Millennium Park’s trees belong to the City of Powell River and its citizens.
At a special announcement made Monday, May 4, Mayor Dave Formosa, flanked by Darshan Sihota, president of Island Timberlands, displayed a signed contract and a cheque drawn on the city’s First Credit Union account for $1,181,250. The Millennium Park forestlands and its trees now belong exclusively to the community.
Formosa presided over a ceremony at city hall to formalize the sale and was flanked by Eagle Walz, president of Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), and councillors Karen Skadsheim, Maggie Hathaway, CaroleAnn Leishman, Russell Brewer and Jim Palm. Formosa said this journey started 11 years ago with Walz and PRPAWS. That group worked at creating and saving the property plus the stand of trees known as Millennium Park, which is contiguous to the Willingdon Beach Park and campsite, he said. It raised the money for what became the down payment to buy the Millennium Park land. Formosa was vehement the city knew, when the land was finally purchased, that it did not own the trees. Ever since the time the city bought the Millennium Park land, the city has been trying to reach a deal for the purchase of the trees, which Formosa termed as a living, growing asset.
“Today, we see the end of it,” Formosa said. “We came to a conclusion, with the help of the Powell River Community Forest, in evaluating the timber, agreeing what we could actually pay, and funding it. Here’s another win from our community forest.”
Formosa said the agreement is one that not everybody is 100 per cent happy with, but the deal is done and the people of Powell River own the Millennium Park trees outright.
Sihota said in reality, the project to own the Millennium Park land and trees has been underway for 10 years. Sihota said the contractual agreement was testament to Walz’s tenacity.
“For him, I think the biggest outcome is finally, now, Millennium Park,” Sihota said. “It was to be ready for the millennium, but 15 years later, it’s a reality, and that’s a really good thing.”
Formosa said the real win was keeping the chainsaws out of Millennium Park for all of the years the work on the project was being finalized.
“At the end of the day we were able to come together in negotiation; the corporation, the city and the people, and come up with a deal,” Formosa said.
The original agreement for the purchase of the trees called for two payments from the city because the community forest was providing the bulk of the funds for the purchase. It was initially believed that scheduling two payments for the purchase of the trees would be beneficial so that the community forest’s coffers would not be drained to the extent that no other community projects could become the beneficiaries of the community forest’s largesse. However, a couple of banner years of timber sales meant the trees could be purchased in one payment. As of May 4, the Millennium Park trees have been paid for entirely.
Walz said he was euphoric.
Community members, for 16 years, pitched in, created the Millennium Park committee, set up a bank account at First Credit Union and started advocating for the creation of the park, according to the PRPAWS president.
“With the involvement of some 2,000 members of the community, we managed to collect $84,000, and $75,000 of that ended up being a down payment for the land,” Walz said. “There was huge involvement and buy-in by the community.
“I’m absolutely delighted, after all of this time, with people and the company being patient, trying to work out a deal. It has benefitted both this community and Island Timberlands.”
Walz is hoping that Powell River will have a perpetual green belt from the ocean into the hills behind the city.
He added that he wanted to thank his friend, Formosa, who made this possible, and without whose input this sale would not be happening.
Walz also said that he wanted to ensure Powell River residents informed themselves about the facts regarding local forestry activity in the Powell River area.
“A fair bit of it was not fully informed,” he said.
It is evident that something quite unique has happened here, according to Walz.
“This is our Stanley Park. We have done it.”