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Squamish hopes to surpass province in riparian protection



Policy developers with the District of Squamish say their draft bylaw protecting riparian ecosystems out-strides the province’s own legislation, while at the same time pioneering a holistic approach designed to consider impacts on an entire watershed.

“We hope to have it in final bylaw form in two weeks,” said Peter Woods, environmental coordinator with the district. “By fall of 2008, we hope to have it adapted for final reading. It won’t necessarily change the lay of the land. It’ll just give more predictability to developers. People will know what to expect when they develop near a creek.”

According to Woods, the bylaw has been developed in consultation with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Squamish River Watershed Society and Squamish Nation, among others.

Currently, anyone developing near a creek must have a setback of 30 metres. Occasionally, developers go to DFO to authorize a variance.

“Sometimes,” said Woods, “they can cause damage. And they have to compensate for the damage, but that’s a shell game. This bylaw takes the gamble out of it.”

The municipalities of North Vancouver, Coquitlam and Campbell River have similar laws on the books, and Woods consulted their legislations for insight on process.

The draft text covers several types of watercourse, from permanent, fish bearing to non-permanent, non-fish bearing. Further, it covers three categories of development: existing neighbourhoods that can be subdivided, existing neighbourhoods that cannot be subdivided, and entirely new neighbourhoods. The latter category carries the highest protection, according to Woods and Mitch Gottardi, director of community services. Developments falling under that designation will have assessments, and the setbacks will be established thereafter.

“If (a developer) wants to vary from the matrix,” said Woods, “then the environmental review committee kicks in.”

The review committee would be composed of a DFO and a district representative, as well as a qualified environmental professional commissioned by the developer. The committee then puts recommendations forward to district staff.

The composition of the committee raised some concern when the bylaw was presented to council a few weeks ago. According to Councillor Greg Gardner, the qualified environmental professional is in a conflict of interest. However, during a recent public consultation event held at the Adventure Centre, the qualified environmental professional was not raised as a concern.

Rather than a uniform 30 metre setback across a given development, the proposed bylaw would allow for an averaging system, meaning one area deemed inconsequential in habitat terms could have a setback of just 10 metres, but then another area would have to compensate by adding the remaining 20 metres onto the initial 30.

At this point, Gottardi seems uncertain about recreational development surrounding riparian areas.

“Recreational use in the riparian area is a tough one,” he said. “In some spots, in ground zero, we don’t want it. In other places, it’s almost desirable.”

The bylaw, which would require an Official Community Plan amendment, applies only to freshwater bodies.