Howe Sound is a place where watersheds and boundaries converge. Bowen is one of five governing municipalities on Howe Sound. Also governing this region are the Islands Trusts, three regional districts, three forestry districts, First Nations, as well as provincial and federal governments. Elected officials from the communities whose watersheds feed into the Sound have been meeting for a decade to discuss issues of common interest, they come together under the banner of the Howe Sound Community Forum. At their last meeting, the eleven signees (which include municipalities, regional governments and the Squamish Nation) agreed to work together to urge the federal and provincial governments to help build a coordinated strategy for the Sound. At their next meeting, on January 14th, they are hoping to hear what higher levels of government are willing to give to the process.
Bowen municipal councillor Wolfgang Duntz will be attending this meeting as a representative of Bowen but also as a trustee from the Islands Trust.
"Part of the reason I ran as a trustee with the Islands Trust is because I wanted to change the fact that the organization was so inward looking, so focused on the issues just affecting the specific Gulf Islands," says Duntz. "And I can tell you that that has changed drastically in the past year as now the region is seeing an avalanche of threats."
The "threats" Duntz points to include shellfish farming, whose impact he says people in the Southern Gulf Islands were relatively naive about five years ago.
"After a number of these projects have gone through, people see what it does to the landscape and they don't like it," he says. "And they see all the debris and damage that gets left behind when they close down."
Duntz says new proposals for similar projects (including the farming of geoducks, which is entirely new to the region), plus industrial plans that will mean tankers shipping, coal, oil and liquid natural gas will travel through the Straight of Georgia have raised the alarm bells.
"Before we make judgements on these things, we need more information," says Duntz.
The islands in Howe Sound face a whole other set of projects proposals that could drastically change the region's landscape:
- a large hotel-marina complex in Gibson's landing
- a gravel mine in McNab Creek
- the Woodfibre LNG proposal
- a massive waterfront re-development in the city of Squamish
- the Sea-to-Sky Gondola
- a proposed ski resort at Garibaldi
-a massive housing development in South Brittania
-the addition of 25 percent of Gambier's lands to active logging (on top of the 15 percent that are already being actively logged)
-a run of river power project that will impact three creeks that run into McNab Creek.
"We need to make decisions about the region as a whole, moving forward," says Duntz. "We need to decide what we want to be industrial areas, recreational areas, residential areas, and you don't just let those things happen by accident."
Geologist and former mayor Bob Turner says that historically, Bowen has had the privilege of being somewhat removed from industry in Howe Sound.
"In the 1990s, the big issues in the Sound were pulp-mill pollution, the Brittania mine, and industrial forestry in the back woods. All of those issues were part of an angst about the Howe Sound that was present at that time," says Turner. "People were very concerned in the Squamish area. Here on Bowen, we've focused on our own issues which is maybe the privilege of the fact that we can't actually see these industrial operations. My argument though, is that all of the water from those watersheds that drains into Howe Sound ultimately flows past us, so at an ecosystem level, we are very connected to that whole landscape."
While each project has entirely different impacts, most of them would result in increased boat traffic in Howe Sound, with some traffic (like that coming from the proposed Woodfibre LNG terminal) passing right by Bowen.
"I think Bowen's role is to be a responsible citizen of this community and to listen to the concerns of other communities that might be making these things a higher priority," says Turner. "While these projects might not be in our backyard, they are in our neighbourhood. The Howe Sound community forum has recently become a voice for endorsing a larger management plan. So if something like this went forward, we should be alert to opportunities that it creates for Bowen but also it gives us a chance to consider what's important to us and the how we're part of that cumulative impact issue."
When discussing impacts, Turner is also quick to point out the impact of volunteers throughout Howe Sound whose efforts have helped with the regeneration of aquatic life, and also tracking those changes. Volunteers nurturing salmon on Bowen's streams and keeping our shoreline clean are a part of that.
For Islander Stephen Foster, taking ownership over Bowen's contributions to the rebound of Howe Sound is part and parcel of taking responsibility for its future. He has spent the past year and a half talking to people and governments around Howe Sound about issues ranging from transportation to tourism and industrial growth. This work has gained the support of the David Suzuki Foundation and now includes a project developing a Howe Sound tourism strategy with students from BCIT.
"From a Bowen perspective, I think we should considering what we're offering within the context of the region," says Foster. "We are in the middle of something grand here in Howe Sound. Either we can work with that in mind, or just watch it slip away."
Foster will be heading to the next Howe Sound Forum meeting alongside Mayor Jack Adelaar and councillors Wolfgang Duntz, Alison Morse and Andrew Stone.