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Poor communication blamed in south Cowichan recycling depot debacle

Jun 29 2012

A report written by staff at the Cowichan Valley Regional District blames poor communication between the board and the community for a botched attempt to put a recycling depot on rural property in south Cowichan.

In June 2010, the CVRD bought a 22-acre property at 3224 Cameron-Taggart Rd. near Shawnigan Lake with the intent of building a public facility for recyclable materials and household waste.

The purchase of the land for $661,990 preceded any public notification of the CVRD’s intent to put an “Eco Depot” on the land.

“The strength of the opposition that developed in response to the project was not anticipated by the CVRD, which genuinely believed that the Eco Depot would be welcomed by the community,” said the report, which was released Thursday.

The firestorm of opposition had many residents posting signs on their lawns opposing the facility and calling for the resignation of the CVRD board.

A referendum was called on the facility, which was subsequently turned down. The board agreed to sideline the project and called on staff to find out what went wrong.

Expenses for the project total $1.35 million, although half that amount is tied up in the land, which is still owned by the CVRD.

The CVRD board failed to acknowledge the potential of public opposition and it did not have a communications strategy laid out, concluded the report.

But Bruce Fraser, who represents Shawnigan Lake on the CVRD board, said the problem wasn’t communication but site selection.

The south Shawnigan residents don’t oppose the idea of a recycling and refuse-collection facility, they just believe the Cameron-Taggart location was the wrong place for one, Fraser said.

“Essentially, we spent $1.3 million on a failed project,” said Fraser, who wasn’t elected until after the board bought the land.

The common practice of having closed-door meetings to choose a site for a public facility doesn’t work with a controversial facility such as a recycling/solid-waste depot, said Fraser.

The public had no idea the board wanted to put a waste collection facility on the rural land until it was announced by the CVRD, and they were justifiably upset, Fraser said.

“[The CVRD] made the mistake of choosing a site before communicating with the public, doing it in camera so nobody knew about it and dropping it on the local residents,” he said.

Fraser said the report is tainted by “reasoning and justification of why the board thought [the proposed facility on that site] was a good idea.”

The lesson to be learned “is this is not how you site a publicly controversial facility,” he said.

The report acknowledges the need to address negative perceptions associated with waste and recycling facilities, especially when the land involved is considered to be pristine.

“It may be less confrontational to locate such solid waste facilities in industrial areas,” it said.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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