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Opinion: Bowen Bumpkins

Bowen Island Councillor Judith Gedye offers her thoughts on Metro Vancouver's visit to Bowen Island this week
View from the South side of Cape Roger Curtis in July 2019
Cape Roger Curtis

You people have no idea how rare, unique and special this place is!

Why is it when developers discover Bowen, they think “bumpkins”, with none of our five senses attached to our awesome brains? I admit I was wearing gumboots, but still. On February 27, Metro was giving council a Cape Roger Curtis site visit. The tour was educational. First, we were supposed to meet at the turnaround at Huszar Creek instead of council chambers, but when we arrived, they weren’t there. Did they get lost? Cell phones!

They asked if we needed directions. We laughed. Eventually we met up. ‘This is a cliff. Those are fir trees. Over there, you can see UBC. And did you know, there is a network of old logging roads all through the site that would make good trails?’ Really. It’s a fundamental premise to know your audience.

Indeed, this is a rare chunk of spectacular land that has no equal in the park systems of the Lower Mainland, and Metro has made an expensive offer to purchase. The chair and vice-chair of the Metro Vancouver Board were present and asked all the staff to walk away and let the elected people talk privately.

First off, it is improper in a site visit by a proponent to speak privately to the decision-makers, but, being really curious what they wanted to say absent their and our staff, who are doing all the heavy lifting on this proposal, we listened.

The tall one explained he had called in all his political chips to make this purchase happen, and the deal was entirely dependent on 100 campsites, and they had direct assurances from the previous council that there would be rezoning, and it would be completed last summer, before the election. Councilor Alison Morse reminded him that she was on the last council and there had been no such assurances, that it was “always going to be pending a re-zoning process”.

I commented that it was Metro’s announcement about a campground on Bowen immediately before the election, which directly resulted in the council standing before him: no assurances, but willing to listen.

Undeterred, both explained that it was all or nothing, and right away. They had a deadline of May 9 for completion. It is not clear if their offer is contingent on their having rezoning (for camping) locked down, or some other political agenda, but the message was an ultimatum.

We left, us shaking our heads. Back at the Muni, there was a lunch break before the presentation by Metro at our Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting. Metro staff and politicians were late getting there so no time to socialize. In a surprise move, the two Metro politicians decided to leave – they had other meetings – presumably more important ones, even though this meeting had been delayed three times to accommodate them, and until then everyone expected them to meet with our community. My imagination conjured Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell and their politicking, but that’s just me!

So what might they be up to? They are two senior politicians, who clearly believe they speak for the Board they have been appointed to, as if that Board were unanimous. However, there is nothing in the record of resolutions passed by that board which indicates solidity on either camping or the number 100.

And since the recent elections, many members of their board are new to the decisions. Mayor Andrew Leonard, our Metro Vancouver Board representative mused to some Bowen councilors: “It’s not my experience that the Metro Vancouver board is as homogenous as they’re representing”. It begs the question of what is the motive at that senior political level.

Metro’s mandate for acquisitions is to secure and protect natural habitat – but unlike a conservancy, it also is to connect urbanites with nature, in ways that continue to protect it. They have policies for acquisitions and “Regional Parks Land Acquisition 2050” documents them, and in that, at p.30, step 7 of 8, reads: “MVRD and funding partners announce the acquisition after the transfer of title is complete”.

There has been a breach of their policy. The policy makes good sense, since here, for instance, once the purchase is complete, most likely the political pressure for rezoning will be reduced.

So, what do we agree on? While the Metro politicians made no mention of the importance of the purchase for protecting CRC, and while the land has been heavily logged, it remains a magnificent, rejuvenating, glorious space and you cannot help but feel better having been there. If the entire space were managed as a conservancy with minimal human contact it could be even more incredible.

On the side of the road, in blasted ditches full of rockfall, there were (at least a billion!) arbutus seedlings thriving in a microclimate at that south-facing cliff. How fabulous is that? Realistically, conservancy groups would be hard pressed to live with the cleared sites and those would be very difficult to restore to any sort of natural local habitat. And most conservation groups do not have the deep pockets to afford the site.

Next along a continuum would be “passive park” – in effect what it is now (although still in private hands). If Metro’s purchase completes, and they designate their Cape Roger Curtis lands as anything other than a limited access ecological zone, it would be advertised as part of their regional park system.

There is no leverage for Bowen to demand any help from Metro with a Thompson Road access, extension of the Multi-Use Path, negotiations with Translink or BC Ferries, shuttle buses from the City or Horseshoe Bay or Snug Cove, staffing levels, toilets, fire protection water tanks, or any other amenities … all that follows from their strong desire to have camping.

Still, why such strong pressure on council? I cannot figure it out. I have no insider knowledge, and am not entitled to ask, but perhaps, if Metro has no escape clause in their offer, and the seller has met all its conditions, it might be a breach of contract situation, at the very least a loss of a $2 million deposit as indicated by the Metro vice-chair.

Bowen has some verbal good intentions, and possibly some handshake agreements, with no written contracts. At this stage, I only trust our best practice: we will research and consider and be clear on our questions and pose them again (and again) and hope we get some answers.

Is there some other hidden agenda? Can these politicians leverage this in their favour and against our interests? Why? A part of me hopes they complete their purchase and fulfill their mandate to protect rare sites, and maybe then we can get down to the real business of figuring out IF this can be made to work. The other part of me thinks there is plenty of other work to do.

Maybe, now that this has been stirred up, there will be other projects designed to enrich our enjoyment of the land.

- Judith Gedye, BIM Councillor