The subdivision of Western Forest Products land may threaten the Goudie Creek watershed, says Terri Alcock of the Sheringham Water Works. (Contributed photo)

Residents concerned land sale could threaten south Island water supply

Sale will allow for the subdivision and development of forestry lands in Shirley, west of Sooke

The for sale signs that recently sprouted up on lands owned by Western Forest Products near Shirley have some residents concerned about the potential damage to their drinking water.

They’ve sent letters of concern to Premier John Horgan and the Capital Regional District and have mounted a petition calling for the protection of their watershed through the cancellation of the sale.

“We need Western (Forest Products) and the CRD to come back to the table to find a way to protect our water,” Terri Alcock, Sheringham Water Works administrator said.

The SWW is the community-owned and operated water utility for Shirley. The utility represents more than 300 residents who could be affected by the contamination of the watershed that could result from the sale.

“They (Western Forest Products) are selling the land to be developed into 10-acre residential lots. That means there would be at least 15 homes sinking wells and installing septic fields on land that’s right in our watershed for Goudie Creek. (The) watershed is the primary source of water for our community,” Alcock said.

Regional Director Mike Hicks said the population density resulting from the sale could be higher.

“The way the zoning stands right now, they can have 10-acre lots, but each of those lots can have a primary residence and an independent detached suite of up to 900 square feet,” Hicks said.

The attempt to sell the property comes after a prolonged period of work by Hick’s to address residents’ concerns.

“I’ve been negotiating with them [Western Forest Products] for at least six months in an attempt to get a deal that would have seen them subdivide into five-acre parcels but leave the portion of the land in the watershed undeveloped,” Hicks said.

“It would have meant that they would lose some money, but I was hoping that the CRD land acquisition fund could step in and buy the watershed land to keep as a passive park area.”

But, Hicks said, the forestry company stepped away from that concept after the CRD failed to buy into the plan. The company notified Hicks that their head office had directed that the entire parcel of land be sold.

“It’s privately owned land and they aren’t doing anything illegal, but they’re certainly conscious that the land is in the watershed for Goudie Creek and were initially willing to work with us,” Hicks said.

“But when the CRD decided that the land wasn’t useful as a park, Western decided that they’d sell the whole chunk of land and move on.”

That seemed consistent with a statement issued by Western Forest Products.

“We offered the CRD the first opportunity to purchase these lands, however, they declined,” Babita Khunkhin, communications director for Western Forest Products, said.

“We are aware of concerns and will continue to work with the Capital Regional District and community to better understand how those concerns may be addressed as we move forward.”

Hicks said that he will be in contact with the premier’s office to see what else can be done.

“I did what I could but was unsuccessful,” Hicks said.

“In this round, we failed but we’re sure not giving up.”

Representatives of the Ministry of Forests and Rural Development issued a statement saying that the land is governed under the Private Managed Forest Land Act and that Western is free to sell their land at any time..

The SWW petition can be accessed by calling Alcock at 250-646-2528.

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