus 15 months ago, residents were resolute in their opposition to any possible use of Creegan Drive as a highway feeder route for new residents of Echo Heights and other areas marked for growth.

The current OCP draft document ignored those two wishes of residents and further tinkered with the OCP in order to continue with long-term plans for developments. Much of the cost for all this, as per usual, will be out of taxpayers’ pockets. How much have your municipal taxes increased since 2004?

The politics of growth has always guided North Cowichan since its founding 138 years ago. But that growth has mostly been relatively slow and ‘organic’. But the last decade has seen poorly-managed growth that has often threatened to spin out of control; look at the Cliffs over Maple Bay, the ironically-named Cowichan Commons or the manner in which Duncan area facilities were forced on Chemainus taxpayers.

I will probably attend some of the upcoming meetings, if only to tell our politicians a good joke that came out of recent events in Egypt.

It seems that President Mubarak answered his door and found one of his underlings wringing his hands in anxiety. “Mr. President,” the man said. “The Egyptian people are saying goodbye to you.” A puzzled Mubarak asked: “Oh, where are they going?”

Mark Kiemele