We created this post to inform and engage the public; to help others participate in this consultation process. Please feel free to use any of the rationales we’ve outlined below in your submissions to FLNRO.
The Provincial government is seeking public comment on The George’s Crown land application for a commercial lease to build a private commercial marina for The George Hotel and Condos on public land designated as park and recreation area on the waterfront in Gibsons Landing
The GABC Society has been fighting this project for many years and for many reasons. We have been reading and analyzing The George Project materials since the development application was submitted in 2013. Through these efforts we have gained expert knowledge of the proposed project, particularly with regard to risks it poses to our drinking water aquifer and the environment. We continue to work with highly qualified experts to inform, engage and address ongoing issues surrounding this project. We are committed to sharing documented, fact-based information with the public and government agencies to ensure the best decisions are made. At this point, we are intent on stopping this Crown land allocation for the reasons outlined below.
Please feel free to use any of the rationales we’ve outlined below when you submit your comments on The George Gibsons Development Ltd. Crown land application File: 2411955.
SOCIAL REASONS THE APPLICATION SHOULD BE REJECTED
The highest and best use of the Crown land described in this application is for the Town of Gibsons to maintain it for its original intended use as a natural space, public park and recreation area for the Gibsons community, the general public, seasonal residents, visitors to Gibsons and future generations.
- While the property is under Town control, public access and enjoyment of the land is assured. The applicant also holds a commercial lease at Hyak Marina and the sublease of Gibsons Marina. At Hyak the applicant attained permission from FLNRORD to use the commercial moorage for private use. At the Gibsons Marins the applicant creatively manages a moorage 'waiting list' and charges a fee to be on the list, when there are empty slips in the in the Marina. The only way to ensure these lands are managed to benefit the public is for the lease to remain in the control of the public body.
- Gibsons’ public foreshore and water lot is a key part of Gibsons’ signature waterfront greenspace and the last remaining natural open area in Gibsons Harbour. The scenic and recreational value of this open area is fundamental to maintaining the scale, character and natural setting that Gibsons Harbour is renowned for. If this application is approved, the character of Gibsons Landing – which is a defining feature of our Official Community Plan, lifestyle, and tourism branding and marketing for many local businesses – would be lost.
- Private commercial marina use on DL 5327 (in front of Winegarden Park) was never anticipated in the Town of Gibsons’ Official Community Plan. The Town hid from the public that it had unilaterally changed the use of our “park, recreation open space” water lot to “marina commercial” land use in 2015 and that it intended to give up our public water lease to allow a land-use that violates our existing lease agreement with the Province. Residents only learned in December 2019 (through the proposal made by the applicant) that the Town had abandoned its lease to The George (May 2018) – with no compensation for this public asset.
- Residents could be restricted from the waterfront walkway/public plaza during certain hours and might be excluded altogether. If privatized, The George Marina would be gated and locked.
- Dredging the harbour to accommodate large vessels indicates the applicant's intent to reserve waterfront use as much as possible for high-end clientele for The George Hotel and Condos, rather than for the public. If this public land is allocated to the applicant, access for local residents, recreational users and tourists not staying at The George would not be assured.
- The applicant intends to encompass our transient moorage (A-Dock) into The George Marina. Since 2015 (when the applicant became owner of Gibsons Marina), he has consistently raised Gibsons Marina moorage rates, and is now charging a fee to be on a waiting list for moorage while Marina slips sit empty. Locally, tensions are already mounting around pulci access, docking space, fees and the waiting list to get in to our public marina. Given the applicant's past and current modus operandii, we dont belive the applicant can be trusted to manage public lands for the benefit of the public.
ENVIRONMENTAL REASONS THE APPLICATION SHOULD BE REJECTED
The highest and best use of this lot is for the Town of Gibsons to maintain its lease in order to protect and manage it as a valued Natural Asset and Aquifer Protection Area.
Prior to making a decision on the amalgamation of tenures proposed in this application, FLNRORD should conduct a site visit and assess whether the tenure holder is meeting environmental stewardship obligations and determine whether any relevant environmental or other assessments that were incomplete at the time of the original decisions to approve tenure have been completed and if not, ensure additional assessments.
