A large number of Nanaimo-Ladysmith constituents have expressed their concern to me regarding access to the Department of National Defence (DND) land near Westwood Lake for recreational purposes. Thousands have signed a petition which I read to the House of Commons on Friday, June 14. Back in May, when I first became aware of the situation, I wrote to the Minister of Defence requesting a meeting to discuss this issue.
On Tuesday, June 18, I met with Serge Cormier, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence, to discuss the Nanaimo DND Rifle Range. We looked at maps, topography and photos and discussed the noise levels, the growing residential areas in proximity, and the parks on three sides of the range. I also spoke to the Defence Minister before Question Period. It was clear to both of them why there are concerns from people in Nanaimo and they are sympathetic to those concerns.
They are going send me a letter in response to my letter soon.
Here are the key points from our discussion:
The Vokes rifle range in Chilliwack is closed temporarily, so the extra training in Nanaimo will be temporary.
The previous Conservative government cut infrastructure spending, so places like the rifle range did not get the kind of attention it should have for signs, fences or enforcement to keep people out. This led to a situation where local residents felt comfortable using the DND land as recreational land and in many cases were unaware that they were even on DND land. They are working on correcting this situation, so while people have been using the area for recreation, that can’t continue in their view. Safety is paramount.
The safety template can’t be compromised during training, and scheduling use of areas within the template would be difficult and likely lead to unsafe situations. There may be areas of DND land outside of the template that can be accessed but that will need to be reviewed. The topography and the forest within the safety template did not seem to matter, the template is the template and it is there for safety reasons.
When I discussed the long-range idea of moving the range, I was told that DND is in the process of doing a study on all of its infrastructure in BC. They are aware that the Nanaimo range is being encroached upon and will likely need to be closed or moved in the future. They appreciated my suggestions of potentially working with the forest companies to move the range to an area well past Second Lake that could be secured by gates to ensure safety. They may be closing the Nanaimo range and moving training to another area of the province all together. They weren’t at liberty to discuss what was being contemplated in the uncompleted review yet.
It would be ideal for the Westwood Ridges to be added to a system of parks so people can enjoy this beautiful area for recreation. This is going to require some long-range consultation and planning with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the City and Regional district of Nanaimo, the Department of National Defence, and user groups and citizens who want to see this area protected. People who are interested in seeing that happen should continue writing letters and signing petitions. I will be again be tabling petitions with over 2,000 signatures this week in the House.