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About that Working Group...

On April 13, Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) appeared as a delegation before North Cowichan Committee of the Whole, where consultant Toby Seward issued an invitation to the Municipality of North Cowichan (MNC) and the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association (SNA) to join them in forming a "working group" to implement a "sound mitigation strategy". Conspicuously absent from their presentation was any mention that such a working group already existed, thus allowing VIMC to take full credit for this initiative. A subsequent article in the Cowichan Valley Citizen, which gave a glowing (and shamefully biased*) report of VIMC's efforts towards noise mitigation, provided even more evidence that the VIMC presentation was effectively a publicity stunt.

Nevertheless, Mr. Seward was eager to get his new group up and running. After months of difficulty getting VIMC to commit to meeting dates with the old working group, suddenly the suggested meeting times were flying fast and furious. The short notice made it impossible for SNA directors to attend, but there was also a simple matter that needed clarification before any talks could proceed. This issue now threatens to fracture the working group before the three parties can have their first meeting.

It is generally considered a show of bad faith to enter into negotiations while at the same time making changes that would exacerbate the problem. As with the previous working group, the SNA assumed that while we were engaged in talks to resolve the problem of excessive noise from the current facility, expansion of the track would be placed on hold. And yet we could not get confirmation from Mr. Seward that VIMC would withdraw their development permit applications for Phase 2 of the motorsport facility, or place their expansion plans on hold, at least until we could sit down for a first meeting.

Despite asking twice for such confirmation, Mr. Seward effectively ignored us and continued to press for a meeting date, this time on April 24, even though the SNA had already informed everyone that we would not be available that day. Mr. Seward and MNC went ahead and held the meeting anyway; nevertheless, the SNA has not actually agreed to participate in the working group. For the record, the SNA has committed to a single meeting to discuss the possibility of a working group, but not until VIMC confirms that no further expansion of the facility will take place while discussions are ongoing.

There are good reasons to think carefully about committing to the working group. The proposal calls for hiring facilitators or mediators, as well as acoustical consultants to design and implement noise studies in an effort towards establishing a noise protocol. It is unclear who is expected to pay for these experts, some of whom will likely have to come over from the mainland, but if VIMC wants to do a proper noise impact study - the kind that should have been done prior to allowing this facility to be built in the first place - then VIMC should pay for it, not the citizens and taxpayers of North Cowichan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

In addition, the process described by Mr. Seward will take several months. All the while, the neighbourhood will be expected to endure intolerable and unacceptable noise disturbances at any time of day or evening, on weekends or on holidays. If VIMC were truly serious about being a good neighbour, they would put all high-noise activities on hold until such time as their experts can conduct proper noise impact assessments and design and implement mitigation solutions that will return our rural neighbourhood to its former quiet and peaceful state. But they won't do that; summer is their busiest season. The working group effectively gives them carte blanche to make as much noise as they want until the season is over, all while claiming to be working towards a solution.

Finally, it needs to be said plainly and clearly that the simplest, fastest, and least expensive solution to this problem is for VIMC to simply turn down the volume.

VIMC does not need permission from either the municipality or the SNA to lower their noise limits. Their voluntary noise policy, with its maximum of 101 dB, is clearly inadequate based on the number of complaints received by the track and the municipality on numerous occasions, and which have not changed since this policy was implemented. Reduce noise limits until the complaints all but disappear, and the problem is solved: cheap, simple, immediate.

But that won't happen. The truth is that VIMC simply will not stop what they are doing, despite knowing full well the impact they are having on our community. If any proof is needed, consider this: just three days after the glowing speeches about how much VIMC cared about "community", residents of Sahtlam were blasted with vehicle noise. On Easter Sunday, while children were out in yards hunting for eggs and parents were trying to enjoy the still-rare sunshine, the roaring of high-performance engines and the whine of RPMs rising and falling echoed throughout our neighbourhood. The racket continued on Easter Monday, and neighbours called the track to complain. The response was almost laughable - the enthusiastic clerk at the track encouraged residents to call the "Sahtlam Community" to lodge their complaints (and no, he did not have any contact information for this entity).

* The Cowichan Valley Citizen has been suspiciously quiet about the striking allegations revealed in the SNA report "Approved as a Permitted Use". This latest article is another blatant promotion of VIMC - likely based on a policy of appeasing the biggest advertising clients (car dealerships) - and a full rebuttal will be the subject of a future blog post. Stay tuned!

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