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Posted: December 9, 2017

Why the Benchlands should be zoned recreational

Letter to the Editor

Re: Kimberley Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Marysville Benchlands

Although I understand that the draft OCP has been in development for several months, it has only been in the last two months that I became aware of this plan, and for the initiative to promote development of the Marysville Benchlands for industrial use.

The issue I would like to address is that of the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the zoning of the Marysville Benchlands for industrial use. I attended the City Hall meeting on October 23, and was admittedly alarmed at the discussion around this cherished landform in our community. At the meeting, the land was effectively stripped of its value in this regard and reduced to a two-dimensional colour swatch on a zoning map. This has been a tragic revelation for me, in a community that values recreation, connection to nature, and spiritual well-being above conventional amenities. The following provides a five-point rationale for why I believe the Marysville Benchlands should be zoned for recreational use, and the OCP amended to reflect this zoning.

The first point is accessibility for recreational opportunities for all.

As it was noted during the October 23 meeting, yes, there is a good proportion of ‘greenspace’ in the Kimberley area, but, no, the greenspace is not all ‘created equal’ in that the accessibility has not been weighed in. When we first moved back to town, I took my partner there to show her the unmatched views overlooking the St. Mary River and the Rocky Mountains.

It has been the only place where she has been able to gain this experience in the area. She is currently limited to easily accessible recreational options due to a traumatic brain injury she endured as a result of an automobile accident the week we moved here. Other areas that may have comparable recreational value to the Marysville Benchlands are not options for folks with accessibility issues. These people do not have the same abilities as the average Kimberley resident, and the Benchlands makes this critical connection to the natural landscape possible where it would not be in other greenspaces around.

The second point is that rare and environmentally sensitive areas should be protected.

The value of the Marysville Benchlands should not be tied to the compartmentalized quality of the underlying soil or groundwater. My career has been that of a specialist in mine reclamation. Having this background affords me the perspective of understanding what the potential contaminated conditions may be for this plot of land, which is likely why the choice has been made to classify it as industrial preferentially over other uses. But it struck me that the true value of the land had not been adequately considered in the decision to exploit land for industrial use. Beyond the superior accessibility, the Marysville Benchlands represent part of a rare ecosystem of conservation concern in the province, Ponderosa Pine-Bunchgrass. The ecosystem has sustained over time regardless of the many years of mine waste disposal activities a stone’s throw away. These values should be protected, not forever lost in favour of development.

The third point is that wildlife corridors should be identified and maintained to minimize fragmentation of wildlife habitat and reduced ability of wildlife to move readily out of residential areas.

The slopes and platforms along the bench clearly (you can see the well-worn trails transecting much of the area) provide wildlife corridor function for ungulates so they can use the browse sources on the Teck tailings facilities and surrounding rangeland. Developing the land may create an obstacle for wildlife passage that could have negative repercussions for community residents (and the wildlife).

The fourth point is consideration of topography in planning appropriate buffer spaces.

The Marysville Benchland is not a two-dimensional blob as it is depicted in the OCP. It is a remnant of glaciation and fluvial processes that have occurred over thousands and thousands of years. The flat bench literally hangs over the community of Marysville; you can see it from almost everywhere in Marysville, and vice versa. It has provided protection for the town from the heavy industrial activities that occurred for almost a century.

The shape of the town is a multi-level bench to the St. Mary River, with the Marysville Benchland at the top. I lived in Prince George for most of my adult life and am intimately aware of what can happen if community planning does not consider the local topography. In PG, the city is built in a topographic bowl and the industrial pollution literally chokes the city every time there is a climatic inversion. In this case, any development, regardless of type, will impact the visual quality of the area irreversibly. Similarly, noise, light, or air quality are very likely to present impacts to residents simply due to boundary effects and lack of effective sources of insulation/dampeners.

The Marysville Benchlands currently provide a natural (and beautiful) visual aesthetic and functions as a natural buffer that helps to insulate Marysville residents from the transfer station, the busy road, and the closure management activities on the Teck lands. It will provide a similar function for when the Teck lands on the opposite side of Jim Ogilvie Way can be re-purposed for other development types.

As Mr. Oakley said at the October 23 meeting, it is a major challenge to be surrounded by the proportion of brownfield land that is here. In my mind, this is a key reason why the Marysville Benchlands should be maintained in a natural state. It provides a needed separation between what has been heavy industry, and always will be industry to some degree, to buffer the residents of Marysville from ever-present brownfields. In fact, it would be prudent to identify options for cultivating the ecosystem values of the Marysville Benchlands to enhance the natural buffering function and capacity of this land.

The fifth reason is that there are industrial areas currently in Kimberley that are being under-utilized.

In order to meet the spirit of the OCP, which includes the vision of enjoying outstanding quality of life in harmony with nature and each other, and the objective of land use planning mindful of all, the Marysville Benchlands should be preserved for all to enjoy, now and the into the future, for the values and functions they provide naturally. Further, I believe that promotion of light industry to help facilitate community sustainability should focus on initiatives intended to revitalize industrial areas that currently exist, are under-utilized, and do not provide the enhanced functions that the Marysville Benchlands do. The issue being addressed here is not about whether or not light industrial businesses should be encouraged to establish in Kimberley, it is about where these businesses should be established. There are options other than the Marysville Benchlands that are better suited to the goals of the community and they should be optimized.

These fundamental reasons described above clearly indicate that the Marysville Benchlands must be zoned as recreation and the natural values and functions protected. For the OCP, Marysville Benchlands should be: 1) identified as an environmentally sensitive area, which should thus be zoned as recreation as per page 38 and 2) Schedule E of the OCP should be revised to recognize the ecological values and functions of the Marysville Benchlands.

Please amend the OCP to zone the Marysville Benchland as recreation, preserving the values, functions, and uses it currently provides to community residents.

In summary, the following points provide the reasons for this amendment:

  • Accessibility for recreational opportunities for all
  • Rare, environmentally sensitive ecosystem and habitats
  • Critical wildlife corridor connection between requisite habitat types
  • Necessary separation/buffer of Marysville residents from industrial and traffic impacts
  • Industrial lands exist otherwise in the OCP that would adequately support light industrial businesses that may be looking to develop currently and promoting use of these lands would effectively revitalize them

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft OCP and provide supporting rationale for amending the plan by zoning the Marysville Benchlands for recreational use.

Jennifer McConnachie,

Kimberley


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