A recent application by the Wickaninnish Inn to occupy two parcels of public beach for commercial use has drawn criticism from some Tofino residents and local environmental watchdogs.
Wickaninnish Inn has requested a 30-year Licence of Occupation from the Ministry of Forests to use two foreshore spaces to host events from May to October. The first roughly 200-square-metres area is on North Chesterman Beach to the east side of the hotel. The second 638-square-metres of land is Shell Beach, which is accessed via the private property.
Charles McDiarmid, managing director of the resort, said they are following a new government land use application process, much like the new surf school tax. If approved, the license will be on a “non-exclusive basis” meaning no one can be excluded from the spaces.
“It is Crown land and it should be regulated. We only want to be able to do what we have always done for both the Crab Cookout on Chesterman Beach and the special events on Shell Beach,” said McDiarmid, noting that if approved they will have to pay the government a yearly fee based on the assessed value of the 0.09 hectares of uplands they propose to use.
Surfrider Pacific Rim, a non-profit dedicated to protecting local beaches, released a statement last week strongly opposing the application as it “indicates a threat of access to the coastline.”
“Approval of this application sets a dangerous precedent that multiple parts of the beach can be commercialized,” Surfrider Pacific Rim wrote in a Jan. 20 statement.
“North Chesterman Beach is an actively used public site, enjoyed daily by many residents and visitors. Shell Beach, as it is, has almost no public access, which already raises questions around equal beach access. Surfrider Pacific Rim strongly advocates for public beach access,” Surfrider states.
But McDiarmid argued that the commercial licence wouldn’t encroach on public access. He says the events are low-key and mostly in the evening when folks have left the beach.
“On Chesterman Beach the Crab Cookout space has been used by locals, visitors and our own team members as a wonderful picnic location as has the volleyball net we install annually each summer. We are very open to creating signage to make public use of the Crab Cookout location more evident and welcoming,” he said.
Tofino resident Steven Thicke expressed concerns about the application setting “a dangerous and very unwelcome precedent.”
“I have no problem with commercial operators who use the beach for transient and temporary activities that minimally impact the public, but believe there is no place for seasonally permanent commercial venues on public beaches in our area. These beaches are a relatively limited, much-valued asset in our community and there is considerable language in Tofino’s Overall Community Plan which aims to protect them in as natural a state as possible,” wrote Thicke in an email to the Westerly.
McDiarmid re-iterated that the Wickaninnish has been hosting Crab Cookouts for more than 20 years and that every single application to the Crown is an individual event that will be “judged on its own merits.”
“One application does not mean others will be approved,” he said.
In its application, Wickanninish Inn says the spaces could be used for community events such as fundraising. Over the years, the Wick Inn has served as the opening venue for Brenden and Erinn Morrison’s annual Tofino Saltwater Classic, a community fundraising event for local charities that has raised $725,000 over the past 12 years.
The Chesterman Beach portion proposes a seating for up to 50 guests while the Shell Beach location could hold up to 80. The application claims the development of the spaces requires no real construction and “will not negatively impact the sensitive environment we are in.”
“The only movement of earth would be to dig holes (by hand shovel) to anchor the table bases, umbrella stands and perimeter posts,” the application states.
Both North Chesterman and Shell Beach stand on unceded Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations territory. The resort’s response to the question regarding First Nations Consultation has been redacted.
“We call on the Government of British Columbia to make public the redacted information in this application regarding First Nation consultations,” Surfrider Pacific Rim urges.
“It wasn’t redacted at our request. I don’t know who redacted it. We definitely did consult with First Nations [in advance] and have continued,” McDiarmid told the Westerly.
Commenting on the Wickaninnish Inn Crown Land File #1415348 closes on Feb. 23.