“Those of us who have worked tirelessly in attempting to restore the estuary, on our own time, and using our own funds and equipment, have not asked for nor expected any compensation at all for our efforts. It is disheartening to see our efforts and enthusiasm laid to waste by uninformed negative comments in the local media.”
This is in response to a series of articles and letters in the Citizen that contained erroneous and deceptive information concerning the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association (CERCA), and in some cases outright mistruths. All were critical of CERCA in derogatory ways and hence this response. I am a professional atmospheric/climate scientist of more than 50 years, and currently the co-Chair of CERCA. Since retirement from the federal government in 1998, I devoted much of my time towards providing public education on the impacts of climate change. Dealing with the problems of the estuary restoration are very much akin to that of climate change. In either case, those not close to the actual data usually do not perceive the year-to-year changes, so that short human memories then decide that nothing untoward is happening. Yet nothing could be further from the truth in either case.
Some quick facts on the dispute between Western Stevedoring (WS) and Pacific Industrial Marine (PIM), and CERCA:
- Neither the Chair nor any member of the CERCA board receive any recompense for their volunteer roles with CERCA, other than satisfaction from their efforts to restore the environmental integrity of the estuary. The articles I am about to address denigrate that satisfaction.
- We (CERCA) understand the position taken by WS/PIM and their desire to continue making a profit, but we disagree with their methods and the risks they pose to the estuary, especially following any ‘re-zoning’.
- The lease under which WS/PIM have been operating was originally approved specifically for the shipping of forestry products from the terminal. This means that any other industrial activity (such as PIM does) may be a violation of the lease agreement.
- The ‘sub-lease’ provided to PIM under Lease 103107 has been illegal from the day it was issued. Lease 103107 directs that any sub-lease needs to be registered with the Department of Lands on approval by the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Committee (CEEMC).
- PIM has erected several structures without any building permit as required by CVRD by-laws, such as the extension of the welding shop that tripled in size, the two white tents, etc.
- We have been informed by the CVRD that neither WS nor PIM pay any property taxes to CVRD; hence, no direct benefit to Cowichan Valley.
- The cost of their land lease is $1.00/year – yes, a single loonie. Would that we all had such cheap land costs.
- PIM claims to be supporting more than 50 workers at this site (their web site says only 30). In any event, almost all are contract employees, with zero security since they can be hired or fired at will depending on PIM contacts. PIM is not unionized, so that these jobs actually undermine secure and well-paying Union jobs.
I now wish to address, in chronological order, six specific articles and letters published in the Citizen over the last four weeks, directing false allegations against CERCA, especially its Chair Dr. Goetz Schuerholz, a professional ecologist. Each of these articles include one or more deliberate deceptions or outright mistruths that need to be countered.
1) CERCA Campaign to drive away jobs (Robbie James, Western Stevedoring, Mar. 14):
- James’ opening statement claims that “CERCA recently launched a campaign to drive more than 50 jobs away from the former Westcan Terminal and out of the Cowichan Bay area”. That accusation is a complete fabrication, for nothing that we have done or said justifies it. A formal retraction would be in order, else show the proof.
- James continues with the deception that “We are actually seeking removal of petroleum terminal and storage facilities as a permitted use”. The original lease agreements, never since modifed, specifically state that such products are not to be stored on the estuary.
- He further states that “we worked with the community to ‘breach’ the terminal causeway (and construction of a new bridge) in the name of fisheries and environmental enhancement”. WS actually had nothing to do with initiating or carrying out the construction of the new bridge. CERCA alone raised more than $200,000 to carry out that project.
- During the developing stages of the bridging, WS continually raised red flags at every step of the way with petty criticisms, causing six months or more in delays, rather than sitting down with us to summarize their concerns in one step.
- Once they realized that our funding agencies, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, and Sidney Anglers were vocal as well as financial supporters, together with enthusiastic support from Cowichan Tribes and the CVRD, WS then contributed $12,000 to assist in the final stages so that they could be listed on our signage and printed material as virtually equal partners in the project.
- They then turned around and attempted to build a barrier on the west end of the bridge to bar foot traffic, until our valid complaints nipped that in the bud.
- In other words, WS/PIM have been cooperative ‘only’ when it suits their public profile.
2) CERCA, Western Stevedoring at odds over estuary rezoning (editorial by Robert Barron, Mar. 14):
- CERCA discovered early last fall that WS had applied for the ‘re-zoning’ of their leases. This sounded alarm bells, since one reason for industry to request re-zoning would obviously be to increase their industrial capacity with heavier industry, something that never should be allowed on a sensitive estuary ecosystem.
- Our requests (on several occasions) for information on the reasons for the re-zoning fell on deaf ears, except for a barrage of vitriol against some of us individually for asking. Obviously this raised our suspicions further, and prompted CERCA to initiate the public petition against the re-zoning. For this, some have vilified CERCA in the media.