Climate Change and Sea Level Rise:
- Predicted sea level rise is likely to threaten Winegarden Park (on the foreshore of DL 5327) if the foreshore. The C Change Study done for the Town of Gibsons (2010-2013) and current data/modelling show this site will be inundated at annual flood levels by 2030 and over half of the property will be under water by 2050. C-Change predicted potential costs of retrofits to public infrastructure in Gibsons Harbour associated with sea level rise were estimated at around $10 million in 2013.
- In 2010, the Town included a clause in its Official Community Plan (OCP) to protect Gibsons waterfront through acquisition of a 15m geotechnical setback /linear park, through re-development asa a means to address future impacts of SLR. This clause was secretly deleted from the OCP in 2014.
- The growing severity of storms, tide/surge/flood levels due to climate change are already creating increasing problems with erosion of infrastructure on coastlines in BC. Development of hard infrastructure on the foreshore as proposed by the applicant will create more liabilities on public land.
Gibsons Aquifer: “World's Best Water” - 2005
- Gibsons Aquifer is a highly pressurized, semi-contained aquifer. It sits as close as .5 m from ground level at this development site. Town of Gibsons’ hydrogeologist experts and authors of the Gibsons Aquifer Mapping Study (Waterline Resources) explained in a 2015 peer review report that excavations and dredging to build the proposed The George complex could result in catastrophic blow out of Gibsons Aquifer.
- Contrary to what The George claims in its application, DL 5327 has never been dredged. The water lot in front of Winegarden Park is extremely shallow and dredging to develop the proposed infrastructure poses a serious unresolved threat to Gibsons Aquifer.
- Regarding proposed re-development of the marine environment, Waterline Resources has said that the applicant had provided “insufficient data to characterize the Gibsons Aquifer-Aquitard system within the proposed dredging area.” Further that “Gibsons Aquifer extends into the Gibsons Harbour and has artesian conditions within the vicinity of the proposed marine development” and “there is likely existing discharge at an unknown rate from the Gibsons Aquifer into the ocean within the Gibsons Harbour. No further peer review of the proposed project by Waterline Resources has been published since 2015.
- There is no replacement source to supply drinking water to the Town of Gibsons. If Gibsons lost its ability to draw water from Gibsons Aquifer, had to find a replacement source or even treat the water available to make it potable, this would bea huge financial hit to small town taxpayers.
- Proposed excavations and dredging could result in the spread of contaminated sediments throughout the Harbour which would cause irreparable damage to natural valuesincluding marine biota, eelgrass, mollusks, crustaceans, forage fish, salmon, the protected resident Great Blue Herons, and other bird species in the harbour.
- The George development site is a BC Registered high risk contaminated site. Crown foreshore intertidal and subtidal sediments on the site contain tributyltin (TBT) at 70 times high risk standards. TBT is an internationally banned substance; an endocrine inhibitor 14 times more toxic than mercury that bio-accumulates up the food chain. TBT has not been adequately addressed in the 2019 Remedial Plan as the applicant continues to exploit a loophole in the Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR) to avoid proper remediation.
- Proposed changes to the Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR) are set to be tabled in the BC Legislature within the next few months. The expectation is that changes will include numeric standards for TBT in sediments and new policies that will necessitate a more stringent review of remediation of the TBT on the Crown foreshore by the applicant. It is critical that the Province ensure that the 2019 Remedial Plan (FRCEMP) complies with the newly revised CSR. To not do so would place Gibsons’ public lands at risk.
- In 2019, The George abandoned its 2017 Remedial Plan for this Site in favour of a new Remedial Plan which proivdes a less protective remediation 'standard'. In the 2019 plan the applicant proposes to leave contaminated soils on the upland property where high risk exposure pathways exist and monitor these conditions in perpetuity. Migraton of toxics from the upland onto the public foreshore, intertidal and subtidal areas is a serious, ongoing concern. Hypothetically, monitoring would be paid for by property owners and could become a public liability over the long-term.
- The 2019 plan proposes that TBT laden sediments will be excavated and dumped on land, mixed with high risk contaminated soils containing metals and hydrocarbons and then used as structural fill for the development complex. There has been NO REVIEW of this new plan.
- Completely missing from the 2019 Remedial Plan is any detailed explanation of a dredging plan, potential impacts of proposed dredging on Gibsons Aquifer and how the applicant intends to deal with issues raised by the Town’s hydrogeology experts back in 2015.
