For anyone needing a Riparian Development Permit to allow any work within 30 metres of the lake, it just got tougher.
The provincial Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations have a new process for riparian assessments. Doing an assessment is a requirement of getting the local government development permit. When the Riparian Area Regulation was introduced the provincial government opted for professional self- regulation by the Qualified Environmental Professionals. The theory was to trust that professionals would follow the rules and the government would undertake periodic random audits to keep them honest.
Then along came the Yankee vs. Salmon Arm court case in which some very important principles were established. The most important was that a professional could use judgement to determine whether a Harmful Alteration Damage or Disruption to fish habitat will occur if the work goes ahead. For example, if there is an existing structure within the riparian setback, any harm has already been caused so building on that footprint is considered OK. The professionals took the direction from the court and implemented it.
Staff from Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations was not happy about it so this year we have a new process. 100% of all assessments are now being audited by provincial staff. Professionals are being questioned about details of their assessments and are being instructed to change assessments where the province disagrees with their judgement.
The Riparian Area Regulation is a particularly flawed piece of legislation that tries to put a cookie cutter solution to protecting riparian values throughout the Southern Interior. It doesn’t matter what the local environmental conditions are, the same rules apply everywhere. So a north facing beach on Shuswap Lake will get a 30 metre setback. A north facing beach on Nicola Lake attracts the same setback despite being in a desert where at around 10 metres from the lake, the vegetation transitions to Bunch Grass, Rose bushes, and cactus.
What was positive was the rules were clearly understood by the professionals and that helped keep costs in control and the self-regulating filing of assessments was quick. Now we can look forward to higher costs and further delays. What we now have is essentially a permitting process and the government’s objective of self-reliance and reduction in staffing has been thwarted.