- WS/PIM recently admitted (in this article), that the purpose of the re-zoning was to (quoting from this article), “finally formalize the operation and amend the zoning to reflect the current use of the site”; in other words, they are applying ‘to change the rules to justify what they have been doing illegally for years’. We, the CERCA board, find that attitude to be reprehensible.
- It was also curious to CERCA why the Area D Director, Lori Iannidinardo, who claims to be very concerned about the integrity of the estuary, was and still is taking a leading role in promoting this re-zoning.
- Dr Schuerholz attempted to stem the controversy by sympathizing that we understand the motives when the industry started their business there, when many ‘knew no better’ about environmental issues, but surely now is the time to correct that activity, not to justify it through re-zoning. WS/PIM are therefore not the “great stewards of Cowichan Bay” that they deceptively claim to be.
3) Cowichan Bay estuary trail still open to public, company assures (Interview with Alan Moore of WS by Robert Barron, Mar. 15):
- In this interview, Moore confirmed that they had denied CERCA any further access for development of the nature trail because “the company’s legal team had advised that Western Stevedoring could be liable if a member of the public was injured in any accident.” The real reason, unsaid, was obviously our objections to the re-zoning.
- At the same time, Moore stated that “the trail system is still open to the public”. Apparently the public is still welcome regardless of insurance liabilities – a double standard?
- He also claimed that “the company is developing a long-term community plan” for the nature trail, with the implied notion to the public that they (WS) were developing the trail.
- This is another deception because CERCA raised all of the funding for the trail development to date, while our volunteers accomplished most of the work on their own time and resources.
- WS finally came on board by converting the former rail trestle into a foot-bridge across the trail entrance, but all other work was carried out by CERCA volunteers and by businesses paid from CERCA funds. In appeasement, we gracefully showed WS alongside CERCA as equal partners in the trail development on our signage.
- Following our unwarranted eviction, the trail remains unfinished and may quickly deteriorate.
4) Get all the info on proposed rezoning (Lori Iannidinardo, Area D Director Cowichan Valley, Mar. 28):
- Iannidinardo expounded on how the estuary was “close to my own heart”, acknowledged that the “health of the estuary is a top priority”, how her “work with the community on by-laws that align with these goals” was so important, and how she has “worked to eliminate agricultural, industrial and other sources of pollution in the bay so shellfish can be safe to eat again”, then some discussion on the value of industrial activity in the estuary.
- My first question would be: is this “all the info on proposed rezoning” as the title of her article suggests?
- Then I must take a deep breath here – the estuary is still suffering from in-comeptible use, there’s no doubt about that! Years ago, shell fishing was abolished because of the pollution. The pollution is there primarily because of industrial activity. One can argue against that all they like, but that’s a fact. Iannidinardo does not explain her two standards: how and why would anyone support both the estuary integrity and adverse industrial impacts together?
- One might even accept industrial activity as currently carried out, but why would anyone support re-zoning for ‘more of same’?
- She advocates in this article that “industrial activity in Cowichan Bay has been confined to the ‘marine industrial’ area designated in the bylaws”, but fails to point out that this activity is dead centre in the middle of the estuary, so you can claim to ‘confine it’ all you like, but pollution is not restricted by that claim.
- Iannidinardo ends her article with the statement “I encourage everyone to look closely at what is proposed so you can provide the CVRD with well-informed feedback and help us make the best possible decisions for Cowichan Bay and our region”. On that point we basically agree with her, but we should ask ‘best decisions for whom’?
- If one would review all of these issues, there should be no question about denying the re-zoning to Western Stevedoring in support of PIM. They are already operating illegally in several ways, including construction of a steel fabrication shop and aluminum fabrication shop, neither being permissible under their lease, and were constructed without a building permit as required from CVRD. Why allow them to justify all this? Why not simply insist that they follow the conditions of the lease and of CVRD regulations as they are?
5) CERCA is fear mongering (Debbie Smith, Apr. 5); and
6) CERCA making misleading statements about PIM operations (Debbie Smith, Apr.14):
- I cover these last two letters together, since they are repetitious and are by the same author, Debbie Smith. However, all of the issues she raises are important, albeit incorrect.
- She is clearly badly informed on the issues, perhaps because her source appears to be WS/PIM managers. She starts by making those two derogatory statements above in the titles of her letters. Neither statement is true.
- Smith suggests: “I encourage you to get the facts first hand and not rely on others to interpret the facts for us”. Good advice, although she did not follow her own advice, having accepted what WS/PIM apparently told her, hook, line and sinker. Certainly she attempted no contact with the ‘other side’ of the dispute.
- She continues (in both letters) with: “The OCP designates the leased areas at the Terminal as Marine Industrial and the zoning is Transportation related industrial. Any reasonable person would consider PIM’s dock and bridge building operations to fit these designations, especially since its operated from 1990 unquestioned until 2016”. May I point out that the ‘Transportation related industrial’ in their lease was originally for ‘forestry products’ and not for manufacturing on-site, for which they have no permit.