- Standard license of use, lease and sub-lease agreements for Crown water lots stipulate at part1 that the user “must not sublicense, assign, mortgage or transfer this agree, or permit any person to use or occupy the Land, without our prior written consent, which consent we may withhold in our sole discretion” And at Part. 7.4that, “Prior to considering a request for our consent under section 7.1, we may require you to meet certain conditions, including… that you submit to us a “site profile…” Given that all of the Crown water lot areas contained in this application, as well as lease/licenses the applicant already holds (2439107 and 238162) are very near or adjacent to a BC High Risk Contaminated Site known to contain 10x high risk levels of tributyltin in sediments, and toxics have migrated the site, FLRNORD should ensure the Site Profile requirement is enforced for all of the water lots included in the George Marina plan.
Local Environmental Values
- The Town of Gibsons’ most important priority is to protect our Natural Assets, drinking water source and natural environment. Our motto is “Nature is our Most Valuable Asset.” This project puts our natural assets at risk.
- Public dependence on Professional Reliance to safeguard public interests is not working. The applicant’s environmental consultants have a past history of omitting to characterize key issues and submitting incomplete information to government bodies on this project. The Remedial Plan and a proposed dredging plan needs to be peer reviewed to determine if the issues identified of risk have been addressed, before any final decision is made.
- The public and the Town of Gibsons only received the 2019 Remedial Plan though this Crown land application process. Neither the public nor the Town has had a chance to fully review and consider whether the risks to public land associated with remediation have been resolved. On October 15, 2019, the Gibsons Council exoressed concerns abiout the new Remedial Plan and passed a resolution directing staff to access the 2019 Remedial Plan, in order to determine if it should be peer reviewed by the Town's expert consultants Waterline Resources. This 30-day consultation period is too short a time frame for the public and the local government to do the due diligence. It is important that the Province allow the public and the Town enough time to undertake expert peer reviews before a land allocation decision is made.
ECONOMIC REASONS THE APPLICATION SHOULD BE REJECTED
This application fails to ensure public lands are managed to benefit the public and ensure sound economic development. The ‘economic benefit’ claims the applicant is making are inaccurate, exaggerated, or outdated and don’t account for millions in taxpayer subsidies required to build this project and long-term negative impacts on the tax base. The Province needs to make sure it is not complicit in enabling violations of BC law to provide financial benefit to a private business and misuse of public funds, by approving this application.
Direct Impacts of the Disposition of the Lease to a Private Developer
- No public discussion has ever been held about whether this public park/recreation lease should be disposed of or developed into a commercial operation, or what the economic pros and cons of this may be for the Town. Yet, in a letter sent to FLNRORD on May 10, 2018, the Town of Gibsons secretly abandoned its interest in DL 5327 to The George without public consultation or a legal agreement for any compensation to the Town in place; no service delivery or revenue sharing agreement(s) agreement for were in place – that we know of.
- If, once consulted, the Public agreed to turn this park land water lot into a commercial marina, it would still be economically unwise for the Province to give this public asset away to a private business owner. Instead, with permission from FLNRORD, a sublease agreement could be made between the Town and The George akin to the Gibsons Marina lease, and/or these Crown lands could all be incorporated into the Gibsons Marina lease held by the Town. That way, revenues generated would flow to The Town and its taxpayers, with protections to ensure development for public (not private) use, including tourism, recreation, and other commercial uses which benefit the public and existing local businesses. The only way to ensure these Crown lands are managed to provide long term benefit to the public is for these lease areas to remain public assets for use by the public.
- The BC Government policy for commercial Crown leases explains that Crown land sales may occur through an application process if the proposed site meets specific criteria and the use is considered suitable by government agencies and other affected interests. And, “Fee simple disposition is preferred for long-term general commercial use, golf course developments and filled areas for marinas and yacht clubs.” Given this policy and all we know of the applicant, it seems likely that if this lease is granted to The George now, the land will eventually be sold to him and public use would end. Privatization of these public assets would NOT benefit the public.
Negative Impacts to The Public and Existing Local Business
- Professional economic impact analysis has already demonstrated the proposed economic benefits of The George project to be primarily negative and to centre primarily on a pie in the sky convention centre proposal. The convention industry is virtually dead due to technology (i.e.the accessibility of teleconferencing and the popularity of webinars and apps as well as growing global awareness about the impacts of GHG emissions from travel in a climate era). Even before the convention industry died, Gibsons was never big enough or accessible enough to be a viable location for a conference centre. Locally, many citizens believe this proposal is a scam – a clever story to win local support to amass and privatize public lands.
