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Minister Bell could stop Victoria marina on 'public interest' grounds

Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell has been quoted saying that if Victoria doesn't want a mega-yacht marina in its harbour it can rezone, a statement that ignores his own power to quash the project.

Proponents of the marina, Edmonton based WAM Development Group, have applied to the province to lease a 2.6-hectare Crown water lot. The minister, according to the Land Act, can give them that lease to public land “as the minister considers advisable in the public interest.”

But earlier this week, after the project cleared its final federal hurdles, Bell was quoted in the Victoria Times Colonist saying, “It’s now up to the City of Victoria to rezone the property slated for the mega-yacht marina if it doesn’t want the development to go ahead.”

And CFAX radio reported, “He's been getting mixed messages from Victoria . . . Bell says the current civic zoning would allow the project, but city council has indicated it does not favour it.” He would wait “weeks but not months” for the city to clarify, the story said.

Bell's statement seems to contradict advice the province gave Victoria in 2008 when the province's Integrated Land Management Bureau sent the city a letter saying the province did not support rezoning part of the water lot as park until the marina proposal went through.

And yesterday the Victoria chamber of commerce put out a news release saying rezoning would leave the city legally vulnerable and estimated it could cost the city $16 to $23 million in court.

Opponents of the marina who argue that the project would detract from public use of the harbour to benefit a few people, say it's within Bell's power to refuse the project. In April, 2009, a lawyer acting for the South Island Sea Kayaking Association, Irene Faulkner, sent Bell's predecessor Ron Cantelon a seven-page letter arguing that it would be in the “public interest” to deny the application under the Land Act.

A spokesperson for Bell's ministry did not return the Tyee's call by posting time.

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

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