Why Boycott "Bare" Mountain?

Would you support a corporation that destroys the environment, disrespects indigenous heritage and tramples on people's rights?

Developers for Bear Mountain Resort and the Bear Mountain Interchange have destroyed two First Nations caves near Victoria, BC. They demolished irreplaceable karst formations hundreds of thousands of years old for the sake of profit and convenient highway access. The City of Langford promised residents that the Langford Lake Cave would be protected. Instead, it has been closed off permanently with a rebar grate and tons of broken rock (below).

Construction is killing vulnerable species and rare ecosystems. Bulldozers and excavators have trashed the watercourses. Mud and silt are suffocating red-legged frogs and pacific tree frogs in Spencer's Pond and Florence Lake. Garry oak and arbutus ecosystems are reduced to rubble. Orange sludge is polluting watercourses downstream from Bear Mountain (below).

The project and its funding were not approved by voters in Langford and it faces intense opposition and even legal challenges. The city has aggressively promoted the expensive and short-sighted Bear Mountain Interchange and continues to pursue funding on behalf of developers in spite of over 2200 petitioners demanding an open vote and full disclosure of financial estimates and repayment terms.

Developers are trying to intimidate First Nations leaders and environmentalists. Bear Mountain owner Len Barrie and his top deputy Les Bjola have admitted to reporters that they "orchestrated" two violent confrontations, directing over a hundred Bear Mountain construction workers to disrupt a First Nations gathering at Spaet Cave in 2006 and a small rally on the highway in 2008. Encouraged by their bosses, the contractors swarmed both gatherings en masse and pushed, shoved, kicked, spat at and threatened native leaders and local conservationists. Their actions were captured by TV cameras and Youtube. A local blog has named Len Barrie "Vancouver Island's Most Racist Developer."

What was once public forest is now bare rock. Crown forest land ended up in the hands of Bear Mountain Resort and Len Barrie after it was flipped twice in 2001. Now, the bottom line is trashed ecosystems and hundreds of millions in profit pocketed by developers while the province looks the other way.

Does this sound like ethical business practices?

Is this sustainable development?

Why would anyone do business with Len Barrie and his Bare Mountain?

Sample letter to investors

Dear Investor,

Welcome to the Hall of Flame, part of the Boycott Bear Mountain campaign. We are writing to advise you on concerns that arise from your involvement in the Bear Mountain Resort in Langford, BC. Due to mounting public outrage over the loss of First Nations cultural sites and environmental degradation in Langford, we are obliged to disclose that the resort, along with the new interchange project, fails to meet basic standards of sustainability, respect for aboriginal rights, and due diligence. We are contacting Bear Mountain's investors and others connected to this project and releasing their names in the public interest.

Most investors give careful thought to their legacies and to the mark they will leave on the world. As a shareholder in Bear Mountain Resort, you share the responsibility for the destruction of the land at Spaet Mountain and the abuse of people living nearby.

Given the following risks and liabilities inherent in the development of the resort and the new highway interchange to serve it, we urge you to terminate your involvement in this project immediately.

  • Construction at the resort and the interchange site is wiping out irreplaceable First Nations heritage sites. The highway interchange will damage or destroy a significant cave used by First Nations for hundreds of generations. A second sacred cave was demolished at Bear Mountain Resort last year.
  • Interchange construction is already eradicating endangered ecosystems and vulnerable species. Chainsaws and bulldozers have leveled several groves of Garry Oaks, which represent the rarest ecosystem in Canada, and degraded pond habitat for Red-Legged Frogs, a federal and provincial Species at Risk. Watercourses are fouled by toxic runoff.
  • The area landowners, including Bear Mountain Resort, are legally obligated to repay the city's loan. The city has applied for a federal and provincial grant to finish the project, but that application is likely dead in the water. Municipalities are not permitted to give cash grants to private companies.
  • Future litigation may force Bear Mountain to compensate local First Nations for loss of their land rights. Court-ordered environmental remediation could potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • The Bear Mountain Resort is the target of an international boycott campaign launched by local residents to demand developers take responsibility for cleaning up the mess they have made.

First Nations sites destroyed

The destruction of the Spaet Cave has ruptured relationships with First Nations. The area of Spaet (Skirt) Mountain is a shared place for ritual going back hundreds of generations. The Tsartlip First Nation, one of the bands with a claim and treaty rights to the area, has been shut out of negotiations with the province and the developer. Two neighbouring bands signed an agreement to allow construction on the mountaintop to proceed in exchange for compensation. Meanwhile, the Tsartlip First Nation rejected the deal, and was subsequently - and illegally - locked out of official meetings. ("Tsartlip veto Skirt Mtn. cave deal," Times Colonist, Dec. 20, 2006). The only remaining remedy is a potentially costly and disruptive court battle.

