Tension rises over Cortes Island marina hearing location

Traditionally, hearings are held at applicant’s property

Charges of racism and catering to the wealthy have been levelled at the  Strathcona Regional District board.

That’s after the board decided to not hold a public hearing for a proposed marina on property owned by the applicant – a First Nations band.

Directors received 13 letters and a petition with 75 signatures and counting, condemning the board for its decision to hold the public hearing (necessary for the re-zoning for the marina) at what the board perceived as a “neutral” location.

The fall out from that decision was fuelled by Cortes Director Noba Anderson who, in a letter posted to the cortesisland.com Tideline website, encouraged Cortes Islanders to take action.

“Stand up! Take time from your garden and families,” Anderson wrote. “Stand up! Take time from your work and your play.”

Anderson made it clear that she had no part in choosing Gorge Hall, which is not in the Klahoose territory, for the site of the public hearing.

“As it presently stands, the public hearing is scheduled for July 24, at 1 p.m. at the Gorge Hall,” Anderson wrote. “I did not vote in support of this and am not happy with this decision. I made every effort to honour Klahoose’s request, but I have only one of four votes. Some have strongly advised me to be more tempered, to take the middle road, to hold a more neutral stance.

“Frankly, when it comes to this topic, I am no longer willing.

“I said that this was a clear moment of choice – that we could either show some deference and respect and build on our good rapport with Klahoose or profoundly erode it and set a sour tone for our future First Nations interactions. I shared that it has been tradition to locate public hearings in the affected community. I also stated very clearly that if a venue other than Klahoose was chosen, that I fully expected a response from the Cortes community.”

Cortes islanders delivered, with some accusing regional district directors of being insensitive.

“I am profoundly offended at the blatant racism of your decision to hold the meeting at the Gorge Hall rather than at Klahoose to consider their application for a marina,” said Gabriel Dinim in a letter to the board. “You must have cowed to private interest rather than reflect the view of the majority of your electorate.

“Your lack of moral leadership is distressing and I sincerely hope that your cowardice will be vigorously brought up at election time.”

Area D director Brenda Leigh said her reasoning for wanting to have the public hearing off of Klahoose property was in response to letters from people who wanted to speak at the public hearing but were afraid to speak their mind on the applicant’s territory.

“People who want to speak, if they’re on the applicant’s grounds, they may feel inhibited. It should be in a neutral location,” Leigh said at a meeting May 23.

That sentiment was supported in a letter from resident Peter Stockdill.

“I do feel that to have the public hearing at the (Klahoose multi-purpose centre) might discourage non-members of the Klahoose Nation from attending and many might be intimidated and not feel comfortable speaking their minds,” Stockdill said, speaking from previous experience after attending a public meeting on the Tork Reserve last July.

Sheila Boutcher, president of the council of BC Yacht Clubs, said the club felt “that it would be inappropriate to hold the hearing on the applicant’s property” and that “a neutral venue would be much fairer to all concerned.”

Directors Leigh, Gerald Whalley (Nootka-Sayward/Kyuquot) and Jim Abram (Quadra Island/Discovery Islands) voted in favour of the “neutral” Gorge Hall site after a one-and-a-half hour stalemate between directors with Leigh and Whalley refusing to budge on holding the public hearing away from Klahoose property and Abram and Anderson wanting to hold the meeting at the Klahoose multi-purpose centre.

Abram, in the end, voted on the Gorge site as a compromise – the date was satisfactory to the Klahoose compared to an original date of July 6, at Manson’s Hall voted on by the board at a meeting May 23.

Cortes resident Greg Osoba believes the directors gave in to the wealthy, who don’t necessarily contribute to the island.

“Who are you serving?” Osoba questioned. “Your decision to hold the hearing at the Gorge Hall seems to cater directly to boaters/yachters who are well off and contribute almost nothing to the Cortes community. Both the Seattle and Vancouver yacht clubs are exclusive groups who add little to our community. It also makes me wonder where your allegiance lies.

“To wealthy occasional visitors or to a First Nation offering to host all Cortes Islanders and yachters on their traditional territory?

“A cynical person might also view this decision as racist and insensitive.”

The regional district board meets again on Thursday and perhaps ironically enough, will welcome Lillian Jack, representative for the Kyuquot/Checleseht First Nation, who has been granted observer status at board and committee of the whole meetings.