From left, Steve Jones, Katie Hartshorn and Dennis Del Torre look over expansion plans. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Proposed Vancouver Island Motorsport expansion generates mixed reviews

More than 200 people turned out for open house on Duncan-area track expansion

More than 200 people turned out for the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit’s open house on the weekend and reaction to the Circuit’s expansion plans was varied.

“I’m all for it,” commented Brian Denninger as he signed a form indicating his support for what the Motorsport Circuit is doing in the Cowichan Valley.

“I can see where it benefits the community and I know lots of local businesses are benefiting,” he suggested.

As for the concerns about excessive noise, Denninger said what comes from the track was “no louder than the excavators” working nearby.

The Motorsport Circuit opened its doors to the public in an effort to demonstrate its commitment to mitigate sound concerns and explain how it planned to deal with environmental concerns.

“There was lots of interest and people wanted to talk about jobs, tourism and our continual support for community organizations,” Marie Baynton, spokesperson for the Motorsport Circuit said.

Last April, the Circuit held similar open houses and received feedback from the public. The company says it heard those concerns, went back to the drawing board and significant changes were made to the original plan.

“In the spring, sound and the environment were all we heard about,” Bayton says. “So we addressed those concerns and people have responded positively.”

Bayton says supportive comments during the afternoon open house outweighed negative ones.

“The positives far outnumbered any negatives by at least two to one,” she said.

Not everyone was pleased with the new plan that will see a new circuit located above the existing track, in an area that is already zoned for heavy industrial use.

“It’s not nearly new enough,” suggested Jack MacNeil, a member of the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association, the community organization that has had significant concerns about noise since the track opened in 2016.

“It’s all hypothetical and there are no guarantees that sound mitigation will provide the community with any satisfaction,” MacNeil said.

The Motorsport Circuit says it will spend $1 million on new sound engineered barriers, sound absorption walls and berms on both the existing circuit and the expansion. The maximum permissible sound emissions from cars operating on the circuit has been reduced by about 50 per cent of the maximum permissible loudness of the sound created.

MacNeil says he has concerns about the impact to the environment and what the expansion will mean to a First Nations sacred site near the circuit.

“And I wasn’t very heartened by what I heard about fire suppression measures,” MacNeil added.

North Cowichan resident Steve Jones said this was his first visit to the Circuit but he had heard about sound issues on social media.

“I know a couple people who are concerned about the noise. But to me it seems like a private club and there are questionable benefits to the community,” Jones said.

Katie Hartshorn also wondered about the benefits to the community and was worried about the environmental impact.

“What about the birds, the fishes, bears and eagles that have nested here for thousands of years?” she asked.

For Dennis Del Torre, who lives near Quamichan Lake, he sees the Motorsport Track as a place for “some tiny fraction (of the population) that doesn’t live here.

“I can’t think of a good thing that it brings to Duncan.”

As for the noise, “if they can promise it will be electric cars only, we’ll think about it,” Del Torre said.

The open house included several stations where issues like environment, construction plans and community support were addressed.

The construction of the Motorsport Circuit in 2015 created 124 jobs during the building stage, with $16.7 million in direct construction spending. It is estimated that more than 250 jobs will be created during the expansion phase.

Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit says it has provided more than $200,000 in direct support to local organizations.

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