Monday, July 29, 2013

Big dock gets its shaft - and so does the view

Don Ho's dock at the Cape

The big dock at Lot 13 at Cape Roger Curtis started getting its decking today.  From Collingwood Point the view of the Cape lighthouse from the point now has a line drawn straight across it.  It's as if the iconic view of a lonely lighthouse atop a rocky point has been cancelled out.  There is now nowhere on Bowen where the view of the north side of the Cape does not include this pier.  And should the current applications go ahead, another will be built between this one and the Cape.

It continues to be laughable that advertisements like this one are still in circulation:

In fact, even the views don't last forever.  At this rate the thing that is going to last the longest will be the general animosity towards the owners and the heartbreak of a huge section of the community, the cynical indifference of another huge section of the community and the perverse glee of our local libertarians. In fact the view on the cover of the developer's own design guidelines is actually different now because of this single dock.  

Speaking of which, I was cruising through these design guidelines and see how many of them have been simply broken by this one dock, let alone five more docks.  A sample, to which I have added some commentary:

  • "The southwest corner of the Bowen Island [sic] is afforded longer hours of afternoon sun while sunsets at The Cape on Bowen are unparalleled, silhouetting the Cape Lighthouse against he backdrop of the Gulf Islands."  Unparalleled in the sense that there is now a 363 foot wharf structure perpendicularly included in that view.
  • "The fulfilment of these concepts...will see a neighbourhood defined by grace and generosity."  I am gobsmacked that this is actually in the design guidelines.  I await with baited breath, the practice of grace and generosity in this whole debacle.  
  • "Spectacular views abound from the wild terrain and ocean's edge, intended to be captured through home siting and architectural forms and celebrated at key locations for shared community enjoyment." I'm not sure what is happening right now meets the owner's definition of a "celebration" by the community.  Unless you count the Stop the Docks parties at Pebble Beach.
  • "Preserve, protect and enhance existing natural features, including views." It's just not happening folks.  It's as if the docks are responding to a guideline to "create a massive personal moorage irrespective of its impact on your view, your neighbour's view or the views of the community."  There.  Fixed that for you. 
  • They actually identify the foreshore as a "conversation area."  The designers say that these areas "have been established as a mechanism to protect environmentally sensitive and archaeologically significant areas in accordance with Provincial legislation and and Conservation Covenants registered on the title of the property." Except go ahead and build a honking great dock there if you want.  
These design guidelines were created way back in 2010 so perhaps they have been forgotten or set aside now, except that they are still on the developer's website and they are right now being violated by the developer's own private dock.

Preserving seashells, the Bowen way

Kristen Denger over at FOXGLOVE Magazine has a wonderful tutorial for preserving seashells that you find at the seashore.  And she has some stunning examples of snail shells from King Edward Bay.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Currents are swirling

Another beautiful SUP last night down to Cape Roger Curtis. We have super big tides right now due to the phase and proximity of the moon. out at the Cape the currents were swirling this way and that. It was like a washing machine right off the light house, water heaving and moving in every direction. When a large boat passed the wake was crazy, at times becoming standing waves, breaking and moving all around. It was fun paddling in it, if a little nervy.

The dock at Lot 13 is now out a long way from shore. When I rounded Collingwood Point close to shore the perspective I had was that the pilings were out nearly twice as far from shore as the lighthouse is. Once they top it with a dock that majestic view of a rocky headland with a lighthouse perched on it will be eclipsed until nature decides otherwise.

Big docks for little cocks, if you'll pardon my rude insinuation. The owners of the Cape are selling these properties as a way to make your mark and leave a legacy for future generations. I have no idea what motivates a person of extreme wealth to create such a grandiose and out of proportion legacy such as this but I can only imagine it has to do with compensating for feelings of inadequacy in other parts of one's life.

But being out there in the crazy current last night convinced me that the owners are not building docks so much as they are building shish kabob skewers for large boats. The real shame is that there will almost certainly be ship wrecks out there if people choose to actually moor boats on those docks. So I'm proposing a tongue in cheek fundraising effort. I'm proposing that we start a pool. We can bet on the date of the first boat sinking at the Cape with the proceeds going to the community centre fund (but only after the fund goes to building a proper community centre). How about that?

Or is raising money off another person's misfortune too mean a thing to do, even if they clearly have the money to spend and they don't seem to care about sinking it into a situation that will only cause them to lose it? There has to be a way to convert the spiteful imposition of these structures into a force for the common good, no?

Anyway. I hear there is a community meeting on Thursday to talk about Council's proposed by law regulating, or to be clearer, permitting docks. I'm off island that day so no chance of me witnessing a miraculous recovery of civic decorum. If people like my friend Melissa are there I'm sure she will be erudite and calm and constructive. But it will up to everyone else to decide whether Council has achieved their goal of healing the community or not.

