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Council fine-tunes national park strategy

Parks Canada needs to do a better job of convincing islanders that Crippen Park should be included in any potential national park on Bowen Island, council says.

Parks Canada needs to do a better job of convincing islanders that Crippen Park should be included in any potential national park on Bowen Island, council says.

On Monday, councillors fine-tuned their strategy of negotiating with Parks Canada, saying that given the contentiousness of the issue, the federal body has yet to make a compelling case for inclusion of Crippen Park.

They are also asking Parks Canada to consider and describe options where Crippen Park is not included in a national park yet could still play a vital role in welcoming park visitors.

Parks Canada also needs to make a commitment that islanders could access Crippen Park without paying fees.

At the same meeting, Michael Cornelissen of Bowen Beat presented a petition calling for Crippen Park to be excluded from a national park and asked council to commit to this. The petition was done in conjunction with the Bowen Island Improvement Association and garnered more than 1,100 signatures.

Councillor Peter Frinton asked if the people presenting the petition tried to differentiate between people who were against a national park in general and those who were against the inclusion of Crippen Park in specific. Cornelissen said opinion varied widely; "people's responses were all over the place."

Frinton said that without tracking of the responses, "I'm afraid that Crippen gets used as a proxy for the entire park because Parks Canada says it's essential."

John Green asked council for clarification about the "stop signs" leading up to the adoption of a national park agreement. Parks Canada says this process takes several years and there are several spots along the way where community unhappiness with the concept could stop it from going forward.

The community opinion vote on June 25 is the only scheduled opportunity for the community to have a direct say in whether to go ahead, council said, but it may not be the last.

"There's a big stop sign and it's called negotiations," said Mayor Bob Turner. "The province of British Columbia will not support the establishment of a vote without community support at the time of negotiation. We can hold a big stop sign that the community won't go through with it without community support. How that's structured will be designed by council."

Councillor Nerys Poole says council is very aware the that preliminary concept plan needs work. "One of the things I'd emphasize is we're very much at the early stage. I'm recommending we have a time when we have full community consultation, but it will most likely be with the next council...

"None of us were elected on a mandate to bring Parks Canada to Bowen Island and because it is such a major land-use issue, we thought it best to hold a community opinion vote. If there is a yest to move to the next stage, anyone who runs for council will be asked, 'how do you think the process will go from here?' and 'are you prepared to hold another vote?' Sometimes it takes three, four or five years to get an agreement together. It doesn't stop us from saying we want another vote; whether it's accepted by Parks Canada is another issue."

The meeting was attended by 11 of the 12 property owners in Bluewater. They were against inclusion of a small piece of Crown land at the shoreline. Representative Janey Cruise said the area holds no marine life significance and there is not the proper space to accommodate people who would drive to the access area.

If Bluewater's Crown land was included in a proposed national park, then residents would have no option other than lobbying against the park, Cruise said, "which we do not want to do."

Council agreed to the neighbourhood's concerns and will not include Bluewater until there is full community consultation and approval.

Similar wording will be updated for Seymour Landing. It's been identified as a potential access point for boaters but more consultation is needed.

Fitch Cady wants the Mount Gardner dock taken out of any equation, too. He occasionally keeps his boat there and is worried about moorage rights under a national park.

Turner said it was included because council is hoping for financial support from Parks Canada to maintain the dock, which is a large cost for the municipality. "It doesn't mean it will be part of the park."

Frinton said "I don't think we're saying 'take our docks over.' If Parks Canada wants to encourage boat access and other modalities such as kayaking, people are welcome to use those docks but a portion of the costs would be borne by Parks Canada."

Council discussion about its approach to negotiations with Parks Canada also included asking Parks Canada to "commit to finding solutions, in partnership with the province of B.C., BC Ferries, TransLink, BIM, private water taxi services or other future transportation service providers to assure timely resident access to and from Bowen Island and mitigate vehicular traffic impacts on Bowen Island and in Horseshoe Bay."

It wants Parks Canada to provide details about how vehicular traffic on the island would be minimized.

As to parks governance, regardless of whether a national park would be a stand-alone park or part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, council wants Parks Canada to agree to a separate Bowen Island Park Advisory Board. The board would collaborate with Parks Canada on management issues.

Councillor Doug Hooper says that council's report reflects the input it has received during the community consultation process. Parks Canada's vision for a park also fits in with the values set out in the official community plan update. He said the Crippen Park petition "served to flag just how important that issue is. We're so much in love with Crippen Park that it's reflected in our fear that we might destroy part of it."

He said islanders also need reassurance that a national park would not have any impact on local pocketbooks, whether through property taxes to pay for municipal services or user fees."We don't have the financial legs to do all the things we want to do, let alone lift a pound of the national park costs."

Frinton said Metro Parks is very aware of the community's divide over inclusion of Crippen Park but that as yet, there have been no talks about the issue. "This whole area remains a question mark."

Councillor Alison Morse said she is not happy with the council report. "Part of it is the general tone: 'if [Parks Canada] wants a park you've got to sell it to the people' rather than 'this is what people are looking for.'"

She doesn't agree with saying "BIM has identified the potential for inclusion of some municipal lands and assets." She wanted it to be clearly set out what those lands and assets are, such as Leiben lands, the North Collins ridge waterfront lot and Radar Hill. Hooper suggested adding the words "by purchase or lease at fair market value." Morse, who wanted full exclusion the statement, was the only one who voted against it.