Like the sometimes ominous hush before a storm, a standing-room only crowd at Ranchero Firehall last Thursday was almost silent – until the issue of boat access to Gardom Lake was raised.
Anger and frustration were unleashed about one hour into a 90-minute meeting facilitated by the Fraser Basin Council to get public input on a draft management plan for the lake.
In his opening remarks, Fraser Basin Council manager Mike Simpson advised the approximately 90 attendees that one of the roles of the non-profit organization is to help groups collaborate – something the council has been doing in order to gather information for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.
“This is not a vote or plebiscite; that is not our mandate. All perspectives are valid and have a place here. We will try to hear all the input, but we’re not going to resolve everything,” he said, pointing out the planning committee had reached consensus on all issues except the matter of boat-trailer access to the lake. “We are not government and we have no role in implementation.”
The crowd remained respectful and quiet throughout presentations on the work of the committee and state of the lake by Fraser Basin Council assistant regional manager Tracy Thomas and the Ministry of Environment’s Marge Sidney.
Boat trailer access was the last issue Thomas addressed and when the meeting was opened for public input, hands shot up, tempers flared and feelings of distrust were displayed.
One bone of contention was a recent public survey that addressed the issue of access by asking respondents to tick a yes or no response to the question: “Does Gardom Lake need a safe, environmentally sustainable, trailered boat access and related infrastructure (i.e. parking, bathrooms, waste/recycling bins, year-round maintenance and snow removal)?
One visibly angry woman said she thinks trailered access has been CSRD’s “hidden issue” and one they planned on addressing irrespective of public opinion.
“You can’t ask a yes or no question,” she said, maintaining Thomas was not happy with the lack of consensus on the issue at the committee level and “would like to produce something (in her report) rather than that.”
Another man, also angry, accused Simpson of slanting a recent radio interview, despite his initial comment that he did not have an opinion one way or the other.
“Why were you selling trailered access on the lake…? You slanted the conversation to that,” he shouted.
Another attendee brought up the issue of the three current boat access points and accused the regional district of putting the Musgrave site back on the table after a qualified environmental professional advised no further development take place there.
Many in attendance heralded their remarks by saying they are not trying to prevent access to the lake, but are adamant in their opposition to trailered access.
Several others expressed their anger about the possibility of establishing boat trailer access at the popular community park, something they say will destroy the riparian area along with beach and swimming access for park users.
The suspicion that CSRD has plans to take over the community park and “do what they want,” was expressed by a few people both prior to and during the meeting.
Following the meeting, CSRD Area D director Rene Talbot said there is no conspiracy and no plan to get involved.
“We will wait for input and the report and see where we go,” he said, noting the Fraser Basin Council would present their report and recommendations to the board. “Just because there’s a draft plan doesn’t mean it will be put into effect. It will also go to the Area D Parks Commission.”
Also in attendance, Darcy Mooney, head of CSRD Operations Management, said the regional district has no plans or budget to build a new access and it is not included in the current five-year plan.
“We will maintain Musgrave Road as a hand launch,” he said, noting CSRD is interested in hearing public opinion on everything, not just boat access, and has no interest in improving or closing the Teal Road access, which is owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. “It shows how polarized people are about boat launches, but this is the start of the conversation, not the end.”
When attendees had been expressing their concerns during the meeting, Thomas repeatedly asked them to provide input either through hard-copy forms available at the meeting or by filling them in online.
As of Wednesday morning, she had received more than 400 responses containing
“interesting feedback and great suggestions.”
Included were views that differed from much of what was heard at the meeting.
“I don’t think everybody is comfortable putting up their hands or speaking,” she said, noting facial expressions of some attendees indicated they might not agree with what was being said. “There are great ideas and perspectives from different user groups. I think there might be 10 sides to this coin.”