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Necessity of co-operation and regional thinking take centre stage at Howe Sound Community Forum

In the year 2000, the Howe Sound Community Forum’s principles of co-operation were signed on Bowen Island and last week, the biannual meeting brought mayors, councillors and other leaders from the region together on Bowen once again.
Chief Bill Williams (left) and Councillor Chris Lewis from the Squamish Nation offering an opening song for the Howe Sound Forum at Cates Hill Chapel.

In the year 2000, the Howe Sound Community Forum’s principles of co-operation were signed on Bowen Island and last week, the biannual meeting brought mayors, councillors and other leaders from the region together on Bowen once again. Councillor Chris Lewis and Chief Bill Williams from the Squamish Nation opened the day with a song, a prayer, and a few words on the importance of collaboration. After hearing updates from all the other communities around Howe Sound, as well as MLA Jordan Sturdy, Lewis told fellow Forum delegates that recent events – rocks falling off the Chief, and whales returning to the Sound – are not regarded as good omens, and the appropriate data needs to be gathered so that informed decisions can be made for the region.

A few big challenges and priorities stood out as delegates gave updates about their respective communities. The delegate from West Vancouver said that bunker oil from the grain carrier, the MV Marathassa, spread as far as Whytecliff Park and that the beach at John Lawson Park in West Vancouver remains closed because of it.

The delegate urged other municipalities to make contact with Emergency Management BC, which is the provincial lead in these situations. Representative Gary Nohr from the Sunshine Coast regional district echoed concerns about oil spill risks in the Sound, and said the district is intent on figuring out what the regional response would be.

“I’m still recovering from John Weston’s discussion with the ministry of infrastructure when she said she wasn’t sure what the emergency response for the area in case of an oil spill would be,” he said.

The delegate from the District of Squamish said the recent dock fire brought up numerous issues including the need for better air quality testing equipment and the replacement of creosote dock pilings. The delegate also informed the Forum that the Squamish Council has also offered a statement of non-support the Woodfibre LNG project.

Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy followed these updates with a criticism of the Federal budget, which talked about Coast Guard enhancements in the St. Lawrence region and in the Arctic, but did not make any mention of the Pacific coast. He added that is critical that the Howe Sound region to be managed regionally, as an ecosystem, given the change that will come as the population increases by 10 – 12 million people over the next 25 years.

Councillor Chris Lewis told the Forum that the Squamish Nation is creating a marine-use plan for Howe Sound, and that data-sharing will be critical to determining the cumulative impacts of activities taking place here.

“How can we make decisions as a government without knowing these things?” he asked, going on to add that the Squamish Nation is particularly concerned about herring, and that they have put the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on notice that there should be no commercial fishing of herring until there are qualitative numbers on their populations.

A presentation by Jeff Luthans from the Provincial Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations went on to explain the Provincial Cumulative Effects Framework for Howe Sound. This plan will take into account 9 terrestrial and 4 marine environments within provincial jurisdiction and attempt to create baseline information, as well as assess risks and opportunities. The plan was questioned by delegates for not taking into account things outside of that jurisdiction, such as the number of cetacean species making use of Howe Sound.
To that, Councillor Lewis responded that this was exactly why the Squamish Nation planned to undertake it’s own marine use plan.
“We can no longer accept that one part of the ecosystem is someone else’s jurisdiction. Our wildlife doesn’t recognize these distinctions, that is just not how an ecosystem works,” he said.

Bowen Island Mayor Murray Skeels say the experience of this Howe Sound Forum, the first he has attended, served to shift his perspective.
“This has helped me understand how the whole thing, here in Howe Sound, fits together,” he says. “I haven’t generally thought about Bowen in terms of the rest of what’s happening in the Sound, but I now realize it is very important to us. And the Squamish Nation is important to us too – they have so much at stake both socially and financially based on what happens – and they