After the agreement was signed, the cave was demolished. The underground pool was drained and the cavern was filled with truck tires and stumps while blasting took place. The roof of the cave was removed and the surrounding area bulldozed. The stumps and tires were later removed but the cave was never rebuilt.

A second cave, also identified as a shared cultural site for local bands, is located in the path of the Bear Mountain Interchange near the Trans-Canada Highway. It has been permanently damaged by the blasting and excavation splitting open underground caverns connected to the main cave. The City of Langford promised to "protect" the cave, but instead city workers drilled and welded a rebar grate over the entrance and piled tons of broken rock on top of the rebar earlier this year. The cave is no longer useable by speleologists (cave experts), First Nations, local schoolchildren and recreationists. The closing of the cave precluded any assessment by the provincial Archaeology Branch, which has failed to act in keeping with BC's Heritage Conservation Act to protect First Nations sites. Village sites excavated along the Bear Mountain Parkway were also destroyed without any assessment or oversight. (See attached article, "Heritage Conservation Act or Heritage Destruction Act?")

The geology of the interchange area is dominated by karst, a limestone-based rock characterized by underground watercourses and caverns. Experts warn that blasting in karst areas without proper assessments can cause widespread contamination through underground channels. Karst areas may also be subject to sinkholes and collapses, especially when aquifers are altered. The interchange site is literally on shaky ground, and yet the city has failed in its due diligence and carried out no karst assessments.

Environmental damage

At the site of the Bear Mountain Interchange, the project is moving forward with little regard for mitigating environmental damage. Construction has proceeded without formal approvals for watercourse diversions from BC's Ministry of the Environment. Runoff from bulldozed and excavated watercourses at the site has contaminated wetlands and nearby Spencer's Pond. At the time of writing, mud and silt are suffocating Pacific Tree Frogs and Red-Legged Frogs, a provincially and federally-listed Species at Risk. ("Work Begins, Permits be Damned," Monday Magazine, March 19 2008.)

Downstream from the construction zone at Bear Mountain Resort, an unidentified orange sludge is leaching into Florence Lake. (See attached photo.) A mass die-off of amphibians in the lake has been observed, coinciding with the the start of construction 18 months ago and the first appearance of the sludge. Prelimary lab tests of the sludge show the substance contains 1000 times the background level of manganese, as well as elevated levels of barium and cobalt. (Enkon Environmental report, February 2007. Results for 2008 pending.) The results are consistent with the drilling fluid often used in mass quantities for rock drilling and road construction. If, as we believe, the underground water channels are contaminated with drilling mud, the sludge will continue to seep into local creeks and lakes for years to come. Clean up and remediation of underground sites may be technically feasible but it would be prohibitively expensive. And yet, the only recourse for landowners affected by the runoff may be to seek a court order demanding such remediation. (See attached legal letter to the city of Langford.)

Residents are calling for a halt before the further damage occurs. They demand a moratorium on development at least until water diversion permits and mitigation measures are in place.

Public opinion and publicity

The interchange project faces widespread community opposition in the City of Langford and across Vancouver Island. Much of the controversy is fueled by the fact that Langford's aggressively pro-development council has sidestepped the usual voter referendum on capital projects. Langford designated the highway project part of a Local Service Area agreement, which required only the consent of the developers. Over 2250 local residents signed a petition demanding the city put the interchange loan to a vote. Langford dismissed the petition and one councillor suggested voters did not understand what they were signing. ("Blackwell Balks at Petition Result," Monday Magazine, Feb. 13 2008.)

Interchange construction was delayed for months by protestors. News stories about the interchange, Langford City Council, and protestors have dominated local and regional television reports and news radio for weeks at a time. More than a hundred stories and letters appeared in Victoria's newspapers and journals in February and March 2008. The Globe and Mail and the Report on Business have recently published unflattering reports of environmental damage and the First Nations blockade. (See "The Bull and the Bear," Report on Business, March 28 2008.) Public awareness about problems with the interchange has reached hundreds of thousands of consumers, and web polls show the majority opinion is at least two to one against the interchange. ("Do you support the construction of the Bear Mountain interchange?" CFAX poll, Jan. 12, 2008.)

