Campbell River, B.C. Wal-Mart Gets Dunked In Canadian River
Here's a report from another Wal-Mart battle in Canada, where the retailer has suffered several prominent defeats recently: "The Big Box Battle in Campbell River, British Columbia, is over -- for now. In February 2005 it became news that Wal-Mart was threatening to build a 111,000-square meter store, plus a 600 car parking lot metres from the edge of the Campbell River estuary and within eyesight of a popular walking trail named after a long-time resident. Campbell River, a small city of 30,000 on Vancouver Island, is the self-proclaimed "Salmon Capital of the World" and is a world class tourist destination known for it's outdoor recreation, specifically salmon fishing. This is the latest in a long series of similar proposals by Wal-Mart for stores in areas of environmental sensitivity, often pushed ahead through the local First Nations in the name of economic development for aboriginal peoples.
The Campbell River Indian Band was caught in the middle of the furor. The band has an option to purchase the land Wal-Mart wanted from its current owner. The plan was for Wal-Mart to get the land re-zoned, then lend the money to the Band, then the Band could purchase the property and lease it to Wal-Mart. In March Wal-Mart put in an application to have the land re-zoned and for an amendment to the Official Community Plan. By this time a well-organized grass roots group of concerned citizens were rallying weekly on the banks of the Campbell and had started a letter writing campaign to the 2 local newspapers and the Councillors and Mayor. Over 500 letters/emails against the proposal were sent to Council, while only 4 were in favour. Petitions with over 2100 names were signed and one newspaper ran a poll resulting in 1,890 against and 330 for. Because their application was pathetically lacking, council unexpectedly put off
giving first and second reading to a bylaw to rezone the site. Instead, they decided to send the whole issue back to staff for reassessment once they had received the results of a list of studies being demanded of Wal-Mart on such things as environmental impact, socio-economic implications and affects on traffic patterns. The hundreds of citizens packed into the council chambers and out into the lobby, roared their approval. Large foundations such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited, etc. as well as the City of Campbell River have pumped more than 9 million dollars into salmonid-enhancement and spawning-bed and side-channel development on the river. At the end of May, the company put together study reports requested by a deeply-divided City Council. When those reports - almost entirely from studies which were carried out several months previously - were released to the public, and council finally gave Wal-Mart's requested rezoning bylaw its first and second readings, furor returned to this usually fairly quiet community. A key part of the debate shaping was moving by 25 metres the proposed location of the 111,000-square-metre store and turning it around so that no roads were behind
the store facing the river. City Council agreed (four out of six ) to pull the rezoning application off the shelf, and gave Wal-Mart the blessing to move ahead to the public hearings. At the end of 3 days of hearings, the council heard over 200 emotional speakers, of those less than 10 spoke in favour of Wal Mart and these included 2 outside developers brought in by Wal-Mart. The Nature Conservancy of Canada dropped it's bombshell at the first night of the public hearings that if the land re-zoning should fail, the NCC intends to buy the former forest-industry land and restore it. Council's decision was put off until July 4th. Over 400 opponents, packed in. As in Vancouver recently, the Campbell River council's unanimous decision surprised observers. All the Councillors and Mayor voted Monday night to turn down the application for rezoning. The biggest reason given was "the voice of the people have spoken." However, the Campbell River Indian Band Council has made it clear it intends to reclaim the land Band leaders emphasized that if the band obtains the money to buy and develop the site, it will be within its rights to build between 210 and 270 homes on the property without the rezoning. Some of that money could still come from Wal-Mart."
What you can do: As a footnote to this story, "The controversy is far from over. And there are hurt feelings on all sides. Worst of all, the Campbell River Indian Band were used and misused in the tussle. Many long-standing residents wanted to protect their beloved river and estuary, but they also didn't want to see the Campbell River Indian Band savaged in the process. One thing the whole ugly dispute has also done though, is put people in this sometimes-sleepy town on their toes, determined as never before to battle anyone else who wants to mess with the Campbell River and estuary." For local contacts in Campbell River, contact firstname.lastname@example.org