August 2-9, 2004

New BC rule clarifies steps for compliance with habitat protection provisions of Fisheries Act

A new regulation in British Columbia is designed to provide clear direction to local governments and developers on the steps necessary to meet the requirements of the federal Fisheries Act, which prohibits activities that harm fish habitat. Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Bill Barisoff said the Riparian Areas regulation will encourage environmentally responsible construction of housing and other developments, while protecting streams, fish and fish habitat. The regulation requires developers to complete a detailed scientific assessment for any project built within 30 metres of a streambank.

"We are encouraging an environmentally responsible approach to development by streamlining the process and making it simpler to meet the federal government's requirements," Barisoff said. "Local governments and developers will have more say in the decisions that affect their communities, and our science-based framework will enable them to make those decisions without risking damage to fish habitat."

Previously, local governments in the process of approving new building developments had to follow strict, predetermined setbacks from streams, regardless of any unique circumstances that might exist. Moreover, any deviation from the prescribed setback required the local government to have an Inter-Government Co-operation Agreement in place with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and to use a referral process involving senior governments for review and approval.

Under the new rules, if local government believes that development is appropriate in these areas, developers may either adopt a predetermined setback, or they may have a scientific assessment completed by a qualified environmental professional to determine the setback necessary to provide the necessary protection.

"The previous approach to streamside protection was overly prescriptive, using a one-size-fits-all approach that didn't consider the specific needs of each stream," said Barisoff. "Under the new regulation, whatever amount of streamside protection the science tells us is needed will be provided."

The regulation was developed by the provincial government in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM), as well as other interested parties, such as the Urban Development Institute. The province will also host a workshop at the upcoming UBCM convention and will hold further discussions with local governments regarding the implementation of the regulation, providing an opportunity for further input.

"This regulation will assist local governments in protecting fish habitat, while encouraging environmentally responsible development," UBCM president Frank Leonard observed, adding that his organization "will work with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection to develop information, training and pilot projects."

"We believe this new regulation balances the environmental, economic and social needs of communities," said Maureen Enser, executive director of the Urban Development Institute. "We applaud the provincial government for finding a solution that addresses the concerns of environmental groups, landowners and municipalities. It was a difficult task but, in the end, fish habitat is better protected and red tape is reduced."

The rules will apply to the following rapidly growing regional districts and all municipalities within them: Greater Vancouver (except the City of Vancouver), Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet, Sunshine Coast, Powell River, Central Okanagan, North Okanagan, Okanagan-Similkameen, Thompson-Nicola, Columbia-Shuswap, Capital, Comox-Strathcona, Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo.

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