A Wild Pacific Trail connector project that has faced loud scrutiny from Marine Drive residents, is now being attacked from another part of town.
Ucluelet has budgeted roughly $120,000, and received a $75,000 grant from the Island Coastal Economic Trust, to link the Wild Pacific Trail’s He-Tin-Kis Park and Big Beach trailheads, leading users through Spring Cove to Little Beach and onto Marine Drive.
The district is currently surveying Spring Cove to map the path’s potential route.
Ucluelet local Laurie Skene has been fighting the project since 2015 and is flabbergasted at the district’s unwillingness to listen to her concerns about the path’s potential impacts on Spring Cove that has remained relatively pristine thanks to a lack of public access.
“It’s not rocket science to say this area will be severely impacted by that and that makes me want to cry because it’s such a lovely area and they’re not even putting the thought into what the impacts would be,” Skene told the Westerly News. “It’s sad to me that they’re so hell-bent on doing it that they’d be willing to risk that without doing a proper environmental study.”
The path is connected to a 1998 covenant that saw the district receive a right-of-way for a future trail through Spring Cove, according to Ucluelet’s Planner 1 John Towgood.
Skene submitted a three-page letter to the district office on Dec. 8, 2015, citing her concerns about the project but after waiting six months without a response, she filed a legal action questioning the district’s claim to the area.
“For starters, we need to determine, to begin with, whether the right of way’s even valid. That’s a judicial decision and that’s why we started the legal action, to determine that. If a judge should determine that right of way’s not valid well then they have no right of way; they can’t build it,” she said.
“They’re going ahead and spending money on a survey when they don’t even know for sure what the outcome of that is going to be.”
During an Open House held by Ucluelet’s council last month to talk about the district’s proposed increases to its business licence fees, Skene asked how much the survey was costing local taxpayers but, she said, she never received an answer, despite contacting the district office several times.
She suggested the district has not been forthcoming with any information about the project and only heard about it when a survey-line appeared in Spring Cove.
“Basically, we walked into a survey line in July of 2015 that had been strung across the front of our property,” she said adding the line caused her to investigate further and led her to discover the district’s grant application to the Island Coastal Economic Trust.
“That’s how we found out, because we read the grant application, not because anybody told us or because it was even mentioned at the budget meetings.”
She suggested area residents were never told about the project.
“The district has not made an effort to inform people,” she said.
“In my view, they should have made an effort to actually pull together a meeting with all the property owners and talk to everybody. Show us the plans. Tell us what you’re doing. Follow your own processes.”
She noted Ucluelet’s Official Community Plan recognizes Spring Cove as a riparian area and suggested a private developer would need to provide much more information than the district has before moving ahead with a project.
“Any developer that was coming into town to do any kind of development or building, would be required to present a detailed design. They would have to meet all those requirements. Just to get a business licence you have to show where you’re going to have parking,” she said.
“You have to do all of those things and the district’s attitude is, ‘Those rules don’t apply to us.’ I find that just incredible. They should be setting the example for how people do things the right way, not making everybody else do it and just ignoring those rules.”
She added she requested to see an environmental impact study, design plan and general information about where washrooms and parking would go but has received none of that information.
“What’s most disheartening, is that they just are not following their own rules. Whenever we’ve tried to mention it to them, you get all the nice platitudes and the nice words of, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll take that into consideration.’ But, then you never hear anything more from them,” she said.
“Clearly their intention is to just do what they want to do, disregard and hope you go away and hope you quit causing problems for them. I just think it’s a really poor way for council and senior staff with the district to behave. We’re all paying their salaries. There should be accountability. There should be some integrity there.”
Planner 1 John Towgood acknowledged the legal action but said the covenants allowing for the trail were registered on all affected properties in 1998 and the district is moving ahead.
“The district has filed a response and expects that covenant will be upheld in court,” he told the Westerly. “The litigation has not progressed since August 2016 and we’re mindful that other property owners, the ones that want it complete, don’t want to see the loss of this opportunity and this grant funding and they’re, kind of, anxious to see this work start.”
He noted a trail around Spring Cove was supposed to be completed during the Reef Point development.
“This is a trail system that’s been in the books since 2000. We’re getting to it because we can now we’ve got some grant monies and we’re focusing on rebuilding and developing this thing,” he said.
“The district’s goal is to rebuild the existing part of the trail and complete what I think is an amazing public amenity and public trail…This trail has such a huge value to this community for generations. Without this trail we wouldn’t have any access to Spring Cove.”
Skene said the disputed covenant has the area in a bind because development has been ongoing without a trail in place.
“It was supposed to have been built by the developer before there was any development. People would have purchased their property knowing what the exact impact was on their lot,” she said. “The fact is, the district has given out development permits now for buildings for almost 20 years.”
She added some of the buildings sit close to the water and would be very close to any potential trail. “Nobody wants that,” she said.
“This makes no sense…There’s been no thought about how this affects the properties that have been built in the meantime. It’s really disheartening.”
Towgood said district staff are working with the Wild Pacific Trail Society on a plan for the trail and a preliminary walkthrough was done with the WPT’s manager ‘Oyster’ Jim Martin.
“It’s really hard because there’s brush and hills and stuff so we haven’t finalized an exact location of the trail itself. Except for a few portions extending from the highway,” he said.
“District staff expect that the trail will otherwise be as close to the natural boundary as possible.”
He added the affected properties are all strictly designated as commercial vacation rentals that cannot be lived in for longer than 30 days at a time, meaning no locals would be impacted by the trail.
“These are commercial properties. So, these guys really stand to benefit from being directly on the trail,” he said. “They are not residences…It’s a purely commercial zone. They are resort condominiums and, again, the majority of the property owners we’ve talked to want this trail to be built.”
He said staff reached out to affected property owners and discussed their concerns but added the trail is still in its preliminary stages so specifics aren’t yet available.
“Understanding the path will give us an understanding of the techniques that will be required for the construction and to assess the potential of any environmental issues or archaeological impacts,” he said.
“Until we know where the location of the trail is, we don’t really know how it’s going to be built, where it’s going to be built and what the impacts are…As the understanding with the trail develops, we’ll work with each landowner to address their concerns.”
He acknowledged the OCP’s riparian designation, but suggested the trail would not apply.
“Riparian area regulation generally talks about rivers…There isn’t a lot of stream-crossing throughout this thing, so we’re talking a shorefront and we’re talking a very low impact trail,” he said.
“The same discussion could be had for the rest of the Wild Pacific Trail. These are low impact trail systems that have gone in and, if we’re going to see an absolute requirement, we’ll for sure do a complete environmental assessment.”