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Regional government buys parts of former forest land

The Capital Regional District has reached an agreement in principle with Western Forest Products to buy 2,350 hectares of land on southern Vancouver Island.

With the promised financial support of The Land Conservancy, the CRD announced it is buying 3.5 kilometres of shoreline from Jordan River to Sandcut Beach, as well as lands adjacent to Sooke Potholes Regional Park and to the regional water supply. The areas are shown on a CRD map.

The purchase price was $18.8 million. Just over $3 million will come from the water commission to buy the area around Weeks Lake, the CRD's general manager for parks and community services, Lloyd Ruston, said. The remainder will come from the CRD's parks acquisition fund and TLC, which has agreed to contribute just over $5 million.

"Right now we don't have a firm commitment from the province," said Rushton. "What's been acquired is land of regional parks interest and watershed interest that Western Forest Products had available."

The areas are part of the 28,000 hectares of WFP land the provincial government allowed to be released from management under the tree farm license system in 2007.

"I think the CRD showed absolutely visionary leadership and they made a great decision representing the interests of all the people on this island," said the Dogwood Initiative's Vancouver Island campaigner Gordon O'Connor.

However, it covers just eight percent of the land the province allowed out of public management three years ago, he said. "We're still looking to the province to pony up and do a little more to resolve this situation."

With the CRD purchasing some of the most expensive properties, he added, it makes a proposal by the University of British Columbia to buy some of the land for a research forest much more affordable. The institution needs a loan from the province to make it happen, he said.

"We still have a pretty serious threat to this community," O'Connor said. "We're going to push really hard in the next three weeks and try to get that loan given to UBC. It feels like it's within grasp. It feels like we can do it."

Community and rural development minister Bill Bennett said earlier in the week the provincial government would like to help with the purchase but is having a hard time finding money.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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