Concerns arise over land use in Errington/Coombs

Company says it is following all relevant regulations and says it is here for the long term

The recent timber harvesting and clearing on a 6,000-acre property in the Coombs/Errington area, has left some residents in that area scratching their heads.

“Transparency is the real issue,” said Jesse Jacobs, longtime resident of Errington and owner of Outrageous Edibles, located near the property. “The fact that this is happening and there’s no request for input from the community or no involvement in the community.”

Jacobs walks his dogs along trails in the area and said recently he’s noticed logging and clearing. He’s concerned about possible negative impacts on the watersheds, fish habitat around the Dudley Marsh areas and the protected resident Roosevelt elk, he said.

The land is owned by a company called B.C. Lakewood, which owns a number of other properties in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, including farms on Church Road. The company, involved in the beef business, hay production and timber, has been in the area for about four years and owns properties stretching from Duncan to Black Creek. Chief operating officer Mark Fortin is in charge of Canadian operations and manages 12,000 acres on the Island for the private company.

Fortin said the company is following all regulations. The property in question has about 700 acres in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), he said, a provincial zone where agriculture is recognized as the priority use. Recently, B.C. Lakewood harvested about 300 acres of timber on that land and are turning it into grazing land for cattle, he said.

The company is going to be here long term and are expanding its herd throughout the Island and currently selling beef to local companies. Down the road, he said, the company will sell beef packages directly to the public, once all the infrastructure is in place.

Farming and forestry activity on land that is in the ALR is exempt from local government regulations, said manager of building, bylaw and emergency planning services with the Regional District of Nanaimo, Tom Armet.

Whereas land that isn’t zoned ALR generally involves approval and community consultation requirements, ALR land falls under the Farm Practices Protection Act, which, according to the Provincial Agricultural Land Commission website, “protects farmers that are using normal farm practices from nuisance lawsuits and nuisance bylaws of local governments.”

Under the Private Managed Forest Land Act, land owners are assured the right to harvest trees, also unrestricted by local government bylaws.

Therefore, B.C. Lakewood is not required to hold public consultations or get RDN development permits for the land in question, and Armet confirmed the land is being used in accordance with regulations.

Jacobs said he realizes it’s farmland, but he and the neighbours he said he has spoken with still have their concerns.

“You want to know your neighbour to a point, and you want to know what they’re up to, to a point,” he said. “No one’s contacted people whose fence line they’re going to clear right up to and said ‘hey, this is what we’re doing’.”

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