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After $140 million cleanup, industrial lots available soon at Rock Bay, as First Nations poised to take over site

4.5-acre site seen as economic generator for Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations
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Map of potential lots for lease at Rock Bay in Victoria. via CBRE

A cleaned-up 4.5-acre Rock Bay industrial site is intended to become an economic generator for the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations after their company purchases it from B.C. Hydro in coming months.

The sale to Matullia Holdings is scheduled to be completed on June 30.

Once the sale closes, the now-vacant land can be leased as one parcel or split into multiple lots for more than one tenant.

Laurie Armstrong, Matullia spokesperson, said a condition of the company’s purchase agreement with B.C. Hydro allowed it to market the lands for lease in anticipation of the sale.

Key to the future of these lands is the adjacent three acres the First Nations acquired in 2016 from Transport Canada, he said in a statement on Monday. That site was leased under a multi-year agreement in March 2021 by the Ralmax Group of Companies for safe overnight storage of equipment and materials.

Together, both parcels represent 7.5 acres of “prime employment area” lands, featuring water access to the west and Government Street access to the east, Armstrong said.

As far as the 4.5-acre ­property, it could be split into lots for more than one ­tenant, said Ross Marshall, senior vice-president of CBRE, a firm specializing in commercial real estate, in Victoria.

A four-lot scenario illustrated in a CBRE brochure shows lots of 0.85 acres, 0.65 acres, 0.8 acres and one at 1.85 acres.

The outline is hypothetical and is presented to show how leased lots might be configured, Marshall said.

The property is being offered at a time when demand for industrial land in Victoria is “exceptionally high,” he said.

In May 2019, B.C. Hydro and the First Nations announced they had agreed on conditional terms to buy the 4.5 acres, in the traditional territory of the ­Lekwungen people.

Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam said then that efforts to obtain the land went back two decades, led by his late uncle Chief Robert Sam and the late Chief Andrew Thomas of the Esquimalt Nation. “Their foresight and determination created this opportunity for us today.”

At one time, the 7.5-acre property was deemed to be one of Canada’s most toxic, contaminated with coal tar from a coal gasification plant that operated between 1862 and into the 1950s. It was owned by Victoria Gas and B.C. Electric, which later became B.C. Hydro.

For many decades, Rock Bay Harbour was also used as a garbage dump, which contaminated the soil, groundwater and ­sediment in the harbour.

It took nearly $140 million and a dozen years to clean up the property. Rock Bay was drained and dredged.

A total of 140,000 tonnes of contaminated soil was removed from the site. Another 88,000 tonnes of sediments and foreshore was taken out, too.

In 2015, murals painted by First Nations youth and based on designs by Butch Dick and ­Darlene Gait were unveiled around the property.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com