Developers are trying to intimidate First Nations leaders and environmentalists. Bear Mountain owner Len Barrie and his top deputy Les Bjola have admitted to reporters that they "orchestrated" two violent confrontations, directing over a hundred Bear Mountain construction workers to disrupt a First Nations gathering at Spaet Cave in 2006 and a small rally on the highway in 2008. Encouraged by their bosses, the contractors swarmed both gatherings en masse and pushed, shoved, kicked, spat at and threatened native leaders and local conservationists. Their actions were captured by TV cameras, viewed by thousands on Youtube, and condemned by residents across the region.

In April 2008, after a full year of confrontation and months of delays to the start of interchange construction, local environmentalists launched the "Boycott Bare Mountain "campaign, selling T-shirts and bumper stickers, disclosing environmental risks and liabilities, and naming investors to the Hall of Shame. The boycott has already won the support of leading US and Canadian environmental groups.

"Non-traditional" financing

Normally, city road-building projects are funded by the Municipal Finance Authority. In this case, the City of Langford acknowledges that the road primarily benefits the Bear Mountain Resort, a private company. The city is applying for credit on behalf of the developers. This has led to a widespread perception that Langford is improperly conferring a benefit on a corporation, a charge that Langford mayor Stew Young denies.

The MFA rejected Langford's application, citing the "non-traditional " nature of the third-party loan and the financial risk to its triple-A credit rating. Now the city is applying to TD Bank for the interchange loan. We have contacted the President and CEO of TD Bank, asking that the company apply its new Environment Policy and Environmental Management Framework to this application. TD Bank is reviewing our information package and assessing the environmental and social risks as part of its commitment to sustainability. It is likely the assessment will result in further delays even if Langford's application is successful.

The city and the developers chose not to consult with local residents, respect aboriginal rights, comply with environmental best practices, or cooperate with the community in any way. Justice demands we use every form of leverage available to us.


We ask that you review the enclosed documents relating to First Nations cultural sites, environmental liability, and geological rarities in the area. Then, we urge you to take the high ground and divest from Bear Mountain Resort. Once you have informed us of your divestment, we will remove you from the Hall of Shame.

Thank you very much for you time and attention, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely yours,

Zoe Blunt
Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network


Save SPAET Our Sacred Mountain, online petition
Cheryl Bryce: "Heritage Conservation Act or Heritage Destruction Act?"
Adrian Duncan: "
City of Langford - Spencer Road Interchange," BC Speleological Federation
Adolf Ceska: "
Environmental review missed many rare plants"
Robin Gage: Legal letter to Langford City Council
Lyle Jenish: "The Bull and the Bear," Report on Business, 3/28/08
Jason Youmans: "Blackwell Balks at Petition Results," Monday Magazine, 2/13/08
Bill Cleverley: "
Loan plan for interchange abandoned," Times Colonist, 3/13/08.
Photo of orange sludge, March 2008

cc: W. Edmund Clark, President and CEO, TD Bank Financial Group
Lillian Ranalli, Senior Manager, Corporate Environmental Affairs, Government and Community Relations

Please don't call it the Bear Mountain Bailout

The public hearing on March 16 was much more civil than other meetings I’ve seen at Langford City Hall, but I still had to lean over the podium and grab the microphone to be heard over all the people shouting at me – not just the audience, but also the chair of the hearing, deputy mayor Denise Blackwell. It’s not easy to deliver a simple five-minute presentation to Langford Council when the pro-development crowd doesn’t agree with you.

I made some enemies that night when I suggested to Blackwell that the best thing she could do to restore Langford Council’s integrity was resign. I added that Mayor Stew Young and Chief Planner Matthew Baldwin should also resign in response to increasing concerns about biased decision-making around Skirt Mountain.

It was the second public hearing for this development proposal. Skirt Mountain – known for thousands of years as Spaet Mountain, and more recently as the home of Bear Mountain Resort – is a bluffy knob rising 340 meters from a fault line next to Goldstream Provincial Park, fifteen kilometers west of Victoria, BC.

Thanks to Len Barrie, the former NHL player turned real estate developer, Skirt Mountain has been “terraformed by mountaintop removal,” according to local environmentalist Ingmar Lee. In April 2007, Lee set up a tree-sit camp to stop construction of the Spencer Road Interchange and protect the remaining garry oaks and arbutus bluffs on the mountainside below Bear Mountain Resort. I helped kick off the tree sit by spending a wet and stormy week camped on a platform high up in the limbs of a big old red cedar.

That cedar and all its neighbours are gone now. Last February, a contingent of more than sixty RCMP special forces arrested the tree sitters and closed the area for three days while machines clearcut the site. Soon after, the city borrowed $10 million from TD Bank on behalf of the developers, and construction on the new interchange lurched forward.

