A Regional District of Nanaimo committee is recommending the board permanently ban homeless camping at a park on Gabriola Island.
The RDN passed a motion in April 2020 placing a moratorium on overnight camping at 707 Community Park for people experiencing homelessness while the region assessed wildfire risk. The park, more than 425 hectares, is larger than Stanley Park in Vancouver and has areas that can’t be accessed by emergency vehicles.
Diamond Head Consulting was contracted to evaluate the park, rating 707 Community Park’s fire danger as high, with the “threat largely driven by the very high density and continuity of coniferous trees in portions of the park,” it stated in a notice to the RDN.
The park is adjacent to private residences and land, and its “vegetation … has the potential to support severe wildfire during the most severe weather conditions” and there was potential for “extreme consequence,” the consultant noted.
RDN staff recommended an outright ban on camping at the park given wildfire risk and inconvenience in enforcing closure during times of “elevated hazard.”
While the seven-person committee voted unanimously, Lehann Wallace, Area G director, expressed concern, stating 707 isn’t the only park with a fire risk.
“I would suggest ones that are closer to larger centres of tourism impacts might be of even higher risk based on feasibility to get to them from major highways versus having to take a ferry…” Wallace said at the meeting. “I would suggest that if you also had the funding and the means to study the rest of the parks in the [RDN], they also would be categorized as a high fire risk and then the bylaw would need to be amended park by park as you study fire risk.”
A letter from the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District to the RDN, citing a Calian Emergency Management study, stated evacuating the island would take more than 14 hours and doesn’t take into account the possibility that fire could cut off evacuation routes.
The RDN staff report estimated it would cost between $10,000 to $20,000 to hire someone to patrol the park.
The recommendation will be forwarded to the RDN board for consideration at its April 26 meeting and if approved, the RDN’s parks use bylaw would be amended to add 707 to its list of parks where overnight camping is prohibited.