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Ingmar Lee Online

Obstacles and debacles ongoing at Bear Mountain

The sprawling Bear Mountain Resort at the north entrance to Greater Victoria is the largest planet-trashing, get-rich-quick development project currently underway on Vancouver Island. If you haven't seen Bear Mountain yet, hike up Mt. Finlayson from Goldstream Park and prepare to get grossed out. As far as the eye can see, the Highland hilltops which backdrop Victoria are being stripped of trees, blasted flat and squared off into staggered terraces. The entire top of Skirt Mountain has been decapitated, and now sports a massive concrete reservoir and pumping station which feeds a huge artificial waterfall installation above the golf course. The still-steaming stump fields are being plowed away, burnt, and replaced with a fluorescent green, chemical and water-sucking biological wasteland, specially designed by American golf fanatic Jack Nicklaus. Among the remaining stumps, an ancient Songhees lithic scatter site stands out, marked with fluttering orange flags. Nearby, a once-sacred cave has been demolished.  


                                      Another BC Developer

Blast rock rubble is dumped straight into the watersheds which drain the mountain, flattening out the valleys to make way for more subdivision. Monster houses rise up in ranks. Roads are snaked all over the mountain, with massive crew cabs full of workmen dodging Hummers and Navigators.

But the Bear Mountain development scheme is only halfway complete. Having completed Phase One using existing infrastructure, developers require more access to proceed with Phase Two. They desperately need this interchange to double their money. Their project can't proceed without it, and they're antsy to get on with it.

The interchange consortium — Bear Mountain, the City of Langford, the Ministry of Transportation and Golder Associates — announced at a November public meeting that the Bear Mountain interchange would proceed. Tree cutting was to commence in mid-December.

Last year, Les Bjola of Bear Mountain and Langford Mayor Stew Young promised that developers would finance the total $30-million cost. Shortly after that, in a ridiculous display of fiscal irresponsibility, B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon threw $4.9-million of public money into the interchange pot, even though developers had already promised to pay.

Not to be outdone, at a secret meeting two days after Christmas, Langford municipal council passed three readings of a bill to borrow $25-million — more than double the city's annual budget — apparently to ease the stress of the developers. Now the taxpayers of Langford will bear all the risk and cross their fingers that developers will pay them back over 10 years.

Rather than consult the people now slated to bankroll the interchange, only Bear Mountain developers and their associates were consulted. Outraged citizens are now in a one-month canvassing campaign of Langford taxpayers, petitioning for a referendum. Even Langford residents who support the interchange are signing the petitions.

There are other obstacles thwarting the developers, which include the rejection of the bogus Golder Associates Environmental and Archaeological Impact Assessments by the B.C. government in December 2006. No assessment of any kind has been conducted on the latest alignment of the interchange route. No new Golder report has been forthcoming, and the project can't proceed until their report has been approved.

Golder's report was likely rejected because it missed the most significant features of the interchange site, including numerous karst sinkholes, which could yield important archeological and paleontological resources. Karst sinkholes are often indicators of subterranean caverns.

Many of the sinkholes show evidence of historic excavations, but nobody knows anything about these diggings. They failed to examine a limestone cave between Leigh Road and Highway 1 "because of safety issues and First Nations concerns."

Golder's rubber stamping of Bear Mountain interchange is an insult to the burgeoning environmental community in Greater Victoria. Until recently, Golder has flown under the radar of environmentalists, quietly approving massive corporate and government projects across the province. Not any more. They are now outed, and they will be closely watched.

Meanwhile, the tree sitters remain on high alert, ready to block any attempt to trash the forest. By the looks of this growing mess, they may well be there for a long time to come.