The owners of this house under construction at 4355 Gordon Head Road say it has not damaged a sensitive eco-system in citing a biologist report, whose authorship is unknown. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Owners of Saanich coastal bluff home say it does not damage environment

Douglas and Brenda MacAskill rest their claim on a report with unknown authorship

Two Saanich residents say the construction of their new home on a coastal bluff in the Gordon Head neighbourhood has not damaged a sensitive eco-system in citing a biologist report, whose authorship is unknown.

Douglas and Brenda MacAskill said in correspondence to Saanich council that their home under construction at 4355 Gordon Head “absolutely has not” damaged a sensitive ecosystem, as critics of their development have charged.

Merie Beauchamp, a spokesperson for Saanich Action for the Environment (SAFE), said earlier that the construction of the house represents yet “another troubling environmental loss” while Saanich currently sits without environmental protection on private property. Voices like Beauchamp have also pointed to comparable developments elsewhere in the municipality as evidence for the need of stronger protection of biodiversity on private property.

RELATED: Gordon Head development threatens Garry oak grove

The MacAskill’s argument rests in part on a 2016 report from a registered biologist, whom the couple hired as part of their efforts to remove the property from the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA).

The previous council rescinded the controversial bylaw before Saanich staff had processed their application.

Quoting from the study, MacAskill said that this biologist found “no Coastal Bluff Sensitive Eco-System Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) on the property at the 4355 Gordon Head Road.” The documents do not identify the author of the report. The Saanich News has asked both the District of Saanich and MacAskills about the identity of the author, and will update this story accordingly.

Other applications by individuals like the MacAskills to remove their properties from the EDPA have relied on the work of Ted Lea, a central figure in Saanich’s debate over the EDPA, who no longer calls himself a registered professional biologist, after the College of Applied Biology (CAB) permanently rescinded his membership for his role in various EDPA controversies following an investigation that focused on his role in writing reports on behalf of property owners who objected to the EDPA.

As a member of Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA Society (SCRES), Lea helped convince members of the public, and ultimately council that the EDPA was unfair. The previous council eventually rescinded the EDPA by a 5-4 vote on Nov. 6, 2017. At least one member of the current council — Coun. Nathalie Chambers — has since alluded to Lea’s role in the demise of the EDPA.

“The science used to rescind the EDPA has been proven to be based on faulty scientific process, and unusable,” said Chambers earlier. “Staff was bypassed and the professional registered biologist who ‘volunteered their services’ has now lost [his] licence.”

RELATED: Saanich councillor says residents owed a bylaw like the rescinded EDPA

It is unknown at this stage whether the MacAskills’ claims rely on findings by Lea. The MacAskills see themsleves as victims of Saanich staff and others.

“The suggestion by Saanich News that the previous EDPA bylaw may have prevented construction of our house in the current location hinges on an incorrect statement by a Saanich spokesperson,” they wrote in letter dated July 15.

Saanich staff have since corrected an earlier statement that they had not received a biologist report, while maintaining that “Saanich cannot speculate on how the old EDPA would have influenced this development or its approval.”

In the same letter, the MacAskills also write that it is “extremely disappointing and concerning” that “certain individuals are able to bully other residents, lobby our elected officials, and manipulate the press to advance their own agenda.”

They did not identify the would-be bullies, but insist that they are neither anti-EDPA nor anti-environment.

“Our strong objection have always been with respect to to the way the EDPA was implemented (without public input or consultation),” they wrote in the same letter, “[and] subsequently imposing draconian views on privately owned properties through regulation not consultation will always be met with opposition and will never work.”

MacAskills did not respond to a request for comment prior to Saanich News deadline.


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