Why Re-elect George Sirk As Regional Director?

By Roy L Hales

In my second interview with the candidates for Cortes Island’s Regional Director, I became aware that they have a very different vision of how the island should be governed. The current Director, Noba Anderson, portrays herself as an instigator, who “convenes conversations that would not otherwise happen.” Many of the island’s best known projects came about through her direct intervention. Though George Sirk chalked up a similar list of accomplishments during the nine years he represented the island (1996 – 2005), he stresses the idea that there should be more of a separation between the Regional Director and specific business projects. In this morning’s episode, I ask, why re-elect George Sirk as Regional Director? 

How A Bylaw Should Be Changed

“The most important issue for Cortes is to return trust to the political process,” he says.

Sirk points to Anderson’s recent attempt to push the proposed new zoning bylaw (#309) through prior to the election as an example of how that trust is being eroded. There was not room in the half hour podcast above to repeat his detailed analysis of this “half baked” legislation’s shortcomings. Encountering unexpected opposition, “the Director has consistently changed the story from ‘my and staff’s thorough review’ to, oh dear, it’s now become a ‘draft’…”  He adds that this legislation never went before the Advisory Planning Commission (APC). There were no public meetings prior to this. 

“When we did the 2002 bylaw, we … [held] public meetings – not hearings. Staff came. Up went the bylaw on the wall. People got a chance to see the old bylaw, the new bylaw, the changes envisioned in the new bylaw. Then they made comments on it. It went to the APC. The APC looked at it, they made comments. Staff looked at it. They adapted the bylaw to reflect those comments. Then they gave it to the Director, in that case it was me,  and I looked at it carefully  … I read it, I understand it, and I go ‘Okay, I agree with this. I think this can go forward to the island. That’s the role of the Director …. to represent the whole island.”

After this, the document is given a second reading and, after “plenty of notice,” presented to the public again.

In the case of Bylaw #309, Noba did not present it to the public until after the second hearing.

“We were given 13 days notice to review Bylaw 309, eighty-three pages of this legal document .… You are given 13 days to decide if you like it. Well, that’s not the way to do it and that’s not trust in the process.”

The Directors Job

This was not Sirk’s only criticism.

“I do not deny at all that Director Anderson has done a lot of good work on this island. She has been re-elected twice, a ten year term – so she has done good work (but) from my viewpoint a politician’s role has to be separated from a developers role … If I’m going to be the Regional Director and a rezoning proposal comes in front of me at a public meeting, I cannot be involved in the development. There is a political arm and a development arm: two sides. A politician cannot be developing land and then sitting at a public meeting and saying, ‘Oh yes, I think its great.’” 

“I don’t know if she has crossed the line and spent too much of her energy on the development side of particular proposals. For me, I’m more hands off on getting too involved with a particular development. Let the developer bring their case forward to the island. The island then will make their comments and I, as Director, will render down that vision of what the island wants and act accordingly.”

Why Is He Running.

Sirk moved to Victoria towards the end of his last term. He returned to Cortes a little over two years ago and, since then, has been repeatedly asked to run for office again. Sirk initially laughed at the idea, but recently has had his own qualms about the way things are being done.

“I was really not happy with the political climate here. So many people have been shut down. They have not been included. So I decided, ‘Okay, I’m going to give this a try and see if the island wants my style.’”

“I’m open. I listen to people. I want to hear everybody’s point of view. I want to engage and that is how a Director should be. Sure its great to have questionnaires and the like, but really the island has a voice and the Director has to keep their ear on the ground and listen to what the island wants.”

Re-elect George Sirk
Kw’as Park – Roy L Hales photo

What Did George Sirk Accomplish?

So what did George accomplish during his previous term in office?

Example #1: Creating KW’AS ParkA group of Cortes residents were outraged when a private citizen wanted to log off some of the trees and build a private airstrip. George supported the idea of a regional district park …

“I dialogued with the Klahoose. They were absolutely, totally part of the story because it is crown land and Klahoose has laid claims to all the crown lands of Cortes, their traditional territory … Pierre De Trey was instrumental in doing all that work. We got the park and Pierre and I surveyed all the trails, laid them out and I even worked on them for a little bit and then we hired people to build those trails .…” 

Example #2: Harbour Authority Cortes Island

“During the initial divestiture for the Federal government, because they wanted to get rid of all the docks, I got involved as a broker in between the federal government and a group on the island that were trying to take over these wharves … I represented the [Strathcona Regional District] board at that level, and once the project got going I stepped back …”

Example #3: Whaletown Commons: – Back when MacMillan Bloedel was logging this area, George SIrk and David Shipway informed the industry giant that it was logging too close to the creek. After he became Director, George started the process that would eventually lead to the park. 

