By Heather Ramsay-The canopy is coming down along a 1.4 kilometre stretch of Tow Hill Road.
Although protesters stopped the canopy clearing earlier this week, the right-of-way to supply seven new lots on North Beach with power will be cleared again starting Sept. 4.
After taking some legal action, developer NIHO Land and Cattle Co. reached an agreement with the Tow Hill Road Standing Committee Thursday night (Aug. 31).
NIHO offered some concessions to the concerned citizens and said the company would eat all the costs incurred in the disruption of work so far.
But it also applied for an injunction which will allow it to arrest anyone blocking work on the right-of-way after Sept. 1. The company also named 24 people in a court summons, saying they could be held liable for any financial losses due to the protest.
Thursday night, Dean Nielsen, a member of the family which owns NIHO, met with the standing committee and said the 24 people who had been served a summons would be taken off if each signed an undertaking agreeing not to stand in the way of further work.
“We’re not out to get people per se,” Mr. Nielsen told the committee. But he said setting this legal process in motion was the only way to get work going again. “At the end of the day, if there are a few wild cards the community can’t govern, we want them arrested.”
The concessions made by NIHO include:
o Stopping the clearing for power poles at the beginning of Lot 7, saving at least 200 metres of canopy.
o Putting a covenant on the final pole so it will be a complicated process to extend the line further.
o Preparing a contractual agreement that says property owners will have to bring the hydro line from the south side of the road to their property underground.
o Agreeing that all future development will be discussed in the pre-planning phase with the community.
Mr. Nielsen said that strict covenants on the properties already prevent the future owners from cutting down trees on the beach side of the road, or cutting down trees for any reason other than driveways or building sites.
The covenants also restrict houses to the back side of the sensitive sand dunes, call for strict septic requirements and set out guidelines for the aesthetics of the buildings.
NIHO owns another 160-acre piece of property in the upper Sangan River and has plans to subdivide it. Mr. Nielsen committed to sitting down with the community to discuss that project.
As for suggestions the hydro lines be buried underground, Mr. Nielsen told the committee that wasn’t going to happen at this stage.
He said he was told by BC Hydro it wasn’t possible due to the wet site, although Tow Hill Road resident Rich Schultz said he spoke to a BC Hydro official in Vancouver on Thursday who said burying the cable was possible, although more expensive. Mr. Schultz suggested the community could help raise the extra money, if the work could be delayed for 30 days.
But Mr. Nielsen said he wasn’t interested in delaying the work any further to find out if it was possible.
Although NIHO has owned the land on North Beach for 20 years, the lots were just put up for sale in August. The deals were supposed to close on Aug. 30.
“I can’t 180 on all our clients because of some guy on a phone call at 5 pm,” Mr. Nielsen said.
Mr. Nielsen said the work will be completed in eight days. The company wants all the stumps removed and to seed the right of way with grass to make it look similar to the roadway just before the new hydro lines.
Committee members told Mr. Nielsen that they would endorse the concessions and the signing of the undertaking, but said they can not control what other community members do.
Most left the meeting with low spirits.
“Did we win? It doesn’t sound like it,” said Chris Ashurst, a member of the Tow Hill Road Standing Committee.
But Mr. Ashurst sees something positive in the whole mess.
“We need to make use of the public energy and direct it into a community plan,” he said. “Sometimes it takes people getting scared to foment public participation.”
He is relieved the developer has been sensitive to the ecology of the beachfront sites, noting the development could have been high density.
Even Mr. Nielsen thinks the Tow Hill community needs an official community plan.
“I was serious when I offered to help with this,” he told the committee.
Meredith Adams, another Tow Hill Road Standing Committee member, asked for an informal meeting to be held in order to “clear the air.” Many community members are still upset by the lawsuit slapped on them and by the rude behaviour of the men who tried to serve the summons. One woman was naked in her bathtub on her deck when the two men came by. When she asked them to leave, they lingered until she threatened to call the police.
Arnie Bellis, vice-president of the Council of the Haida Nation, has been following the conflict. He was pleased to hear the community and the developer have come to the point where they can work together.
But he said the islands need clear planning outlines for development. He said the Council of the Haida Nation has put that on the agenda in government-to-government negotiations over the land use plan. But he said each community has to do the work from their own perspective.
Without such a structure in place “the vacuum gets filled by the motivation of money,” he said.
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