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Ministry addresses Sicamous council’s concerns over riparian report timelines

8-month backlog down to 10 day average
Any development within 30 metres of a body of water in B.C. must go through the Riparian Areas Protection Regulation assessment process, which has a reduced return timeline thanks to an expanded team. (File photo)

Frustration around provincial riparian environmental regulations backlogging development work in Sicamous has been cleared up for council.

At the July 26 committee of the whole meeting, Angela Cameron, senior aquatic habitat biologist with the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Management, explained the Riparian Areas Protection Regulation (RAPR) more clearly for council and noted a previous eight-month backlog of applications has recently been cleared.

Council had expressed concern and frustration at past meetings about the turnaround times for the necessary qualified environmental professional (QEP) reports to be done, submitted to the provincial government, approved and sent back, which all has to happen before council can approve a development permit in the district. Coun. Gord Bushell noted council had been told there was an eight-month wait.

The average time it takes for provincial biologists to return a submitted review from a local government is 30 days, said Cameron, and they are only taking 10 days to return reports lately. The eight-month wait was dealt with as Cameron was tasked with updating the process and hiring six extra biologists to help with the reviews. She also stressed communication would be much easier now with the expanded team.

READ MORE: ‘Timelines brutal’: Sicamous council to urge ministry to speed up riparian area development process

Asked if local governments could cut the middleman and do their own environmental assessments, Cameron said it’s possible, but they would have to hire their own QEP who must be registered with an appropriate professional association and have taken and passed the RAPR course.

Councillors said they had heard the City of Langford doesn’t have to defer to the province for development in proximity to riparian areas, and asked how they are able to be their own authority. Cameron corrected the rumour, stating Langford doesn’t have that authority and there have been cases regarding this that have resulted in litigation. She said there are cities like Abbotsford, Surrey and Richmond that don’t require submission to the RAPR system, but that is because they have a ‘meet or exceed’ portion in their bylaw zoning that requires every development to include a blanket setback, usually the full 30 metres. The RAPR team still reviews every case, she said, but development can go ahead as long as building doesn’t go below the setback agreed upon in the bylaw. It can be dealt with staff internally because all setbacks already exceed the minimum.

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Cameron explained in detail the purpose of the RAPR, noting the setback of 30 metres is the baseline metric, used to trigger the need for an environmental assessment on properties near streams, lakes, wetlands and even ditches. The definition is broad, she said, and encompasses a lot more than what would be triggered by any other building permit. The 30-metre buffer triggers the need to hire a QEP, but the agreed-upon setback can be anywhere from two to 30 metres for the final development.

Any existing structures or designated land uses on properties in place since before the 2006 regulation can continue, as long as they don’t change, confirmed Cameron. As soon as anything new is built or structures are changed, however, the RAPR is triggered, and with the demolition or removal of a structure or allowance of a previously cleared area to become naturalized, the grandparented status is lost.

RAPR not only protects fish and habitats but helps local governments protect against severe flooding and drought events, said Cameron. The question arose about the Sicamous lagoon, which is a man-made dredged body of water, and if the RAPR regulations apply the same as to a natural lake. Cameron said the definition includes not just where fish live but anything that could connect to a fish habitat, including areas where debris could fall into water. Even areas confirmed to have no fish living in it, like a small ditch that contains water, are included, which encompasses a lot of land developers are eyeing, she said.

Effectiveness monitoring for RAPR was done this year, said Cameron, looking at files from 2006-2022, to see if the regulations are protecting what they are supposed to. The study will finish collecting and reviewing files this month and updates should be out within the coming year.

Council wrapped up the conversation noting the level of concern around the regulations from residents, as many properties in Sicamous would not have been allowed to be built today under RAPR and people don’t want to see extreme limits imposed. Cameron explained the ‘undue hardship’ clause states a lot can’t be totally sterilized to future development and, under that classification, setbacks can be reduced and lots can be allowed to be developed up to 30 or 4o per cent of what its zone allows for.

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Rebecca Willson

About the Author: Rebecca Willson

I took my first step into the journalism industry in November 2022 when I moved to Salmon Arm to work for the Observer and Eagle Valley News. I graduated with a journalism degree in December 2021 from MacEwan University in Edmonton.
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