Nanaimo councillors will discuss advocating for outdoor recreation use on Nanaimo Military Range, while Lantzville councillors have already taken that step.
City of Nanaimo Coun. Erin Hemmens, during a meeting Monday, put forward a notice of motion calling for the city to correspond with the Department of National Defence and ask for a meeting with user groups with the intention of reaching a land-use agreement.
“While [the motion] expresses a desire to see a certain outcome, the motion more so advocates for a process which I believe has been missed and which provides an opportunity for members of our community to voice their concerns and advocate for their continued use of lands which they have stewarded for years,” Hemmens said.
Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt recently announced it would be cracking down on trespassing on the land behind its weapons range on the Westwood Ridges.
Nanaimo councillors will discuss Hemmens’s motion at their next council meeting, June 3.
During a City of Nanaimo e-town hall meeting on May 23, Mayor Leonard Krog said newly elected Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly is aware of the concerns from residents and intended to speak to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan about the issue.
Hemmens, during that meeting, wondered whether a military range was the best use for the land given the city’s population compared to when the range was first established in 1920.
The Nanaimo Military Range’s property includes a buffer zone that covers a large swath of land on the south side of Westwood Lake. Even though the military weapons range is active, the buffer zone area has become a popular area for hikers, mountain bikers and other users, with a number of trails on the property.
Coun. Hemmens makes a notice of motion regarding DND land on Westwood Ridges. She will motion that council send a letter to the federal government requesting a meeting in hopes of coming to some sort of arrangement regarding recreational access to that area. #Nanaimo
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) May 28, 2019
While Nanaimo councillors were busy putting forward a notice of motion, Lantzville councillors also took action on Monday night.
District councillors, during their May 27 meeting, voted 3-2 in favour of sending a letter to Sajjan, Manly, B.C. Premier John Horgan and Nanaimo city council, requesting assistance in getting the Department of National Defence to reconsider its decision.
Coun. Will Geselbracht, who brought forward the motion, said the lands are used by people in Nanaimo as well as Lantzville. He said he closure will have an impact as recreational areas are diminishing across Vancouver Island.
“We have lots of hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers who use that area,” he said.
Geselbracht explained that the letters are merely to encourage dialogue and discussion between all parties.
“Let’s compromise, let’s sit down and talk,” he said. “The camp was built in the 1920; since that time the City of Nanaimo has expanded. Recreational facilities have been put up there. Westwood Lake is probably one of our jewels. Let’s have all the parties get down at the table and compromise on it.”
Coun. Ian Savage said he couldn’t support Geselbracht’s motion, saying he didn’t feel comfortable voting on a Nanaimo issue.
“It’s in their jurisdiction and we can’t guess on how Nanaimo councillors are going to think on this,” Savage said. “I wouldn’t want to put myself being diversely opposed to Nanaimo councillors and their thinking and undermining them.”
Mayor Mark Swain said he couldn’t support the motion mainly because it is a Nanaimo-specific issue, adding that he hasn’t received a single e-mail or phone call from a concerned resident in either Lantzville or Nanaimo about the DND’s plans. He said the issue could be more complicated than it appears and urged councillors to think about what types of issues they want to get involved with.
“It’s a fairly new issue and there are other issues that may also be intertwined in this. There may be some land treaty negotiations for that land,” Swain said. “This is something I do not want to get involved in and I would encourage our council to consider what we want to get involved in and what we want to stay clear of.”
While he understands the concerns of mountain bikers and hikers who use the area, Swain said he believes the Department of National Defence has every right to cut off public access to their land.
“I am sympathetic to the user groups that go into that area but it is not their land to be doing what they chose to do on it,” he said.
Savage and Swain voted against the motion while councillors Jamie Wilson and Karen Proctor also voted in favour of the motion.
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