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  • 28 Jun 2019 4:41 PM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Tom Lupton, Director

    One of the great television joys I’ve experienced over the past several years has been the Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’. Set in the 1980’s, it tells the story of a group of kids who find themselves embroiled in a ‘Goonies-esque’ adventure armed only with their wits, a Swiss Army knife, their trusty BMX bikes, and a friend with supernatural powers. This has struck a chord with many people from the Gen-X generation because it reminds us of our childhood (minus the supernatural powers), and the endless possibilities and mystery that were so clearly there, just waiting for some kids like us to take it on.

    Those days are long gone. With the omnipresence of smart phones and Wikipedia, there are few mysteries left in the world, and exploration happens on the internet, not in the forests like it used to. Yet for those of us who had a childhood like that, the opening of the vintage store in Shawnigan Village, and shows like Stranger Things, have brought us back to a simpler time, and for the young people of the community, they can marvel over how things were in the dark ages before PS4s. Spoiler alert: it was glorious!

    More than a walk down memory lane, the new vintage store in the village also speaks to the health of our community. Doug Griffiths wrote in ‘13 Ways to Kill Your Community’ that not having a business friendly community is a sure sign of problems. In the past several years, the ‘Steeples’ building has gone through at least three iterations, so it is gratifying to see such a neat new shop opening up. I wonder how we can help foster a culture of competitiveness that allows businesses to thrive in our community. No doubt, the plans for our village redevelopment have considered this necessity.

    It also makes me think about the nature of change in our community, and the opportunities and threats that come with it. Those of us with fond memories of rotary phones and VHS recorders will be sorely disappointed by the news that change is coming, has come, and will continue to come. The Shawnigan Lake of fifty years ago is gone and it is never coming back. So the question we need to ask ourselves is how are we going to shape the future of Shawnigan Lake to protect what we love about it, but also allow for the kind of change that we welcome while at the same time resisting the change we do not? Certainly a very important question with no simple answers, but there can be a strong argument that incorporating would give us greater self-determination and power to protect this gem in the Cowichan Valley; critically we need to find out all of the facts before we go down that road. Of all the topics in the community that gets ‘discussed’ on social media, none seems to carry with it the passion of the incorporation debate, whether for or against the idea. We need to find out whether or not this is a plan that could bear fruit for our community.

    It’s the kind of mission that is calling out for a group of people, armed with their old-school BMX bikes, silver hair, and Swiss Army knives to take on. With any luck, this groups theme music will be heavy on the synthesizers, they’ll have pastel coloured uniforms, and all problems will be solved in a neat 30 minute slot complete with a laugh-track. I miss the 80’s.


  • 9 May 2019 9:14 AM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Tom Lupton, Director

    One of the best things about becoming a parent and (gulp) an adult, is that I get to smugly repeat all of the ‘parenting’ mantras that I used to hear ad nauseum when I was a child. Phrases like “clean your room” or “don’t be so selfish" or my favorite synonym for no: “we’ll see”. I must have heard that thousands of times as a kid, and now I’ve repeated it thousands more as a parent. In fact, it has become so ingrained in my lexicon that, as the saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I heard or said  “‘we’ll see", I’d probably have enough to pay for the removal of the toxic soil myself!

    However, the phrase that has actually resonated the most with me from my childhood was “take some responsibility.” As a kid, this didn’t really impact me, and there is good reason for this.  Kids, by design, are selfish. They are ego driven and focussed on personal goals and don’t have enough life experience to appreciate the importance of responsibility. This is why kids don’t get to drive motorized vehicles, vote in elections, hold positions of importance in society, or be allowed to live on their own.

    As an avid mountain biker, I get to enjoy the fruits of adulthood by exploring the beautiful trails in and around Shawnigan. While I am mostly awestruck by the natural splendor that abounds, I am frequently disappointed by the garbage and waste that is dumped in our trails. Social degenerates who dump couches and waste in the bushes are a particular problem, but so too are the ‘adults’ who dirtbike or ATV up into the bush, have a fire, and then scatter their beer cans and smash their bottles. I can hear my father yelling “take some responsibility for yourself!” and shaking his head disappointedly.

    This absolutely isn’t an indictment on motorized sport, rather, it is an indictment on anyone in our community who refuses to own their selfish behaviour. It’s not just beer cans in the bush; it’s car batteries leaking into the soil, it’s septic fields that overflow into the lake, it’s the trash that pollutes our drinking water. Irresponsibility and selfishness wear many masks. In his book, 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, Doug Griffiths speaks about ‘Taking Responsibility’ as a foundational element of communities that thrive.