- The applicant lists as an economic advantage that the George Marina space “would certainly be key factors in increasing the number of travelers to support the tourism-oriented retail and restaurant economy of Gibsons Landing.” This is simply not accurate. Economic impact analyses of the project have demonstrated that The George Marine Hotel Complex is likely to be self-contained in terms of provision of restaurant and other services that tourists might make use of and that, with off-site attractions available all along the Coast, with neglible spill-over to existing Gibsons Landing businesses.
- In September 2014, a critique of the Town-commissioned economic analysis was submitted by an accredited economic development analyst. The report showed projected direct economic costs to the Town include reduced DCCs, servicing costs to be absorbed by the Town, reduced amenity and affordable housing contributions, loss of a public road, and loss of Gibsons Marina A-Dock. The total estimated amount of these direct economic costs (including value of lease and potential revenue from Crown leases) could be anywhere between $5-10 million.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY REASONS THE APPLICATION SHOULD BE REJECTED
The BC Government has principles and policies in place to ensure, among other things, that Crown land allocation decisions are well-considered and transparent and that public accountability is maintained during the allocation of Public land. The George Gibsons Hotel Ltd applicant and application 2411955 fail to meet the test of transparency and accountability. In turn, this affects the transparency and accountability of the Crown land allocation process. Further, approval of this application could place FLNRORD in the unfortunate position of enabling violations of the BC Community Charter, Environmental Management Act (EMA) and Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR), Land Act and Properties Act as well as Agreements between multiple parties and agencies.
Prior to any decsion on this file, the Province should test and verify the validity of the information provided to FLNRORD by the Applicant and confirm whether the proponent is compliant with the terms and conditions set by other agencies.
Disposition of Town’s Lease Agreement DL 5327 Lease Agreement 237789
- In 2011, the Province allocated District Lot 5327 (lease no. 237789) to the Town of Gibsons for use as park and recreation area. In a letter sent to FLNRORD on May 10, 2018, the Town of Gibsons secretly abandoned its interest in DL 5327 to The George without public consultation or compensation to the Town. There is currently no evidence on the public record that a decision to dispose of the asset was made by Gibsons Council. Disposition of a public asset without informing the public, and providing a financial benefit to a business by abandoning to it a highly valued Crown lease resulted in several violations of the BC Community Charter. E.g. Section 24 of the Charter compels a Council to give notice of its intention to provide assistance to a person by disposing of land or improvements, or any interest or right in or with respect to them, for less than market value. Notice must be published before the assistance is provided and must (a) identify the intended recipient of the assistance, and (b) describe the nature, term and extent of the proposed assistance. No such notice to provide assistance by disposing of our interest in the land for less than market value was given to the public by the Town. The Town should have consulted the public prior to abandoning its interest in DL 5327 to The George applicant. This mistake needs to be corrected and the public needs to be consulted about this disposition before the Province makes a decsion on this file.
Crown Agreements and Provincial Legislation - Hyak Marine
- In 2004, the applicant purchased the Hyak Marine Services business and property, including a commercial lease agreement (238162) for a boat repair and maintenance facility, what is now the site of the proposed The George Complex. Transfer of ownership of the lease tirggred section 7.4 of the Lease Agreement. A Site Profile should have been submittied to the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) under the EMA and CSR at this time. On April 8, 2004, a Stage 2 Preliminary Site Investigation Report was issued to the applicant by Keystone Environmental. Among other things, the 2004 report identified migration of toxic contamination from the Hyak site onto adjacent Crown and metals in soils exceeding the Contaminated Site Regulation (CSR) standards. Metals typically found in anti-fouling paints applied to the hulls of boats, likely to have originated from the Hyak boat repair shop. Identification of likely offsite migration was a legal trigger under the BC Contaminated Sites Regulation that required the applicant to file a “Notice of Migration” (NoM) to affected property owners and the BC MoE within 15 days (April 23, 2004). However, the 2004 report was buried, and the applicant neglected to meet this statutory requirement to notify the Crown and the Town of Gibsons (within 15 days) about offsite migration of toxics onto public land until July 2017. I.e. The applicant was wittingly in violation of BC’s environmental laws - put in place to protect human health and the environment - for thirteen years.
