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Web site could speed up LRMP process



Sea to Sky stakeholders may have the chance to comment on their Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) online if the Lillooet public input Web site is seen as a success.

Online users were given the chance to provide feedback on the Lillooet LRMP during a three-week time period after the ministry of sustainable resource management created a prototype Web site in partnership with a non-profit organization called the Southern Interior Forest Extension and Research Partnership (SIFERP).

"It's like doing a public open house only it's doing it in the electronic world instead," said Dave Whiting, a strategic planning manager for the southern interior region of the ministry of sustainable resource management.

"I think we're breaking new ground here."

During the first three weeks in February, 160 people logged onto the Web site.

"That was a good response," said Chris Hollstedt, the executive director of SIFERP.

There were also a number of people who sent direct comments to the ministry through e-mails, she said.

There was only a three-week window to gather the information because the government is expecting ministry staff to reach an agreement with key interests in Lillooet by March.

The complete details of the survey have yet to be determined as SIFERP is compiling the data this week to hand over to the ministry.

Once the ministry has analyzed the information they will then be able to determine if online information gathering is a useful tool in the LRMP process.

"It's probably a tool we would want to consider for the Sea to Sky process," said Betsy Terpsma, the communications co-ordinator for the ministry of sustainable resource management.

The Lillooet Web site was created in roughly two months. The ministry provided the planning and the content and SIFERP designed the site and the database.

Users were given a name and a password so they could access the site more than once and still be counted as one user.

"You could go back and forth over the course of a couple of weeks and work on your survey," said Whiting.

For the purposes of the online survey, the Lillooet LRMP was broken down and compartmentalized into different sections. For example, tourism, conservation, and forestry all had their own sections, which had introductory information as well as an outline of the specific objectives and strategies.

"That way people could cut to the chase," said Whiting, allowing them to answer those questions that were most important to them.

There were 800 survey questions in total but users could fill out as many or as few sections as they wanted.

The idea was to get as much feedback as possible. SIFERP posted ads in local papers introducing the Web site and encouraging people to log on.

"We wanted to make sure that the broadest number of people could provide input," said Hollstedt.

The Web site also allowed people who were not comfortable speaking out at public meetings to ensure that their voices were heard too, she said.

Whiting said the public meetings with the various stakeholders are still the most important tools to gather LRMP information and feedback. The Web site is just one of many tools the ministry is using to gauge public opinion.

"It seems to be a very cost effective way of getting public input," said Hollstedt.

"(The cost) was significantly less than if they had a whole bunch of public meetings."

Cost is a big issue for the provincial government as the Lillooet LRMP has been at the table for over five years. There is still no consensus on some of the recommendations.

Last year the table submitted two proposals to the former NDP government. The government decided on one of those proposals the day before calling an election. Some table members raised concerns about that decision and the Liberals promised to revisit the planning process.

As it stands now, if an agreement cannot be reached by March, ministry staff will provide a draft land-use plan.

The ministry will then decide the future of the LRMP in Lillooet.

"We're trying to produce as good an LRMP as we can," said Whiting.

Both Whiting and Hollstedt are confident the Web site was a success and will benefit the LRMP process in Lillooet.

"It's a new approach," said Hollstedt.

"We gave people an opportunity to comment on the approach (on the site)."

Ministry representatives involved in the Sea to Sky LRMP will be waiting for the results of the Lillooet survey before committing to a public input Web site for this area.