Mar 30 2005
Maple Ridge sets own stream standard
Maple Ridge has said no, again, to the province's new stream rules. Instead, it's sticking to its own system where setbacks of 30 metres from stream banks is the norm.
"I'm really proud of the work we've done around our creeks," Coun. Craig Speirs said last week as council unanimously rejected the Riparian Area Regulations.
"I think that we end up with a better product at the end of the day," added Coun. Ernie Daykin.
"I think we've made that commitment as a district."
While the legislation was introduced last year, only two of 14 municipalities have signed on to the new regulations, which allow developers to hire a consultant to determine how close development can come to fish-bearing streams.
However, by sticking to their own rules, cities may be opening themselves up to liability if scientific assessments show there should be different stream setbacks, says MLA Randy Hawes, who chaired the committee that came up with the new rules.
The MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission says the new rules are based on science rather than following arbitrary setbacks which can create sterile zones and plugged creeks.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection biologists both participated in drawing up the rules, he added.
"This is not a thing for developers. This is science based," Hawes said.
"The DFO was heavily involved in this from the beginning."
"Planners don't know anything about habitat in my view," he added.
Nevertheless, the majority Lower Mainland municipalities have rejected Victoria's initiative.
Hawes attributes that to the way the government announced the changes. "That's a fault in us not communicating very well," he said.
Should Maple Ridge ever adopt new stream protection rules, some streams would have their buffer areas dramatically reduced.
Environmental technologist Jim Sheehan told council recently Maple Ridge's smaller streams would be most affected by the new rules.
"The greater difference is for the smaller creeks of which there are many, and there are large numbers of them that are salmon bearing," Sheehan said.
Instead of setbacks from five to 30 metres measured from the top of a stream bank, with 30 metres currently the norm, the new regulations could let development come as close as 10 metres.
And rather than measuring setbacks from the top of a bank, the new rules measure from the high-water mark of a creek, further reducing buffer distances for some streams.
The Riparian Area Regulations take effect March 31 replacing the Streamside Protection Regulations. However, each city has the option of deciding whether to adopt the rules.
Mayor Kathy Morse said if there are good points about Riparian Area Regulations, those could be integrated into Maple Ridge's rules.
"We need a serious look at both, take what's best in RAR and see if we can't come up with some form of compromise," Morse said earlier.
Maple Ridge has previously endorsed its keeping its own rules.
And the Union of B.C. Municipalities has asked for a review of the effects of the new legislation before signing on.
Council's decision drew praise from Geoff Clayton, with the Alouette River Management Society.
"I clearly would like to congratulate the council for moving in that direction and making it unanimous," he said.
Clayton argues the previous Streamside Protection Regulations were also devised on a scientific basis.
He said Hawes, as a former mayor, should understand that municipalities have the right to determine what stream setbacks should be.
No matter what rules are followed, municipalities would always be subject to the Fisheries Act, he added.
Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Bill Barisoff said the government is considering extending the March 31 deadline.
And Coun. Craig Speirs said it's wrong to categorize Maple Ridge's existing rules as inflexible.
And he disagrees too much land is set aside to protect streams.
"What are we doing, trying to protect development or are we trying to protect a riparian area?"
Speirs said developing land is not a right but a privilege bestowed by the municipality if it thinks it's in the best interests of the community.
"I'm sure glad we're going our own way on this," he said.
"I just don't know why the province is trying to fix something that isn't broken."
Under the Riparian Area Regulations, if a developer doesn't want to follow the basic assessment method, the developer can hire an environmental professional to determine how close development can go to streams.
But one drawback is there's no requirement for local governments to review consultants' reports.
Sheehan's report to council notes also narrower riparian areas could mean increased risk of trees being blown down while increasing potential for bank stability and wildlife issues.
Building could even take place within some ravines, under the reduced setbacks.
Narrower stream buffer areas also could make it tougher for cities which are being downloaded with more regulation and environmental responsibilities.
But if a scientific assessment shows there should be a 15-metre setback on a stream and the municipality wants a 30-metre setback - the city should buy the land, Hawes said.
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