Frustrated Area D residents have signed a petition asking the Strathcona Regional District to temporarily postpone development of a First Nations reserve on York Road.
Resident Terry Honig presented the petition, signed by more than 300 people, to the regional district’s board of directors at its Thursday meeting. The board also encouraged the residents to send the petition to the federal government’s Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
The petition states: ‘We, the undersigned residents of Area D, respectfully suggest that the Strathcona Regional District place a moratorium on the York Road Tlowitsis First Nation development until the details have been made public and the affected residents have been given the opportunity to respond.’
Honig said the petition was created after “120 confused and frustrated residents” descended on a meeting of the regional district’s four electoral area directors on April 6 and did not receive the answers they were looking for.
“Instead, what they got was silence. To this date, the York Road residents have received minimal acknowledgement and clarification of the problem and no plan of action from their local government,” Honig said.
Area C Director Jim Abram said he took exception to that.
“I have to correct you on that,” Abram told Honig. “We discussed it at length and don’t forget, we got the information at the same time as you. I can certainly empathize with how you feel about the whole thing but there is an ATR (Additions to Reserves) process and we have to follow it, like you have to follow it.”
The Tlowitsis First Nation is preparing to submit its application package to the federal government to establish a reserve on property on the north side of York Road, west of Henry Road, which the Tlowitsis has agreed to purchase from TimberWest pending a successful ATR application.
The Tlowitsis intend to build 75 homes to house between 100 and 200 of its members who are currently spread out among the remote coastal areas of northeastern Vancouver Island and adjacent, remote mainland inlets.
Honig said Area D residents respect the Tlowitsis’ interests in finding a place but they question whether York Road is the appropriate location for a reserve.
“There are real life innocent victims here,” Honig said. “What do you say to the retired couple who invested in York Road property to fund their retirement and are now faced with a significant loss in the value and salability of their land and a failed retirement plan?
“What do you tell the elderly couple who have provided the community with locally grown food from their York Road farm for many years? Their retirement plan to sell their farm was all in place and the new buyer set to complete the sale, when out of the blue the reserve news went public, the buyer walked away and the sale collapsed, leaving their retirement dreams shattered. Let’s see some concrete support from the (Strathcona Regional District) for these home owners and the York Road community by implementing an action plan that addresses the financial and emotional crisis that they are suffering.”
Honig said Area D residents want some form of consultation to fill in the blanks. Dave Leitch, regional district CAO, said the ATR process has “a litany of requirements for the First Nation and a narrow scope of that is consultation with local government.”
Leitch added that good neighbour consultation is encouraged by the federal government between the parties but stressed that there is “limited” negotiation with local government required. Leitch said the Tlowitsis have indicated, however, that “they’re amenable to doing public consultation with the community” and they’re in the process of trying to make it happen.
Area D Director Brenda Leigh encouraged her constituents to remain calm until that meeting takes place.
“I can fully appreciate how this information gap from the Tlowitsis, and with the assistance of other organizations, has caused fear and fear of the unknown. I understand that but hopefully we can get this meeting in the community with the Tlowitsis so people can understand what they’re proposing,” Leigh said. “I think we need to know what they’re proposing and have the engineered plans laid out for everyone so that we know whether we have something to fear or not. Right now we don’t know and I think everyone has to calm down, take a step back and realize that it’s going to be a long process.”
Leigh added that when she met with Tlowitsis Councillor Thomas Smith in December that at that time there was no official land use plan, only a schematic of the density being proposed.
Leigh defended herself against accusations that Area D residents have been left in the dark, saying that the proposal was confidential and it was not her place to disclose “land purchases to private citizens.”