Newcastle plan goes back to drawing board

NANAIMO – Consultant failed to capture vision of Snuneymuxw First Nation in business plan.

Snuneymuxw First Nation aims to rework a vision for Newcastle Island after a business plan failed to realize the band’s goals for the park.

Snuneymuxw councillor Douglas White III said a business plan for Newcastle, presented by consultants more than a month ago, misses the mark on resolving two of the most critical issues for the island: access and cultural opportunities.

Snuneymuxw operates the marine park, a 10-minute boat ride from Maffeo Sutton Park, and inked an agreement with B.C. Parks and the City of Nanaimo in 2013 with terms of reference for a business plan that would look into cultural opportunities on the island.

White said elders wanted people to know their connection to the island and saw an opportunity to educate people about Snuneymuxw culture and way of life. Previous ideas included a small-scale village site and a major long house as well as science programs for kids and a telling of the island’s history. But White said two issues remain unresolved: programs and access, and a commitment to find ways to fulfill the mandate of elders to create meaningful spaces on the island.

Newcastle is massively underutilized, according to White, who said people don’t go to the park because it’s too expensive. It costs $5 one way and $9 round-trip.

An exercise last year to see what people wanted for Maffeo Sutton Park saw calls for improved access, such as a bridge, a free ferry or even a glass tube to the park, the city website shows.

The News Bulletin was unable to obtain a copy of the draft business plan before press time, but White said it recommends spending $150,000 on a tent, like a covered amphitheatre, which doesn’t address the long-standing idea of a meaningful indigenous-based facility where people can learn about Snuneymuxw. It also recommends increasing the cost of the ferry service.

“In relation to access, it says we’re going to increase the ticket price from $9 to $12 for the first year or two and then we’ll increase it from there over the next number of years to $15 and beyond, per person,” said White. “Instead of making it accessible to people, it’s actually making it inaccessible. It’s worsening the problem.”

White said access has to be resolved and the island has to be brought back into the community. Newcastle could be a major part of downtown revitalization, he said, and could be the answer to the challenge of getting people to stay in Nanaimo.

He couldn’t say whether the business plan would be scrapped or tweaked, but did express the need to come up with a new approach and a high-level, shared vision on how to resolve the issues of access and facilities improvement with the city.

Tracy Samra, chief administrative officer for the City of Nanaimo, said the three-party group – the province, the city and Snuneymuxw – hasn’t met in a long time. She said all three parties need to sit down, check in and go “what do we got, where are we going, what do we need to change.”

“If they don’t like the business plan then we’ll change it,” she said.