Laurie Gourlay, President of the Mid-Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative (MISSI) thinks the regional district should endorse a project that will turn Nanaimo into a “Green Gateway” to Vancouver Island.
However, to date the Islands Trust does not support at least one portion of the MISSI project. That is a proposal that the boundaries of an, as yet non-existent, National Marine Conservancy Area (NMCA), be expanded to include the waters around Gabriola and the Nanaimo estuary.
The Islands Trust, meanwhile, has been pressing for an expansion of its own on the proposed marine conservancy.
According to Trustee Sheila Malcolmson NMCAs are marine areas that are “meant to integrate environmental protection with resource use”, but exclude the designated area from oil and gas extraction.
In a presentation to Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting of the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) board at the RDN offices in Nanaimo, Gourlay noted that the RDN recently turned down a request from the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve Foundation to take over the administration of the reserve. Gourlay proposed that MISSI administer the reserve, and that the RDN support linking the biosphere to the Nanaimo Estuary, thereby creating what he called a “Green Gateway”, that is environmentally protected on both land and sea.
Gourlay said that the Green Gateway designation would increase region-wide tourism, promote local economies and businesses, and “offer opportunities that foster coastal sustainability, conservation, and community development in the Mid-island”. He said declaring Nanaimo a Green Gateway could make the Mid-island “a prominent provincial, national and global eco-tourism destination”, proclaim it as “a unique location as a hub for coastal, and mountain recreational/renewable resource/green opportunities”, and link it up to other eco-tourism opportunities on Vancouver Island.
He envisioned “Nanaimo as the hub of a horseshoe linking Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve with efforts in progress to establish a Nanaimo Watershed Roundtable”, and the proposed marine conservancy. He wanted to create a “corridor connection across the alpine coastal range of the biosphere reserve establishing links with the Nanaimo River watershed”, and the proposed NMCA.
Regional Director Howard Houle asked if First Nations and the Islands Trust were “onside” with MISSI’s proposal, given that it includes waters in their jurisdictions. Gourlay said Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White said he was “in concert with our goals, but there are a few things in the Douglas Treaty that still have to be discussed and negotiated”. He said MISSI “proposed some additional ideas as to how perhaps a memorandum of understanding might offer the opportunity for further discussion … without hard and fast determinations that would undermine such settlements as he’s looking for”, but has not heard back from White since then.
The Islands Trust, Gourlay said, has suggested an extension of the NMCA “at this time may slow down the establishment” of the conservation area. He said MISSI responded to the Trust suggesting “that they are not looking at the net economic benefits” that would accrue to the mid-island by extending the NMCA. MISSI did this, he said, “not to call them selfish but to say we should spread that wealth around and have that linkage into Nanaimo – which is the second largest city on the island – and that would benefit the Islands Trust as well as the conservation area goals”.
He said he has also asked the provincial and federal ministers if they agree that asking for the extension would slow down the process.
According to Malcolmson, since 2005 the Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC) has been lobbying the provincial and federal governments to expand the NMCA boundaries to include waters off the southern coast of Gabriola, Mudge, and the Flattop Islands.
At their Sept. 6 LTC meeting, Malcolmson said Parks Canada is balking at even the LTC’s more modest request for an increase, and “would prefer to start with a small area closer to the US border, and experiment with that”. She said that although Trust Council has not taken an official position on the Gabriola LTC’s expansion proposal, many trustees agree “the precautionary principle says ‘protect the most area and refine the way you are protecting or acting once you’ve got some more information, but go big or go home’ ”.
However, in a recent letter to The Shingle regarding MISSI’s proposal, Malcolmson said she had “heard that if the proposed area keeps expanding, we will have to choose what else gets left out – i.e. Parks Canada isn’t going to create a mega-marine park, and asking for too much, risks what we’ve got already”.
She added: “And I am not, personally, going to advocate for action on shorelines within Snuneymuxw First Nation or Nanaimo City Council authority”.
Gabriolans who want to give input to Parks Canada on this issue may contact Malcolmson or Trustee Gisele Rudischer for contact information.
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