Currents indeed are swirling and are unpredictable things. Only a fool stakes an anchorage there hoping to find refuge.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Taking a stand in the new world

Another beautiful SUP this afternoon out from Tunstall Bay, into a small headwind and down to Cape Roger Curtis.  We are having the most amazing summer, as evidenced by the water restrictions in place and the fire ban.  It's dry and hot - most days the temperature reaches 25 and the ocean is in the low 20s.

I like that I practice a water sport that requires me to take a stand.  It's a hell of a way to think about things.

There is a lot happening at the Cape.  Monster houses are going in there - the biggest is said to be 17,000 square feet, which is about ten times the size of mine.  And the docks have started to be built, with the first one on Lot 13 about 100 meters north of the Cape now featuring three sets of piles, two of which have been driven into the sea bed.  It is creeping out to sea and is now probably a hundred feet out from the foreshore, and growing.  There is a current application for another dock BETWEEN that one and the Cape.  The view is already ruined, the iconic view of the Cape with a gnarled and sweeping arbutus tree, is forever overwhelmed by a two story set of pilings soon to be topped by a pier.  A second dock going in between that one and the lighthouse will simply make the whole place seem crowded and cluttered.

Not a whiff of the usual seals and sea lions that hang around there.  Before the construction I would see one every single time I was out there, whether on land or sea.  Perhaps they will return, but for the moment they have fled the pile driving and the rumbling engines of the work barge for quieter waters.

Something has changed forever on Bowen and these docks are the physical manifestation of it.  There is an irreversibility to it all.  We no longer talk about the land in terms of reverence; instead the public sphere is full of words that describe our island as if you would sell it to tourists.  The way I used to know this community of Bowen Island is now just an idea, and we collectively serve that idea, but the idea is made up and talked about only.  It is marketed, discussed as an economic advantage, but discarded in practice.  In practice we seem to be able to simply take or leave the beauty and the power of the place.  Hardly anyone with any power at all is working to preserve anything.  Instead folks like the Cape developers talk about Bowen's charms while daily depleting them. Since the National Park vote I think we have lost the public will to steward the natural world of Bowen and instead are focused on the built environment and the economy.  Those two things go hand in hand because the IDEA of the natural beauty of the place is what drives our primary economic activity - land values.  To the extent that development DOESN'T impact MY land values, I'm okay with it, says this worldview.  It's a kind of every-one-in-it for themselves mentality.  IN that respect we aren't really an island anymore, we are just like everywhere else.  Where we come together now as a community is around things like Steamship Days which was fabulous, but which was targeted at commerce.  Bowfest, which this year has been reclaimed by community, and Remembrance Day continue to be two of the only things left that everyone gets involved in that have no outcomes other than community building.

We are retreating into the realm of the private.  There are few activities anymore that serve the public interest and few places in which the public can gather and simply be together.  Our municipal Council, who were so gung-ho on building a proper community hall - to the cheers from all of us - have instead re-envisoned it as a municipal campus, as a place that serves their needs.  The last true commons - the sea - now has a large phallic structure asserted across its surface in the most beautiful part of our coastline, with possibly five more to follow.  This was done despite nobody other than the owner wanting it.  Public debate is not about our place; it is angry people yelling at each other, naming each other, projecting themselves into each other's words and deeds.  It is a disgusting display of rudeness coming from all sides.  We are ungenerous with our words, ungrateful for our neighbours, and we bathe in a narcissistic intolerance for small differences, That is how decisions are made now on Bowen.  Go to a public meeting (not that we even have those anymore) and you will be shocked by the behaviour of grown adults discussing important issues.  Any attempt at reasonable dissent is met with paternalistic carping on all sides.  It's embarrassing.

This is becoming Dubai with fir trees.  It is made beautiful by friendship and the land itself but the heart and soul of community is now held by private effort, and we no longer speak the language of community like we used to. The community builders are the ones with money, not ideas.  You gain influence here by being accepted by certain groups, not on merit.  Things like "parks" and "nature" and "community centres" are fraught with politics.  I used to write folk songs about this place, because it used to be a place that deserved a folk tradition.  At one time those songs were sung at Council meetings, and artists joined local governors to express and care for the soul of Bowen.  But singing those songs seem quaint now, just another piece of history to celebrate during steamship days.  The poets are quieter, the painters and musicians of Bowen don't celebrate the community like we used to.  We are in hiding.

