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29th April 2016
Bill Cleverley / Times Colonist
April 20, 2016 09:46 PM

April 20, 2016 09:46 PM

An attempt to establish a permit system to secure access to the Leech River watershed wilderness lands for campers, hunters and fishers has failed at the Capital Regional District board on a tie vote.

Regional Water Supply commissioners have been arguing the area, acquired by the CRD in 2012 for potential future water supply, needs protection.

While they and the CRD board have granted access to First Nations, they wanted to close the area to others.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt, one of a half-dozen CRD directors pressing for the permit system, said the area likely won’t be needed as a water-supply source for at least 27 years.

“This is time when people … can continue to access these lands that were purchased on their behalf in as safe way to provide for their quality of life, for spiritual use for people who go outdoors that way and just to continue to enjoy these lands the way they have for a long time,” he said.

The Sooke watershed — home to the Sooke reservoir, Greater Victoria’s main source of drinking water — is already closed to the public. Blocking access to the area surrounding the Leech River would put about 20,000 hectares under lock and key.

Isitt said denying a permit system “won’t cut out the lawbreakers, but will actually prevent the people who can be the people’s eyes and ears in these lands.”

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns cautioned his colleagues not to deny access to some people while allowing First Nations.

“We unanimously judged that the restrictions placed on First Nations were adequate to meet the concerns of fire and everything else that have been mentioned. We all agreed,” Ranns said.

“So it follows the same restrictions on permit holders would do the same thing. If we don’t, if we say we’re going to allow one group in and not another, it’s going to generate a resentment — it’s going to generate resentments against First Nations.”

Mike Hicks, the Juan de Fuca Electoral area director, said as one of the largest — if not the largest — landowner in the region, the CRD has a huge responsibility to the public. “The last thing we want to do is restrict our citizens from using it.”

Hicks said the Leech area might never be used to supply drinking water to Victoria, and that access could be closed off during fire season.

Since 2012, access to the 9,600 hectares of Leech land — long used by people camping, offroading, fishing and hunting — has been increasingly restricted. CRD staff note the only way to enter the area now is by trespassing through privately owned forestry land.

Saanich Coun. Vic Derman said the recommendation to deny public access came after an extensive consultation process, and noted that the CRD has 13,000 hectares of park land available for recreation.

“The biggest risk we have to the water system is fire and … the more people we put in, the more likelihood that fire will occur,” he said. “Fire doesn’t worry about the fact there’s a boundary between the Leech watershed and Sooke [watershed]. Fire could spread very quickly and very easily.”