    While a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the bunch, we should ask ourselves, how good are we as a community at taking responsibility? In some ways, exceptionally good. Shawnigan clean-up days, fighting the toxic soil dumping, helping our neighbours and so on. But we are also constrained by government to the extent to which we can take responsibility for ourselves because many of the actions we would take require government officials from Duncan. Beyond lobbying the CVRD, what other actions can we take?  The extent to which incorporation will allow us to do that is a bit of an unknown quantity, but surely we should find that out if we want, as I suspect we do, the best version of Shawnigan Lake we can have. 

    Now, time for me to clean my room.

  • 9 Apr 2019 11:05 AM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Tom Lupton, Director

    Looking up the other day after the snow had mercifully receded, I glanced into the barren wasteland that used to be my backyard and braced myself for my annual death-match with the dandelions that consume the entire patch of turf I call my lawn. Not willing to head down the road of going nuclear (or in this case, using round-up), I began researching “ways to kill dandelions in Shawnigan.” A quick glance down the list of hits told me that to kill dandelions is to kill bee communities and that I shouldn’t do it. It was something of a relief to me because I am excellent at growing dandelions and I can leverage my talents to save bee communities, and by extension, save our community. A suburban hero, to say the least!

    One of the other hits on the list was the title of a book called “13 Ways to Kill your Community.” It turns out the author, Doug Griffiths, is coming to Shawnigan on April 4 to discuss his book, but he won’t be speaking about bees.  Instead, he is going to outline the various things that communities can do to sabotage their development and decrease the quality of life for those who reside within. He goes into depth about how not attracting business harms communities, about how ignoring seniors and youth is detrimental, and about how having poor water quality, among other things, kills communities.

    Those who have lived in Shawnigan for a while will recognize the problems associated with all of those things, with the fight over water simply being the most dramatic in a laundry list of issues that we face. But it was another point he makes in the book that resonates most with me: Becoming complacent. Or, put another way, apathy. Anyone who has worked in any organization that relies on collaboration knows just how dangerous and damaging apathy can be.

    The good news is that no one can accuse us of being an apathetic community. Indeed, in terms of a motivated population, we punch well above our weight. However, I do wonder about the other initiatives Mr. Griffiths will be speaking upon. How can we revitalize our village core and make it more liveable for our seniors and youth, and make Shawnigan more of a home than a bedroom community or a summer destination,  if we don’t have the power to actually make the decisions for our community?

    Those who have read this column over the past several months will know that I am banging on the ‘exploring incorporation’ drum here, but I do want to highlight that the operative word in that phrase is ‘explore.’ We should explore any and all opportunities as a community, of which incorporation is just one, to make sure apathy never creeps into our midst, for as long as we remain committed to our community and to revitalizing the area, then we will thrive in every sense of the word. Is incorporation the way to ensure this? Maybe, maybe not. We will only know once it has been fully explored. In the meantime, I’ll be growing a mean dandelion field in my backyard.

    I've been told, that at the time of this article going to press, 225 people have registered to attend this event.There is not cost to attend, so, if you haven't already please RSVP to https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/13-ways-to-kill-your-community-tickets-57135825793

  • 24 Mar 2019 3:40 PM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Shawnigan Research Group

    In 2017 the Shawnigan Residents Association was successful in their court case, yet the ministry has yet to address the issues regarding a conflict of interest between the Engineers and the Permit holders. Since that time, the Shawnigan Research Group (SRG) has taken on the task of reviewing the reports and meeting with the relevant parties to push for removal of the contaminated soil.

    The SRG has met with the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change (MoE) on multiple occasions over the past several years. The SRG has pointed out problems with the contaminated soil landfill including problems with the clay liner, the polyethylene base liner, the polyethylene cover liner and the large volume of elemental sulfur present in the Port Moody soil brought on site. Gary Hamilton, a contaminated sites specialist hired by the SRA, reported during a meeting with MoE that elemental sulfur is so problematical that there is no other landfill site in BC that would accept such soils. The SRG has also presented evidence that the site is leaking. During each meeting MoE staff assured the SRG that the Community concerns will be taken into consideration and that the SRG would be consulted prior to a decision being made.

