For the last four months, the 31 members of the National Park Community Advisory Committee (NPCAC) have worked diligently to reach islanders and record their concerns and issues related to a potential national park on Bowen. The effort resulted in an extensive report that was presented to council on April 4. It is available online but Don Youngson, a member of the NPCAC, thinks that this is not enough. He said, "There are members of our community who are not totally Internet-fluent. The only way to reach them, when it comes to engagement, is when the documents come to front door. A second option would be to publish it in the Undercurrent. That would be the culmination of all the excitement of what we produced for everyone to see. At least the document would be there in print form in front of people."
The report was included in a package that went to Parks Canada in preparation of the preliminary feasibility study.
At the special council meeting on Monday, April 26, council went through a list of recommendations from the report. Several committee members were in attendance and offered feedback.
And at the end of the meeting, the committee was dissolved.
The advisory committee identified the three main issues for the community as "ferry crowding, the need to maintain as much autonomy as possible in governance arrangements for the proposed national park and whether or not to include all or part of Crippen Park."
To address ferry crowding and overloads due to park visitors, the committee suggested that Parks Canada work with BC Ferries to develop a strategy. Ideally, it should be available in writing before the community vote. Hooper said, "We have to ensure that the residents have access, and that we don't impair their access. We have to protect Bowen Island taxpayers and property owners from an increase in cost [related to the national park]. This is going to be critical for a park to be successful on Bowen."
Another suggestion was to discourage park visitors from bringing their vehicles to Bowen Island. But Councillor David Wrinch had another worry. "There is a concern that the passenger capacity of the ferry can be exceeded. Unless we push very hard for a larger ferry for both passenger and car capacity, everyone who walks on is going to be overloaded on a Sunday afternoon. There was talk of a new ferry that was 30 per cent more efficient in fuel. We don't seem to be addressing the fact that a larger ferry would deal with concerns like capacity, fuel and pollution."
Councillor Peter Frinton was of another opinion. "It is an ongoing concern that the ferry capacity meets the demand. Part of the park discussion was that we wanted to counter that we need larger ferry. BC Ferries can increase the licence [on the current ferry] to up to 600 passengers. They could also put on more cars through additional decking." He added, "We need to see how this relates to the national park."
Youngson said, "In all this time, we never heard anything from BC Ferries that there could be more capacity with this ferry. We need to look at figures of what they find in the economic analysis and then inform the community."
On the issue of autonomy, the advisory committee suggested the establishment of a separate management board with an independent dispute resolution mechanism and that park meetings should be open to the public. The report noted there is opposition to including Crippen Park. The advisory committee also flagged the need for research on economic impact. Councillor Hooper said that generally a national park added amenity value. But he also stated, "This [item] doesn't strike me as critical in terms of the time line."
Ann Chollat said that "the issue came up more than once" in the process of public consultation. Kat Hayduk added, "People want to know how [a national park] affects their home value. There were some concerns that property values might drop."
Councillor Nerys Poole said, "We should refer this question to Parks Canada. I believe they have studies that show how a park affects communities."
Another recommendation urged Parks Canada to invest in infrastructure that supports the needs of island residents or partner with local groups, schools or the municipality towards building community facilities which could also serve visitors such as an interpretation facility with focus on marine ecology and a community hall and arts centre.
Frinton said, "I want to thank the NPCAC for grafting those words. I think there is this big misunderstanding that Parks Canada will not do much for the community." He mentioned examples from the Gulf Islands where Parks Canada has been involved in creating community assets.
The committee suggested to make the 40-page-report available to the public in advance of the community vote, for instance through a mail-out. Youngson said, "It has to go to people who haven't gone to the meetings or to the website. We should bring the 30 to 40 per cent up to speed. They don't have the document, they don't have anything. Parks Canada's preliminary concept was pretty light. The response is what our committee has produced. The community should be briefed before we're presented with round two of Parks Canada's response."
Mayor Bob Turner called attention to the length of report and said that it would have to be abstracted for a wide distribution. He said, "We'll place an ad to direct people to the report. We'll remind them how community comments were distilled by your group and incorporated into the report."
The report will be available at the Bowen Island Library, on the municipality's website and at www.bowenparkinfo.ca.