Nanaimo council was prepared to trade a piece of waterfront property to the Snuneymuxw First Nation in exchange for its support for development, including construction of an event centre, in-camera documents reveal.
The City of Nanaimo recently released in-camera documents which show that earlier this year, it proposed to the Snuneymuxw First Nation a transfer of 0.5 hectares at 1 Port Drive, along Esplanade, upon a vote in support of the proposed event centre. There was a referendum on borrowing in March.
The city’s conditions involved the First Nation approving Seaspan’s lease expansion at Duke Point and the city acquiring Seaspan’s right-of-way on Port Drive, as well as support for development on the city’s property, such as construction and operation of an event centre and a public trail along the entire waterfront.
The Snuneymuxw First Nation made a counter offer, saying in addition to transferring the acreage on 1 Port Drive, it was interested in the bow-tie lands, adjacent to the Gabriola ferry terminal, as well as a parcel of the former Greater Nanaimo Water District lands. It proposed conditions such as the city providing access, zoning and servicing to the SFN-owned lands on the south industrial waterfront in order for the First Nation to support acquisition of the Seaspan right-of-way and that the city would support the SFN in acquiring land owned by the port authority.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said the letters were part of negotiations that never concluded, and that most land negotiations are done behind closed doors. If the terms had been agreed to, McKay said the details of the land transfer would have been made public in the event of a yes vote in the referendum.
He said there were probably a thousand different details as part of that project some people would consider should have been shared with the public that simply cannot be, including many private and confidential agreements and documents.
The city chose to offer the part of Port Drive near Esplanade because the event centre building would have been over the former Snuneymuxw village site, according to McKay, who said the placement of the building couldn’t have been shifted because tracks were in the way and the city looked at an equivalent area to the village site it could propose. It hasn’t been discussed if the land could still be part of negotiations with the SFN.
Doug White, Snuneymuxw First Nation councillor, said the Snuneymuxw were willing to have a discussion and see what was on the city’s mind, but council and SFN nation never made a decision to support the idea of an event centre on the village site. At some point, the SFN effectively withdrew from discussions, he said.
“[The letters] certainly don’t express the full range of issues between Snuneymuxw and the city or the kinds of things that we’d be negotiating with the city, but I think they highlight how important certain spaces are within the city to Snuneymuxw and how there’s always going to be a very significant need for us to co-ordinate in relation to those spaces,” he said.
White said when he was chief and in every conversation since, it has been made clear to the city the Snuneymuxw believe there should be a co-ordinated approach for development for the entirety of the Wellcox railyard. He’s not sure what the city intends or plans with mixed messages heard over the past half year, but said the event centre was not the product of a discussion and was unilateral.
“The city has once said that they want to take a co-ordinated approach over the totality of the Wellcox railyard, including everything from IR No. 1 up to the Gabriola ferry terminal, but at the same time they seem very focused on the parcel that they own, so we’re not yet in a discussion with them of the kind that I believe we need for the region; an approach that would be of benefit not just to the Snuneymuxw but to the City of Nanaimo and all the citizens that live in the region,” he said.