The Millstone River in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)

Regional district looks at value of Nanaimo’s natural assets

Report focused on the Millstone River could inform future decisions on corporate asset management

Regional District of Nanaimo directors are looking at ways to measure the value of natural assets, starting with the Millstone River.

The RDN, City of Nanaimo and non-profit Partnership for Water Sustainability B.C. teamed for the Millstone River ecological accounting process report in 2020, to be used to inform future decisions on corporate asset management planning. For purposes of the report, an area of the Millstone from Brannen Lake to Nanaimo’s harbour, 15 kilometres in length, was used, including eight kilometres in RDN electoral Area C (Extension-Pleasant Valley) and seven kilometres within city limits.

Julie Pisani, RDN drinking water and watershed protection program coordinator, told the News Bulletin ecological accounting is a way to measure the worth and value of an ecological asset. It looks at B.C. Assessment data “as a proxy” for the value of the land occupied by the stream and riparian setback.

“If we’re going to look at our natural assets – our ecological systems in the region – the same way we look at our infrastructure, then it would follow that there would be the understanding that you have to maintain and manage those assets for the longevity of the service and benefit that they bring to the community,” said Pisani.

When looking at a river, it is providing a service along its whole length, including habitat, green space, storm water conveyance and drainage, she said.

B.C. Assessment numbers for 2021 stated the typical assessed value for a Nanaimo home was $527,000, or $502,000 for a rural Nanaimo home.

According to the report, the “combined natural commons asset value” totals $80 million. For the Millstone floodplain in the RDN area, there are 253 rural residential parcels of land, 46 agricultural use parcels and 16 in the industrial/commercial classification. Within the city, there are approximately 488 land parcels “near or adjacent” to the river, with some rural areas that include farms, urban reserve land and other zoning, the report said. Pisani said there were park land, residential and small commercial areas as well.

While the report couldn’t establish anything definitive for the effect of the river on land parcel value within the RDN, it did find assessed values of land in the city touching the Millstone, in Bowen Park and Buttertubs Marsh, were four- to eight-per cent higher than land away from the river.

Over the last 10 years, the city and RDN have invested approximately $560,000 annually for related items such as park land acquisition, enhancements in infrastructure and management. For the city, Pisani said expenditures related to purchase of properties along the river, such as park land in the East Wellington area, and enhancement of the river for salmon habitat.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo adds up the value of natural infrastructure

The study was a pilot project, Pisani said, testing methodology of applying an asset management lens to the RDN’s natural assets, and ultimately, that sort of information could be included in a wider corporate asset management planning frameworks under way for both city and RDN.

“This ignites a conversation further,” said Pisani. “How do local governments then plan for the maintenance and well-being of the ecological and natural assets in that same lens of how are we planning for the long-term management and maintenance of the assets that deliver services to our residents?”

The committee recommendation will go before the RDN board at its April 27 meeting.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo council approves 59-unit apartment near Millstone


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