    The Named Parties that the MoE considers responsible for the contaminated soils landfill on Lot #23 are: Cobble Hill Holdings (CHH), South Island Aggregates (SIA), South Island Resource Management (SIRM), Allterra, Martin Block and Michael Kelly. The SRG was greatly surprised to learn that on September 20, 2018, the MoE sent a letter to the Named Parties outlining that provisional approval was given for an updated closure plan prepared by Sperling Hansen Associates (SHA), provided that a number of additional conditions were met. On January 4, 2019, representatives of the SRG met with the MoE and the President of SHA to review the ‘improved’ final closure plan. It is the opinion of the SRG that this improved final closure plan has as many flaws in it as the previous closure plans. When the SRG highlighted the problems present in the plan, the response was that the contaminated soil is sealed in such a way that no additional water can enter and ultimately the soil will be so dry that no leachate will be generated; therefore the environment will be protected. Furthermore, it was disclosed that the MoE did not inform SHA that many tonnes of elemental sulfur are present in the landfill. This is of course material to the closure plan and it was disappointing to learn that the SHA plan did not consider it.

    The Final Closure Plan prepared by SHA is now available for review on the MoE website. This Plan will enable the Named Parties to make some money by bringing in an additional 70,000 metric tonnes of industrial grade fill onto the site. This despite the large quantity of fill on the adjacent Lot #21 (right next door). According to a July 16, 2015 Information Sheet prepared by the Ministry of Energy & Mines (MEM), that soil is intended for the reclamation of the quarry on Lot #23, but it will likely not be used in the Final Closure Plan.  

    At the end of March, the SRG and the Shawnigan Residents Association are meeting with the MoE to discuss the proposed closure plan.  We are nearing a major decision by the Ministry and it is prudent that we invite our lawyers to also attend.  Please contribute to support our ongoing legal efforts to have the contaminated soil removed. (Add go fund me information for SRA).

  • 6 Mar 2019 9:12 AM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Tom Lupton, Director

    At the start of each new year we have a fun tradition in my family where we offer up our predictions for the coming year. It’s fun to throw out the most outrageous ones: What will happen with Trump? What’s the future of Brexit? Will they manage to clone a boy who can swim faster than a shark?  You know, all the most important questions of the day.

    One of my more mundane and basic predictions had to do with the weather. I boldly predicted that we would not see any snow this year, and I was very confident. To be fair, the temperatures were warm, the grass was green, and the sun was shining. 

    So as I get prepared to miss the third week in a row of my son’s soccer games because of field conditions, the less that is said about the snow the better, but I can’t let this go.  I can’t let it go because of how awesome my neighbours are. While I was outside cursing my sore back as I entered my 50th hour of shovelling, I looked across to the road. There, one neighbour was helping the other with his snowblower. Another was helping to push a car out of a ditch and, most impressive of all, the 94 year old across the road was digging a path so his little dogs could navigate the snowmageddon. Then, out of nowhere, presumably wearing a cape, a man from a few blocks over came by with his ATV and spent an hour plowing our road and our driveways.  Shawnigan residents are awesome, because without them, so many of us would have been in big trouble.

    Two days after the snow stopped falling, the only plowing on my road was done by residents. Other than the main arteries, the roads were terrible. Driveways buried in snow, cars covered, treacherous conditions everywhere. It’s all fine for me, but what about my 94 year old neighbour? What about people with disabilities? How are they supposed to cope? How many of you have tried to navigate a wheelchair through two feet of snow?

    The Provincial government has a plan for snow removal for the roads in the province, and they classify them as A,B,C,D, or E in terms of priority. Highways are A, main roads are B and so on. To put this in context, a C level road, which would be the equivalent of Renfrew road, is allowed to be uncleared for up to 7 days. If that’s a C road, then the roads that we generally live on can be kept unplowed for up to 21 days, or even more. Mainroad has been doing a fantastic job, but their priorities are set by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure; not by any local government.

    Thankfully, the snow tends not to stick around for that long. However, one of the bi-products of climate change is increased storm severity and frequency which means that we can expect  more extreme rainfall, snowfall, and windstorms in the future. This stormy season will more and more become the norm, and if we want to make sure we have the services our growing community needs, we need to seriously explore the feasibility of incorporation to take control of our community. I would like to predict we won’t have need of greater services in the future, but clearly I am no Nostradamus.

  • 4 Feb 2019 9:11 AM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Tom Lupton, Director

    One of the benefits of living in an area like Shawnigan Lake is that there are a lot of very handy people around who are willing to give their time to their neighbours who need help. Whether you need a dock repaired from wind damage, flooring redone because of a flooding, wiring done in your new renovation project or someone to help you with a fence, there is always someone nearby who knows what they are doing. Which leads me to my question: Who knows a good carpenter?

    Like many of you, I got my property assessment in the mail the other week, and upon opening it, my jaw nearly hit the floor.  I looked at my increased value and immediately began thinking of ways I could spend my newfound wealth. If I could sell my home for that amount of money, I could live in a palace in Regina! Except, of course, I’d be in Regina. But then the cold reality of what had really just happened swept over me like a power outage in a windstorm: Taxes.  

