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North Cowichan Delivers Strong Message About Noise Mitigation

Directors, members, and supporters of the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association (SNA) are celebrating after a heartening discussion among North Cowichan staff and Council at yesterday's regular council meeting.

At that meeting, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ted Swabey provided an update on the status of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) rezoning application, which would allow VIMC to triple the size of their current facility and extend the length of their auto racing test track.

Mr. Swabey's update, and the ensuing discussion, brought significant clarity to the process, but also served to re-emphasize the municipality's position on noise mitigation. As we reported previously, North Cowichan had indicated that a noise mitigation plan would be required as part of the rezoning application. Yesterday, Mr. Swabey made the following statement to Council and the public:

"It has always been staff's position with the applicant that...they're going to have to address noise mitigation in Phase 1 before we could recommend approval of Phase 2"

To put this statement into context, applications for rezoning are first handled by staff under the authority of the Director of Planning or (as in this case) the CAO. Staff ensures that all relevant and necessary information is collected from the applicant so that a complete package can be handed to Council. The completed package comes with a recommendation from staff; for example, that Council accept the application, or accept it with certain conditions or modifications. What Mr. Swabey said today is that staff will not be able to recommend the application to Council until noise mitigation is addressed on the existing facility, and confirmed that this message has been communicated to VIMC.

Following that clear direction from staff, Councillor Justice put forward a motion for Council to effectively echo staff's position on the requirement for noise mitigation. After much thoughtful discussion, including helpful comments from Councillors Marsh and Manhas, the motion was tabled so that expert advice could be sought regarding proper procedures. The SNA sincerely appreciates Councillor Justice's consideration in putting forward this motion, and supports the decision by Council to table the motion to ensure clarity and procedural compliance.

We are also grateful to Mayor Al Siebring for asking what "addressing noise mitigation" will look like, giving Mr. Swabey a chance to explain the options to the public. The first option was referred to by some at the table as "theoretical" mitigation. In this scenario, VIMC would commit to implementing an approved noise mitigation plan as the Phase 2 expansion is being constructed. This option requires a "valid and verifiable" model of track noise into which noise mitigation solutions can be inputted, as well as establishing a target for noise reduction. Mr. Swabey noted that the municipality has already retained an acoustical consulting firm to review VIMC's noise modelling reports. If the data is found to be lacking there may be requests for additional information, which will also have to be reviewed. And, of course, there is no guarantee that a satisfactory model will be achieved in the end. In that case, Mr. Swabey noted he would seek direction from Council as to how to proceed.

The other option is for Council to accept VIMC's noise mitigation plan prima facie, and instruct VIMC to build it and thereby prove that it actually works. Both options have their pros and cons, which Mr. Swabey touched briefly upon, and on which we may comment in a future blog post.

Although there are still some details to be worked out, the discussion around the table at yesterday's meeting left no doubt as to the commitment on behalf of North Cowichan staff and Council to ensure that noise mitigation is adequately addressed as part of the rezoning application process. The open dialogue, the clear communication to the public, and the vitality of the discussion has brought a renewed sense of hope and optimism to our community. With a shiny new Mayor and Council, the future is looking bright.

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