But I am not going anywhere.  We have just finished repairing and updating the shingles on our house and three years ago we put on a new roof.  We didn't do it so we could sell it.  We did it so that it would shelter and care for us until we are too old to climb the back steps.  Committing to things in the long term makes a guy sanguine and reflective.  It makes you pick your battles.

For me, my battleground has been respect and decorum in public affairs, but I'm starting to think I lost that war.  The loud and angry voices have won, and this is the way we do things for now.  I've been called a "revisionist" as if my desire for a community-minded conversation was somehow tantamount to criminally rewriting history.  Small cabals of people accuse other people of being in small cabals.  The word "conspiracy" is tossed around by people who sit and conspire about what the other group is doing. It's all very grade five, very much like ten year olds pointing fingers and calling names.  Last week I made peace with my accuser, shook his hand, slapped him on the back, and drew a line under it.  We exchanged no words until a couple of days later when we made awkward fumbling conversation that was nonetheless a relief.  I still live here and so does he.  Perhaps he'll draw a line under it too rather than holding a grudge for all time against his idea of who I am and what I do.  But maybe not.  He can choose to carry the stress of mistrust and suspicion as long as he wants.

The only suffering I can take care of is my own.  So this is me greeting the new Bowen.  It's not the one I wanted, or the one I celebrated or the one I voted for, but here it is and here I am.  I'll offer my gifts and appreciate others and get on with things and stop expecting it to be different than it is.  And when the wheel turns again, when the docks have been smashed by the sea and wind, when the real estate values collapse, when we remember that we need each other in community, I'll be here to dust off a few old songs that remind us of who we could still be.

In the meantime, that man out there standing on the sea?  That's me.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Enough blame that we'll never starve

Councillor Tim Rhodes' continues his tradition of "correcting"the stories about the exploits of previous Councils.  He does it today by taking on Murray Skeels' latest recap of the history of the Cape.  Ian Henley and Bruce Russel gleefully weigh in with support.  

Meanwhile massive docks are being built at the Cape, and all this moving around of the verbal deck chairs is doing nothing to re-float the Cape Roger Curtis shipwreck.  Lots of blame is being thrown about, and it seems nourishing for people.  But dining on poison is ultimately fatal.

At any rate, I commented on Tim's blog responding to Bruce Russell's comments that the previous Council must accept responsibility for their failed negotiations with the Cape Roger Curtis owners.  Now Bruce is a guy who does indeed put his money (and his elbow grease) where his mouth is, having led the charge to build a golf course, get rid of derelict vessels in Mannion Bay and generally help out around the place when there is something to do.  Which is why I'm surprised that he joined in the blame game too.

So did the previous Council push too hard for amenities at the Cape?  I guess so, as the owners walked away from the table.  That is what happens in negotiations.  But somehow Bruce and Tim want the previous Council to do something about it.  And that is what prompted this comment from me:

Didn't the previous council already accept responsibility for their decisions when they ran and lost to our current Council?  What more do you expect them to do?  If you want to fix the situation at the Cape, you need to have power and the only people with power in this situation right now are the current Council.  So at this point, and by this logic, clearly every dock that is going in, every lot that is being built out, is currently what the current Council wants.  1200+ people may not want it, but I watched a piling being pounded into the seabed on Wednesday.  So it's obvious to me that 1200 people can't make a difference to what happens down there.  What do you want four people to do?   
"Owning up and taking responsibility."  You guys hammer away on the previous Council like there is something they can do.  What can they do?  What is going to fix the future? If you were them, what would you do to rectify the situation?  If it's too late for all that, then why keep hammering away on them?  That just seems mean spirited at best. 
The owners of the Cape are amongst the richest people in the world.  They have all kinds of options and are making all kinds of choices with their property.  I would be very intrigued if you could show me anything that would "force" them to do something they didn't want to do.   
Now, speaking of taking responsibility for our actions, how about we do some tests on Mannion Bay septic fields and get this Bay cleaned up for good.  You can come and test mine first and see if it's to code.   
It's fun to feast on blame.  But taking one's own medicine is sometimes a rather harder proposition.  Real leaders do that.  At least that is what MY parents taught me.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shutting the barn door after the horse has run

Yesterday I witnessed the first pilings being pounded into the eelgress meadows on the sea bed near the lighthouse at Cape Roger Curtis.  Today, our local government posted on its website a memo about a study being conducted by the Islands Trust and the Bowen Island Municipality to study and map the eelgrass beds on Bowen to better understand the potential impacts of things like wharves and docks and other foreshore uses.  The reason for the mapping project is this:

