Marine Task Force Report Well Anchored

After first receiving the Marine Task Force (MTF) report last year (commissioned by the District of North Saanich in 2007), the former Mayor and Council accepted the report and its sixteen recommendations but voted to defer any action on the recommendations until after the municipal election in November 2008. Nearly a year later, the current Council has breathed new life into the report and planned two meetings (October 13 and 29, 2009 at 7:00 PM in Council Chambers) to address MTF recommendations and action items and to involve the public in these debates. The following highlights the results of our first meeting on October 13th.

An audience of about 45 to 50 people attended the October 13th Committee of the Whole Meeting, representing the general public, waterfront property owners, former Marine Task Force members and representatives of environmental groups and interested organizations. Using a September 2008 staff report to guide Council deliberations, we debated roughly half of the sixteen recommendations and carried the rest over to the next meeting on October 29th. My view is that despite some potentially contentious issues, the meeting proceeded well and the audience was respectful and fully engaged.

The meeting was opened by the former Task Force Chair, Graham Williams who provided us with a brief overview and background on some of the report's key recommendations. Council then discussed briefly how we should proceed, finally deciding to deal with each of the recommendations separately and in order. At first, I was concerned about the process of tackling these recommendations and wanted to avoid getting bogged down in minute detail and putting our audience to sleep. Other Council members agreed so we kept focused on the general recommendations, opting to attack the detail at our next meeting.

Debate was thorough and members of the audience were keen to participate in discussion on following:

Better recognize marine heritage, economic contributions and boating interests (staff directed to prepare a report for Council on anticipated changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP), suggested policy changes, development of community values related to recreation and environmental impacts and inclusion in the OCP of shoreline maps provided in the recently completely Saanich Inlet and Peninsula Atlas of Shorelines 2009 Public Report;

Meet with local marina industry representatives to explore options for improved capacity related to recreational boating and development (includes options for dry land boat storage);

Agree to keep OCP boatshed regulations the same but also agree to discuss other boatshed options with marina industry that might reduce moorage costs but increase capacity;

Guidelines for private docks (M5 vs. M6 zones).

The most contentious of these four items is the issue of guidelines for private docks. Waterfront property owners who attended the meeting are fiercely protective of their property rights -- some PRPA members (a North Saanich waterfront property owners' group) even suggested that the District should change its policy on M6 zoning so that private docks are allowed in North Saanich. Such a change would represent a major departure from the North Saanich Official Community Plan.

In the end, Council acknowledged that this Mayor and Council must first decide whether to open up this debate at all, a discussion that may be brought to a later meeting. I am reminded by other North Saanich taxpayers that while waterfront property owners have strong feelings about their riparian rights, the North Saanich waterfront is also a significant environmental asset to all North Saanich residents who live and pay taxes here. Many residents have asked that we protect and preserve the waterfront wherever possible.

In conclusion, I believe that when citizens make time to attend our meetings, we need to ensure that information and processes are "user friendly," meaning that discussions are well understood and information is readily provided. Granted, some of our discussion seemed a bit dry and drawn out and I noticed members of the audience drifting out of the Chamber before the end of the meeting. Others noted that we tended to use acronyms they did not recognize and referenced documents not provided to the audience for their information. These concerns of "using too much jargon" and "not providing some reference materials to the public" were duly noted. I have in fact today requested copies of our OCP and the original MTF report be provided at our October 29th meeting for people to see and share.

The debate will continue on October 29, 2009 when Council re-convenes in the Council Chamber at 7:00 pm to continue its review of the MTF report and the rest of the recommendations. Please try to attend this important meeting and join the discussion on how best to establish a balance between marine economic development and environmental protection of our marine habitat.