- As for PIM’s dock (actually to be used for stevedoring by Western Stevedoring), that’s a joke: it was severely damaged by storms some years ago, and has never been repaired because they do not use it, but it continues to crumble and fall into the estuary causing further pollution. I understand it is too dangerous to even walk upon.
- Smith then states: “In good faith Western Stevedoring applied to amend the zoning and retire bulk petroleum and log storage leased area in favour of formalizing PIM’s business and to include the storage of marine safety equipment and disaster response.” Here’s where she should check her facts rather than accepting what they say, because their lease specifically forbids storage of any petroleum products. It is good to know that they promise not to store bulk petroleum, but that is hardly ‘in good faith’ as you put it.
- Regarding log storage, they are retiring nothing there, since they have had no logs to store for many years ever since MacMillan Bloedell ceased their operations in Cowichan Bay on this Lease. Also, the storage of marine safety equipment and disaster response is not according to the good graces of WS, since such equipment is a necessary part of many docks on our coastline.
- Smith then claims that she “saw no water contamination, noise pollution, light pollution, or oil pollution on site”. Some clarification is in order: CERCA has never accused WS/PIM of noise or light pollution, although we had differences with WFP over that issue three years ago, which were then partially corrected. As for water contamination, surely we can agree that the estuary is polluted. No fishing is allowed because of it, and increased industrial activity would not help alleviate that problem.
- She adds that “PIM pays property taxes to the province”. I suspect she means income tax that we all have to pay, but this was discussed above, and my point was that there is no direct tax benefit to Cowichan Valley from WS or PIM operations, something which gives them an unfair advantage over similar businesses in bidding on contracts.
- She then states that “CERCA doesn’t seem to value the need for PIM’s operation to be located in a deep sea port located in a industrial area not a residential area.” We certainly do not value that need in a sensitive ecosystem.
- Let me turn that last statement back to you. ‘Do you value the need for an unpolluted estuary for Cowichan Bay residents?’ You (and others above) seem to recognize only the needs of industry. And let me correct your “industrial not a residential area”: The whole area around Cowichan Bay and the estuary is residential, much of it on Cowichan Tribes land. Those residents of Cowichan Bay should be a little annoyed with you (in Mill Bay) declaring that they reside in an industrial area.
- Smith repeats Iannidinardo’s claim that “terminal operations provide stable well paying jobs for over 50 families in the CVRD”. These are hardly, as you say, stable, well paying jobs, since they work under contract, that is, they are temporary or part-time (contract) employees, probably with few benefits, and not unionized.
- As for PIM contributing to a “vibrant economy”, I believe you will find that the bay area depends more on tourism than industrial activity at Westcan Terminal, especially in view of no direct tax benefit to Cowichan Valley.
- Smith’s second letter accuses CERCA of “misleading statements”, an accusation not backed up by the facts, but which does apply to both WS/PIM and their supporters indicated in these articles, not CERCA. Once again, an apology would be in order, but we won’t hold our breath waiting for it.
I have attempted above to explain how Western Stevedoring, Pacific Industrial Marine, and certain supporting individuals are the guilty ones misleading the public on this issue. Jobs and the economy are not what are at stake here. The estuary is unquestionably suffering from adverse industrial impacts, an area once known for its excellent shell fishery, not to mention salmon and herring fisheries, all of which have suffered – ask anyone from Cowichan Tribes who’ve been around here much longer than us. A restored fishery in the estuary and in-shore would be an immense value to the local economy, far more than what WS/PIM provide. The question on both climate change and our estuary really come down to ‘what do you want your children and grandchildren to enjoy in the future?’ Do you really believe that the current situation should remain ‘business as usual’ and possibly ‘increased industry’, turning a blind eye to illegal operations that have been going on for two decades or more? These are the real truths, not misleading statements. CERCA and others might be amenable to current industrial activity in the estuary if they operated within the guidelines and regulations.
On April 3, CERCA held an information meeting on the re-zoning issue for interested residents of Cowichan Bay. We received a stab in the back as some unknown individual had the International Longshoreman & Warehousers Union (ILWU), providing them a deceptive view of how CERCA was destroying jobs in the estuary. The union immediately instructed their members in the region to attend the meeting in order to disrupt it. Some 200 or more union members did this in ignorance of the fact that PIM employees themselves are not unionized, and are, along with PIM, in competition for contract jobs with other unionized companies. Regardless, their ploy was totally successful in disrupting the meeting, which had to be terminated prematurely. But we tried.
Hopefully we can eventually put this whole issue to rest, perhaps even have the province enforce their own existing regulations, which they have not done for years because of budget cuts to environment and forestry departments. Very much related to all this, I would personally encourage everyone to vote in the coming election, and hold our elected officials in the next provincial government to task over issues like this.
Finally, I am certain that I have not caused the loss of a single job in the estuary with this explanation of the truth. I rest my case.
Geoff Strong, PhD
15 April, 2017