The Islands Trust Policy Statement, section 3.4.4, states: 
Local trust committees and island municipalities shall, in their official community plans and regulatory bylaws, address the protection of sensitive coastal areas.  
The recently released Audit of Biodiversity in B.C. (Office of the Auditor General of B.C.) highlighted the importance of collecting sufficient and reliable information on species distribution in order to make well informed decisions about conserving biodiversity. With sensitive ecosystem mapping completed in the Islands Trust Area (2008-2010), the Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) and local trust committees have access to ecosystem data for terrestrial species. The Islands Trust and Islands Trust Fund are now working to secure good mapping of sensitive coastal areas to help island governments meet the requirements of the Islands Trust Policy Statement.
And so, despite the government's auditor highlighting the lack of sufficient and reliable data about these ecosystems, both the province and the municipality have gone ahead and approved foreshore leases and  building permits for docks that are being planted directly in these environments.  yesterday I made my objections known to the dock applications at Lot 1 and Lot 14 at Cape Roger Curtis.  The one at Lot 14 will be less than 100 meters from the one next door at Lot 13, both of them right up against the Cape itself and the Lighthouse, and both extending more than 100 meters out from shore.

If you make your objections today, please mention that these foreshore leases should be delayed until this study can be completed.  As it is, the maps will be made in August and September with possibly three big docks planted right in the middle of the environment the study is meant to understand better.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Heartbroken at Cape Roger Curtis

It was a beautiful day to SUP today.  Checked the wind forecasts and it looked like the west side was a good bet, so I chucked my board on the car and headed for Tunstall Bay.

Out on the bay the water was a little windy but I powered into it and headed for the first point, the one I call swimmer's rock because Sue Schloegl and Sharon Sluggett always rest there when they are out swimming.  Rounded the point and SHOCK!

Right beside the lighthouse at Cape Roger Curtis was a 50 foot barge with a crane and a pile driver on it.  It was pounding pilings into the sea bed next to the Cape for the first of the monster single use private docks being built for the new owners of the Cape.  I paddled out past the new house (which clocks in at more than 10,000 square feet) out to where the barge was anchored and watched a small crew of men drive a pile along a line that extended a long way out from shore.

The sea lion that usually hangs around there was obviously AWOL.  Not a seal to be seen either, anywhere.  Just the constant chug of the engine and the clanging of metal on metal as the crew raised and lowered the cuff around the newly installed piling.   I sat on my board for quite a while just witnessing the permanent destruction of one the most lovely and wild views on Bowen Island: the rocky promontory of Cape Roger Curtis, a single arbutus tree and the light house and now, a set of dock pilings and soon a dock and a float and probably a huge yacht.  Tears were shed.  A song was sung. The old world has died, and the new has come, on the heels of a massive failure of imagination and will in the face of greed.

The Stop the Docks crew have been trying to stop the docks, but obviously the owners of these properties neither know about or care about the objections of 1200+ Islanders to these monstrosities.  In fact in the Undercurrent last week are public notices for two more docks, one right next to the one I saw being built today.  Meanwhile the guys that are selling the Cape, the same people that are now building these docks, are advertising their properties like this:

   This is an impossibly beautiful coastal site. Its untouched shores, whispering brooks, and deep woods are a Pacific Northwestern gem. We are determined to tread upon this land lightly. We have taken extensive measures to preserve the natural and ecological integrity of the property. Substantial planning and infrastructure work has been carried out, guided by some of the region’s most respected environmental consultants. The vast majority of The Cape’s 618-acre property will remain a protected natural green space. The site plan allows for maximum natural drainage of stormwater, for minimal impact on the water table. Burke and Huszar Creeks – crucial wildlife habitats on the property – have been protected, with generous buffer zones. All in the name of preserving The Cape’s pristine natural state, for generations. Meanwhile, we encourage owners to create a home that respects this pristine coastal landscape, and provide you with every opportunity to do so. From environmentally sensitive design to awareness of sensitive habitats, from intelligent landscaping to the use of local materials, we offer pragmatic guidance to help you build an island estate that protects the fragile natural beauty of this land.
All of that fancy copy is clearly a bald faced lie now because they have forever ruined the "untouched shores."  They have not tread lightly at all, and have no intention to.  The pristine natural state of the Cape will now be littered with docks, the foreshore broken up, the waters and the intertidal zones impacted forever.  They are lying.  If you are considering buying a property from these charlatans, you should know that.  Who knows what else they'll tell you to get you to part with your millions.

I hope our new neighbours are community minded, that they come on down and volunteer at the recycling centre, that they join the Fastpitch league or the co-ed soccer league, that they join SKY, shoot the breeze at the Snug and split a bottle of Chardonnay on an overloaded Friday night commuter ferry.  I hope they are like that.  But today my heart is split in two, the Cape has been forever changed and I am trying hard to suppress emotions ranging from sadness to anger.