    It’s fair to say that no one really enjoys paying taxes. We all do it, because stuff needs to get paid for and we mostly recognize that tax revenue is used to keep our communities working, but no one loves waving goodbye to that money. With an increased assessment that can only mean one thing: more taxation. Don’t we already pay enough?  Well, those government fat-cats hadn’t counted on my ingenuity. Cunning new plan: If I smash a few holes in the walls of my house with a sledgehammer, tear out some wiring, and dig up my yard my home will be valued less and I’ll pay less tax. I’m basically making money by wrecking my home! 

    About midway through my fifth glorious hammer swing my wife came home and ‘calmly’ explained things to me about property taxes. It turns out that taxes don’t necessarily go up with an increase in assessed value. Rather, our property taxes are used to balance the CVRD budget. We start to pay more taxes when there is some expensive project in Saltair or Glenora that increases the expenses of the vast CVRD which then requires an increase in the property taxes of Shawnigan residents to balance the budget. I’m sure they’re grateful for your mandatory donation! The other thing I learned is that the best way to pay for all the things we want around here (nice trails, smoother roads, clean water, etc.) is to encourage development, because the taxes generated from development is assessed at a higher rate and would go a long way in paying for the services that we are currently doing without. 

    Let’s be clear, there is development, and then there is development. No one wants monolithic block apartment buildings plunked down in the village, but considerate, useful, and tasteful development not only increases our quality of life, but actually helps reduce our tax burden. If we want more control over what kind of development we want in our community, and where our property taxes go, becoming a municipality sure would help. Good, new, development and a freeze or possible reduction in taxes sounds a little bit like cheating death (death and taxes being the only constants in life).  Now, if only someone had explained this to me before I picked up the hammer. Anyone got that carpenter’s number?

  • 4 Jan 2019 9:09 AM | Alex Acton (Administrator)

    By Tom Lupton, Director

    My favorite part of winter is the snow. When we first moved here about 5 years ago we got snow in December, and it threatened to be a white Christmas; the first my kids would have experienced in their lives. In recent years, we got massive dumps of snow and cold which allowed people to cross-country ski on the railroad tracks and skate on portions of the lake. Snowmen dotted the streets, and the Christmas lights that Shawnigan residents so dutifully put up each season reflected in the pure white gleam of the beautiful winter snowfall.

    But then the snow melted. Like most things in life, there is a duality about winter that cannot be ignored: with the beauty of the snow comes downed power lines, icy roads, car accidents and mockery from the rest of Canada about our inability to drive in poor conditions. The only good news in this tale is that the chaos is temporary, and usually within a day or two the snow is gone and life returns to normal, or should I say, Shawnigan normal.

    The Shawnigan normal is that once the snow melts and life has resumed, we spend the next 6-8 months dealing with winter’s aftermath. Trying to get to Mason’s for a quick snack?  Watch that pothole by the tracks. Heading to the Trestle for a walk? The shoulder may or may not be collapsed due to flooding. Those who live on the West Side of the lake must wonder if the road is even paved in large sections it’s so rough.

    To be fair, the Provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTi) does try and fix things from time to time. The aforementioned pothole by Mason’s has been filled several times over the past half-decade. There are some sections of new road, which unfortunately seems to inspire people to drive even faster through the flashing lights by the school. But clearly, Shawnigan Lake is simple not a priority for the Ministry. Their budget is presumably tight and they need to spend that money where the most people will benefit from it. In other words, not here.

    This is a shame because in the past several years we have lost the Ironman series, in part because of poor road conditions, we have seen countless flat tires and damaged undercarriages of cars, cyclists take their lives into their own hands if they try and navigate the crumbling roads and potholes, and drivers swerving into oncoming traffic to avoid another costly repair. 

    Road repairs are expensive, but we pay pretty high taxes around here, too high to have the main arteries of our transportation network exist in disrepair for such a long period of time. Another wrench in the spanners for our community to improve our road conditions is the curious classification of being a ‘rural highway’ the ministry has slapped on our roads. This severely impedes much of the progress we could make as a community. Shawnigan is growing and the number of permanent residents is growing with it. We need better service from those who collect our taxes.

    The solution seems clear: incorporating would allow the community to better prioritize which areas need attention and would greater allow us to classify our roads more logically. A fruitful conversation around things like road works, sidewalks, street lights, and other issues can be had with only the local residents as a priority. Additionally, incorporation would push issues topical to Shawnigan to the very top of the agenda without being shelved because of priorities elsewhere. This issue isn’t going to fix itself under the current administration, so if we want something to be done about it, then we need to do something about it ourselves. 

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