Example #4 : The Red Granite Point Beach Access – When the Seattle Yacht Club subdivided its Cortes Bay property, George ensured that the public was given access to the beach. 

Looking up at Whaletown Commons – Roy L Hales photo

Example #5: The Cortes Skateboard Park: came into being after a parent and three or four kids approached Sirk with the request that a park be built.

“It took six years. I budgeted, put money away, campaigned on it. … We got it done because four kids came up to me and said we’d like a skate board park.”

Example #6 : Rezoning in the Gorge – “I voted in favour of the [shellfish] industry. I voted in favour of growing food, that is what it came down to. That was controversial, but it went in. A five million dollar industry. The zoning bylaws said there could not be any industrial mechanization in the Gorge. That is a very important thing because right now things have gotten out of hand and we seem to have industry there.  We need to sort that out. We need to have the industry, upland property owners and the public go into discussion and find a solution to what is happening in the Gorge. You can’t just ignore bylaws …”

Example #7: The Newt Signage – Those “little sticks” on the road are actually little animals crossing Cortes’ roads to get to the forest, and in the Spring they will return to the ponds. “I got the Ministry of Highways to approve those signs.” It is quite a process.

Example #8: Funding Cortes Community Radio – when it was still a pirate radio station. “Amber Sprungman came up to me and said. ‘We want to start a radio station.’ During his last three years in office, George ensured that CKTZ received a $1,000 ‘grant in aid’ every year.

Cortes Community Housing: Rainbow Ridge

“I’ve been painted with this brush that I’m not in favour of affordable housing. Oh really, where did I ever say that? What I am in favour of is smart housing. “

“I am in favour of the lake, I want [Hague Lake] to be protected. That is paramount. Our environment comes first and our human needs come second. If you are going to have a development [like Cortes Community Housing’s Rainbow Ridge] above the lakes, it has to be zero nutrient loading. You cannot have any effluent going into the lake.”

George SIrk
George Sirk – Roy L Hales photo

“ … Once these lakes go completely eutrophic … all the algae blooms and the fish die … that doesn’t come back for millennia … So many lakes have died and our lake is poised, I cannot say it is a healthy lake.”   

“You have to poll the people around you as well and ask, ‘Do you want this in your back yard? …. That has not been asked.”

“All I’m saying is ask the questions … Get it right, supply the answers . … You know, seventeen or eighteen years ago there was a development proposed for that area and it got turned down. … [People were concerned about] septic systems leaching into the soil. It was all going to go into the lake. Everything in that area, that is where it ends up because there is a sheet of hardpan under that gravel …” 

(In the podcast I point out that the Cortes Housing Committee intends to rectify some of the discharge problems that resulted after the area was logged. George responded that while this is important, they are dealing with surface runoff. He is concerned about potential effluents from additional septic systems.)   

“All I’m alerting the people involved is, ‘Hey, it didn’t work back then. Make this proposal zero net loading. Lets have a look at it.”

If the proposal is viable, George says he would support it – as he did in the recent rezoning meeting pertaining to four additional units in Cortes Senior village.

Bike & Walking Trails

Over the next four years, George would like to build a system of bicycle and walking corridors. They could use Ministry of Transportation right of ways and fund the program with revenues from the gas tax. There are inexpensive routes between Manson’s Landing and Smelt Bay, in Whaletown between Robertson Road and the ferry, and between Squirrel Cove and Tork Road.

“A lot of people are walking and pushing their buggies, or cycling, and it would be better to have safe corridors … Talk to Klahoose and see if they are interested as well. I think it is time to actually get it built.” 

Working Together

“I had a really good relationship with the other members of the Regional District Board. I would rekindle that cooperative spirit of working within the Federation. … Bringing the board together, with staff, working more amicably is one of my stronger goals and [my expectations are] based on my previous history.”

“I look forward to the All Candidates Meeting [on Thursday, Oct 11, at 7 PM]. I look forward to the questions that the public is going to put forward to myself and Director Anderson and to see what the island wants.” 

Top photo: The Government wharf in Gorge Harbour, managed by the Harbour Authority of Cortes Island – Roy L Hales

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