- In 2012, the applicant commissioned a new Environmental Assessment of the Hyak Site by a new consultant, Balanced Environmental. But the 2012 assessment omitted to identify the offsite migration onto Crown land identified by Keystone in 2004. Instead, the 2012 report asserted that “upland soil samples collected along the southern boundary of 385 Gower Point Road were uncontaminated indicating that contaminants were not migrating down slope”. This report was submitted to the Town of Gibsons with the applicant’s ‘The George’ zoning and development permit applications on February 1, 2013. The 2004 Report was included in the file as it was refernced in the 2012 Report. Given that the 2004 report identified offsite migration, its submission to the Town as part of the develppment package once again triggered the NoM requirement and the submission of a Site prilfe to the BC MoE. Hower, the development permit application submitted to the Town indicated that a Site Profile had been submitted to the BC MoE, when it had not. It appears the applicant deceived the Town and the Crown, to avoid submission of a Site Profile (in 2004 and again in 2014) to the BC MoE because submission of the SP would have triggered a local government zoning and permitting freeze, until the site was properly remediated.
- In 2014, Impact Assessment and Water Treatment Specialist, André Sobolewski, Ph.D. of Clear Coast Consulting reviewed the 2012 Balanced Report. Dr. Sobolewski confirmed deficiencies in the study and identified the fact that Balanced had neglected characterize a highly toxic contaminant – tributyltin TBT – or sample sediments to be dredged in the harbour. (TBT is 14 x more toxic than mercury.) Site samples taken by Clear Coast identified high risk TBT concentrations on the Site. Consequently, Dr. Sobolewski filed a formal complaint informing the BC MoE that contamination at the Hyak site had not been properly assessed and that the proposed development presented an “unknown, and potentially significant, risk to the environment.”
- In 2014, the Town of Gibsons asked the applicant to file a Site Profile with the BC MoE. The applicant did not do so.
- The applicant avoided submission of the Site Profile to the BC MoE from 2014-2016. Consequently, the Province had no formal mechanism to engage or oversee remedial planning or address offite migration of toxics onto Town land. In April 2016, the applicant decommissioned the (Schedule 2) boat repair facility, directly triggering the Site Profile requirement. Again, the Site Profile was not submitted to the Province.
- After a great deal of public pressure on the Town, the MoE and the applicant, on December 12, 2016 the Site Profile was finally submitted and the legal trigger for MoE involvement in remediation was pulled. Over the next six months, a series of investigative reports were requested and submitted to the Ministry, including a detailed Site Investigation Report (DSI) which confirmed offsite migration and 10x high risk levels of TBT in foreshore sediments. Yet the applicant neglected to inform the Town and the public for another six months that the poisonous TBT had migrated onto the Crown foreshore. Citizens and visitors remained in the dark about the fact that a public park/recreation area (DL 5327) - used by children, families and tourists - contained high risk levels of highly poisonous TBT.
- Finally, on June 15, 2017, the BC MoE sent a letter infroming the applicant that “high risk conditions are present” on the Town's waterlot DL 5327 (lease # 23789) due to migration of contamination from the Hyak site. And, that the applicant was “out of compliance with the Environmental Management Act (the Act) and the Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR)." Thirteen years later, the MoE had to enforce the legal requirement to provide written notification to the owners of the neighbouring site (the Town), and a copy to the Ministry within 15 days of becoming aware of likely migration. In its deliberations on this application FLRORD must take into account the fact that George applicant was wittingly in violation of BC environmental laws put in place to protect human health and the environment for thirteen years and chose time and time again not to inform affected parties when he knew high risk levels of tributyltin had migrated onto public park land. In our view, it is planily obvious that this applicant cannot be trusted to manage Crown lands to benefit the public.
Crown Agreements and Provincial Legislation - 243907
- In 2011 a License of Occupation Agreement for personal, non-commercial use (no 243907), part of the develppment site, was assigned to the applicant. He currently holds a specific permission agreement (no 243097) for private moorage at this site. It appears the applicant was not required to submit a Site Profile for the Land at the time it was allocated, nor when the specific permission was granted. Given that the applicant wants to convert this license into a lease, and that Artcile 7.4 of the Licence Agreement states, “Prior to considering a request for our consent under section 7.1, we may require you to meet certain conditions, including without limitation, that you submit to us a “site profile…” for the Land…” we feel it is critical that FLNRORD now require the applicant to submit a Site Profile for this water lot, prior to any decison being made on this application.
Crown Agreements Gibsons Marina... coming soon.