Today the interchange is almost complete, but it leads nowhere. A muddy, impassable track marks the future road up Skirt Mountain to Len Barrie’s house, the golf course, and all the unsold condos at Bear Mountain Resort.

That’s about to change, if the South Skirt Mountain Village developers get their way. They’re planning a mini-city on that rugged slope, with towers six stories high and higher and 2800 condos with a total value of $1.7 billion. Apparently the condos will sell for about $607,000 each. (I did the math.)

It’s bad news for garry oaks, songbirds, owls, woodpeckers, and eagles. Anyone who enjoys fresh air and fresh water or opposes urban sprawl has a stake in this project as well.

Predictably, Langford’s mayor and council are cheerleading the development. In February, local news broadcasts showed Mayor Young enthusing over the construction boom the project would create, followed by footage of Young at the public hearing berating a retired schoolteacher who lives on Florence Lake, next to Skirt Mountain. Local residents’ complaints centred around concerns about damage to the watershed at Florence Lake and loss of wildlife habitat. Their testimony was interrupted by Young’s frequent diatribes against “you people” making “the same complaints time after time.”

Joni Olsen, a band councillor for the Tsartlip First Nation, attended the February hearing to tell Langford Council that the graves of her ancestors are on Skirt Mountain and that development would destroy “this beautiful place.” The city and Bear Mountain Resort have already demolished two culturally-significant caves in the area.

“That’s 8,000 years of history that you guys are going to build on. That’s appalling,” Olsen said. Young let the remarks pass without comment.

The mayor’s bad behaviour is nothing new to city council observers. But the following month brought an unwelcome surprise. On March 12, Langford council voted to apply for federal stimulus money for the road from the interchange to Bear Mountain Resort. Naturally, I wanted to ask them if this was a bailout for Len Barrie.

But as soon as I brought up the subject at the public hearing on March 16, Denise Blackwell shut me down, insisting that I could not speak about the bailout or about Bear Mountain. She said the three projects – Bear Mountain, South Skirt Mountain and the Spencer Road interchange – are not connected. In fact, they are strung together like beads on a string by that muddy track of a road.

The developers of Bear Mountain Resort and South Skirt Mountain are partners in a user-pay Local Service agreement for the Spencer Road Interchange. Remember, back in 2008 Langford Council said the deal would fund the new interchange and taxpayers would pay nothing. Now Langford will try to force taxpayers to fork over millions of dollars for the project.

South Skirt Mountain has its own user-pay agreement. Staff reports say the developers will build the new subdivision’s roads and the interchange as part of a $28 million contribution to the city’s services and amenities. None of this jibes with Langord’s $24.5 million taxpayer-funded grant application. Furthermore, the Community Charter expressly forbids local governments from giving out grants to private companies.

I realize that Langford Council and the developers have compelling reasons for making this project a top priority, regardless of the cost to everyone else. They would be the first to tell us that the interchange and the parkway are crucial for Langford’s future, and taxpayers should be grateful for the opportunity to pay for them. Imagine the alternative – if the developers can’t afford to build the road, the interchange to nowhere would look pretty stupid, wouldn’t it?

But please, don’t call it the Bear Mountain bailout. Denise Blackwell will thank you to stop that kind of talk right now.

Land-Use "Bullies" Put On Notice

Zoe Blunt with local supporters at Langford City Hall, Feb. 27, 2009. Photo: Edward Hill, Goldstream Gazette

Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network (VIC FAN) is challenging a public hearing where Langford's mayor verbally abused and intimidated residents opposed to the Bear Mountain Parkway and South Skirt Mountain Village development.

News reports from the hearing on February 23 show an angry Mayor Stew Young browbeating a retired schoolteacher, calling her remarks "negative" and telling her to "sit down." Other speakers were repeatedly interrupted and confronted by the mayor, who had earlier told reporters that he believes the development should be approved regardless of the public's objections.

VIC FAN has also learned that the city and the developers have failed to notify — let alone consult with — the Tsartlip First Nation, which claims SPAET (Skirt) Mountain as part of its traditional territory. For thousands of years, the mountain has been a shared site where families from the Esquimalt, Songhees, Tsartlip and other First Natons would gather for ceremonies and celebrations.

Now VIC FAN is demanding a new public hearing on the South Skirt Mountain development. A February 27 letter to Mayor Stew Young and Langford City Council spells out several violations of the Local Government Act, and warns that if Langford adopts the controversial Skirt Mountain rezoning bylaw, it could be quashed by the Supreme Court.

Read the whole story, with photos and video, at ForestAction.ca. Thank you!