The Regional District of East Kootenay has postponed a decision on amending a plan that would set out guidelines for development permits on environmentally sensitive areas around Ta Ta Creek, Skookumchuk and Premier Lake.
The initiative faced resistance from local property owners who were concerned with the unclear mapping of environmentally sensitive areas in the region, while also decrying the spectre of additional government regulations.
The RDEK board of directors heard from both Cori Barraclough and Katey Kirkconnell who brought forward their concerns that centred on inadequate public consultation and the mapping of areas that were classified as environmentally sensitive.
Barraclough, a resident and freshwater ecologist who lives inside the affected area, brought her concerns to the RDEK during committee meetings on Thursday and the board meeting the next day.
“The mapping is not correct; there’s very many people who have problems with it, but we’re not saying this because we’re simply naysayers,” Barraclough said. “We’re not here simply to create trouble. We’re telling you that there are problems with the bylaw.”
Some of the mapping disagreements centred on whether an area was considered a floodplain or a riparian zone, which comes back to unclear definitions, she continued.
“The biggest problem is there’s no standard in which to judge the validity of the maps,” Barraclough said. “In other words, if you look in the bylaw, there’s no definition of the word ‘grassland’. There’s no definition of ‘old-growth’, there’s no definition of ‘habitat connectivity’ and there’s no definitions of how and when we determine whether something is sensitive.
“Without those definitions, whether an area gets included or excluded in a DP [development permit] area becomes either a personal opinion of staff, who have freely said they are not experts in the field, or it becomes the purview of qualified professionals such as myself, as to what the RDEK intends.”
Katey Kirkconnell, another local resident who lives in the affected area, also presented to the board. She echoed much of Barraclough’s concerns about mapping and residents having trouble getting informed about public meetings.
“I am not saying scrap all the work that has been done; I am not,” Kirkconnell said. “I am saying put the necessary standards and checks in place to ensure clarity. Fix those things that have been brought to your attention before you vote.”
Following both presentations, the board voted to delay introducing the bylaw for a few months in order to give staff more time to address resident concerns.
“We heard very specific issues with respect to this bylaw,” said Kimberley mayor Don McCormick. “I think what we need to do is address the specifics, or have staff address the specifics and however long that takes to do.”
Other directors questioned whether postponing the introduction of the bylaw would matter in the long run, as it appeared there were fundamental disagreements with the technical aspects.
“I think the hard part is staff have indicated that they think the bylaw is fine and the presentations we’ve heard say they don’t think its fine,” said Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft. “So right there, there’s a disconnect. Does having another public meeting, does that help with the disconnect? It might help with the communication piece, and it might show some good faith, but does it change the technical aspects of the issues there?
“Will there be the ability to change some of the mapping, and at the end of the day, if we delay this for three months and there is some back-and-forth and there is a public meeting, will the people involved be satisfied? I don’t know. Is it worth trying? I don’t know. But it does seem like we have a bit of an impasse here.”
After two years of planning, the Official Community Plan (OCP) amendments were presented to an open house in July 2017. The regional district reports that 68 people attended the open house and that letters of opposition, support and a petition were submitted during the following nine-week public feedback period.
While residents were opposed to the mapping criteria and upset with consultation, others were simply against any further government regulation.
“We do not agree with the establishment of E.S.A’s on private land and want to see this proposal dropped,” wrote Rebecca Pommier, in a letter to the RDEK. “There are enough rules, regulations and restrictions on private property.”