The last parcels of private land along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail will be bought by the provincial government and preserved for public use and treaty settlements.
“The public wanted the trail protected, and the province stepped up and did that,” said Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca electoral area director.
The trail is a rugged 47-kilometre seaside hiking route that starts west of Sooke and finishes near Port Renfrew. It takes four to five days to complete.
The government said Thursday it intends to purchase 83 hectares along the trail from Marine Trail Holdings, but will not disclose the price until the deal is final. The province purchased another 99 hectares in December 2015 for $1.8 million. The parcels of land are between China Beach and Sombrio Beach.
“The trail trespassed through private land at four points, so it should be protected now with a buffer,” said Hicks, who urged the province to buy the land following an uproar over plans to develop a resort on it.
In 2007, the province allowed Western Forest Products to remove 500 hectares of land from a tree farm licence to sell it. The controversial decision was lambasted in an auditor general’s report the following year as not being executed in the public interest.
Developer Ender Ilkay of Marine Trail Holdings purchased 250 hectares from the forestry company for $3 million in 2008. His plan to build a 257-cabin resort along the trail was thwarted by outcry from the public and First Nations. The project died when the Capital Regional District in 2011 denied applications for rezoning.
The province said its purchases will include a protected corridor around the trail and increased access to roads. All land outside the trail and buffer will be offered to the Pacheedaht First Nation as part of ongoing treaty negotiations and reconciliation efforts.
“These lands will play an important role in creating a sustainable economy for our people as we work toward a final treaty with British Columbia and Canada,” said Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones.
Torrance Coste from the Wilderness Committee said it’s positive any time land is transferred to First Nations or protected.
“However, this is just a tiny portion of the land that the government deleted from the tree farm licence to be sold to private interests in 2007,” Coste said, noting there are already several clearcuts on the land.
“If this is the same parcel, then this is a case of our government buying back a clearcut that it handed over to be destroyed for corporate profit in the first place, and then spinning it for positive publicity a month before the election. That rings a little hollow.”