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George water lease bid wins council support

Agreement to surrender existing Town lease includes revenue sharing
george
Artist’s rendering of exterior of the proposed George Residences project.

Gibsons council has voted to support a new water lease for the planned marina at the George Hotel and Residences, despite one councillor’s objection that the wording about conditions isn’t strong enough and a community group’s objection that there hasn’t been enough transparency around negotiations between the Town and the developer.

Klaus Fuerniss Enterprises (KFE) has applied for a new lease covering two previous leases already held by Fuerniss or his companies and an “institutional” lease held by the Town for an area offshore from Winegarden Park.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) has been collecting public comments as part of the application process and also sent a referral to the Town.

Although the Town cannot sell or sublet its water lease, it has agreed to surrender it before it expires in order to enable FLNRORD to assign it to KFE, if the company’s application is approved.

The details of that agreement were negotiated by the previous council, but only released following a Feb. 25 in-camera meeting of the current council.

It calls for KFE to pay the town 15 per cent of “gross revenues from all sources, except fuel sales, collected from the water lot lease area.”

In a Jan. 22 letter to council, the Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community (GABC) said the Town has not done enough to “inform and seek feedback from the public.”

GABC has also raised questions about whether the Town is potentially violating the Com-munity Charter by disposing of a public asset for less than market value to assist the developer.

The lease application referral came up first at the March 3 planning and development committee meeting, where Coun. Annemarie De Andrade said she wanted to strengthen the staff recommendations and had a series of possible amendments, some of them based on input from GABC.

De Andrade’s main points were to include a reference to the Town requiring a peer review of any remediation plans submitted by Klaus Fuerniss Enterprises to get development permits and to replace wording saying the developer “should” take certain actions with a declaration that it “must” take certain actions.

“This is a very sensitive area… I would like to use a precautionary approach – I’ve been asking for this the whole time. I think if we make this commitment we are insuring the council is safer, the staff is safer and the residents are safer,” she said.

After some debate, the committee came to a consensus on supporting the lease application subject to the conditions that eelgrass beds in or near the tenure area must be identified and protected; water quality must not be impacted by the maintenance of the marina, pier, gangway, and floats; and that the developer follow “Provincial Best Management Practices” for building and maintaining the marina in order to protect the foreshore ecosystems.

The committee also added a separate recommendation asking for a report on the process for approving work in Development Permit Area (DPA) 1, DPA 2 and DPA 9, which cover areas with possible geotechnical hazards, environmentally sensitive areas and areas where work could impact the aquifer.

That report is expected to give the opportunity for council to debate the peer review question.

The committee recommendations went to council at its March 3 regular meeting, along with the release from in camera of the agreement with KLE.

“My desire was that this release [of the revenue-sharing agreement] would be accompanied by a written report so that the public could understand the process that the Town undertook to have this agreement done,” De Andrade said at the meeting.

“I also had concerns because there were some allegations that we breeched the Community Charter … and I asked several times [for a] report from legal counsel, but my request was not fulfilled.”

During a public inquiry period, Mayor Bill Beamish was asked why there was no record of how the Town determined the value of surrendering its water lease and whether there had been any formal assessment of its fair market value.

“There’s no market value on a B.C. lease,” Beamish said. “The negotiation relative to the lease, in terms of the [revenue-sharing agreement] is on the side… The lease has no value to us – it cannot be sold.”

Beamish went on to say that if the province grants KFE the new lease that will trigger the public process around disposition of a Town asset. If the province rejects KFE’s application for the water lease, the Town will continue to hold it.

Beamish was also questioned about why council was not seeking a peer review of the environmental remediation plan KFE attached to its lease application before agreeing to surrender its portion of the proposed lease area.

He said although the plan was included in the KFE application, his reading of the FLNRORD referral was that it was strictly seeking input on the new lease and consolidation of existing leases.

Beamish also said a later examination of the remediation plan is still on the table.

“I have questions about that … but the referral was not asking us what we think about the remediation, it was asking us what do we think about the consolidation of those leases and that’s how I read it,” he said.

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