By Keith Liggett

(Note: This is the issue–the city and the RDEK have no jurisdiction to impose a visual zoning overlay on the lands they govern. If they did have the power to regulate the use of lands, they would wield that power. We should work to change the Provincial land use laws to allow us to control our own future and maintain the ability to regulate our lands.)

There are effective tools municipalities and districts hold to create balance in the development of their communities. While the tools seem blunt, they can be used with a sharp edge to create a balance between conflicting purposes.

Take the logging issue today.

That is a zoning issue. How we look at the issues determines how the land is used. Today, it’s zoned in such a way that they can strip it bare of all vegetation and walk away without recourse.

And they will. More accurately, they are.

That is how the Provincial land use by-laws that govern timber harvests are set up. We, the people of the valley, have not say or recourse in how the land is used or managed.

Teck tries to meet (or exceed) the standards of the community because they are vested in the community. Their employees work up the hill and live at the bottom of the hill. Teck is conscious of the long-term need for balance between the massive degradation of the environment and their continued mining in the Elk Valley.

The logging folks are a little different. In a year or two, they’ll have taken every stick they can off the land and they’ll leave. In 50 or 60 years, they’ll show up with a diesel spewing line of buncher-fellers and logging trucks and do the same again. And then be gone. They have no skin in the community.

We need to change that. We need a Provincial change to local control.

Then, the RDEK with Fernie’s support could overlay a FSC standard and a scenic corridor logging requirement (as existed voluntarily with Tembec) the current logging practices would be stopped cold. We would be able to supply the mills with a steady stream of quality lumber and stop the boom and bust cycle currently found in this sort of timber harvest.

This is not out of line.

Zoning and permitted uses are the tools municipalities wield to create a balance in the development of the community and to insure there is a minimal conflict between uses going forward.

There are plenty of precedents for a scenic zoning bylaw. In BC, there are existing bylaws that protect current view corridors. There are zoning rules that keep people from building too high and blocking views. In Fernie, current zoning allows for setbacks and maximum permitted lot coverage which contributes to an openness in town. Some towns regulate the cutting of trees as heritage structures. Others encourage particular forms of development and discourage others.

In the United States, the Congress created the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area (CGNSA) running from just east of The Dalles west to Portland, through the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. This is a scenic zoning overlay with seven different ecological zones. Each zone has a different color palate for buildings. Buildings must be relatively subdued and blend into the background in the CGNSA. The phrase most commonly heard is “You can have the view, but you cannot be the view.” The validity of the zoning has been argued all the way to the Supreme Court and found to be valid. In the last 20 years almost 2000 homes have been built in the Gorge and finding one is a game.

We have the opportunity to create a new model of working with industrial incursions. We can make them preserve the view corridors while they take a reasonable time to remove the resource and become a part of the community.

People will say, ”It’s always been this way.”

It hasn’t. We have entered a new age of mechanized industrial extraction. From 1896, when coal was discovered in the Elk Valley, to the closing of the mines in Coal Creek, the Valley produced 20 million tons of coal. Now, every single year, Teck ships out between 22 and 26 million tons of coal. Every year they ship what was mined in the first 60 plus years combined. All produced with a fraction of the employees before.

The same efficiency is found in logging today.

Fewer employees, more efficient machines, greater productivity over a far shorter time.

That is why we need to slow things down, sit back and look at the future. To take in the view and decide what we want for our community going forward.

A forested enclave in the mountains?

Or a recovering denuded landscape with apocalyptic overtones?

We need to install creative zoning to ensure we go forward with a municipally defined community plan for the future of all the residents. Take action here.

Or everyone loses, but the loggers.

We’ll be left sitting on our hands with our eyes squinted closed, waiting for them to roll back in.

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