Island Sea Farms (ISF) produces the Saltspring Island Mussels brand. Its operations on Quadra are the subject of complaints from some neighbours. Screenshot

Strathcona Regional District holds off on Gorge aquaculture response for now

Staff will prepare a report to go to committee before responding to residents’ correspondence

The Strathcona Regional District wants staff to provide some more information in response to correspondence from Cortes residents concerning aquaculture in the Gorge Harbour.

The SRD received emails in May from Brian Hayden and a couple, Mary and Vern Kemp, about their concerns.

Area B Director Noba Anderson pointed out the residents have written to regional district staff and the board several times in recent years.

“I would like them to receive as much finality as possible on where we stand in the regional district,” she said.

Anderson asked this be referred to the bylaw and planning departments for a response to the letters.

Area D Director Brenda Leigh preferred the matter first be sent to an in camera meeting of the board’s Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC), saying the matter did involve a lawsuit with Island Sea Farms (ISF) and required getting legal opinions.

“We need to discuss it in camera because there are legal implications,” she said.

In his May 10 email to the regional district, Hayden refers to the SRD webpage that covers the use of machinery in areas zoned for “passive aquaculture” to state the position should now be considered a change of the bylaws.

“This would not be allowed under the Local Government Act without consultation with the public,” he wrote.

This email followed up one from March 1 in which he elaborates his position in greater detail.

RELATED STORY: Gorge Harbour resident urges Strathcona Regional District to act on aquaculture bylaws

The Kemps, in an email from May 16, ask the SRD to enforce the aquaculture zoning bylaws. They describe ISF’s operation as “active aquaculture” and note it uses machinery taller than allowed in the particular zone. The company also uses machinery made by a company that produces processing machines, even though the bylaw disallows processing.

The couple also mentioned that stakeholder meetings in 2017 were unsuccessful in resolving the questions around ISF’s activities in the Gorge and related issues such as noise.

Anderson had wanted a motion to refer the correspondence to the planning department and the bylaw enforcement officer for a response, adding that while the item could be sent to EASC, the legal issue is closed.

“The matter of the legal issue was dealt with about eight years ago,” she said.

The recent letters, she added, focused more on the residents’ interpretations around bylaw enforcement.

Leigh responded that the planning staff were the subject of the complaint, so the letter should go to EASC rather than directly to planning staff.

“That’s not right. They’re appealing to us,” she said.

The board voted to receive the letters into the record. Subsequently, they referred the letters to staff and that report be prepared for EASC.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate just to receive and do nothing because this is such an ongoing issue,” Anderson said. “Some further follow-up needs to happen.”

Both Hayden and the Kemps were involved in a complaint against Island Sea Farms before the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) at a hearing in Campbell River in January. BCFIRB listened to testimony covering a range of issues such as noise from the operation, the wake produced by the company’s boats and whether the activities would be considered “processing” versus “harvesting.” The company outlined its efforts to reduce noise from its operations and other steps such as changing the scheduling of work hours.

RELATED STORY: Cortes residents battle mussel operation over noise

RELATED STORY: ISF defends efforts to mitigate noise from mussel operation on Cortes Island

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