Diane Brennan

Diane Brennan

Policy change aims to protect habitat

NANAIMO – Changes anticipated to lead to greater protection and conservation of wetlands and streams in Nanaimo.

City officials will have more oversight to protect Nanaimo’s wetlands and streams thanks to recent policy changes, according to Nanaimo Coun. Diane Brennan.

Nanaimo city councillors have acted on recommendations from a riparian setback variance policy review, which aims to protect habitat along the banks of estuaries and rivers.

The measures are anticipated to lead to broader environmental reviews by the city, as well as greater oversight of environmentally sensitive areas under pressure from development.

Under the old rules, a developer would have to make sure it was safe to build near fish-bearing waterways with the help of a qualified environmental professional, who would submit his or her report to the province.

Bruce Anderson, the city’s manager of planning and design, said the developer’s habitat assessment could go through the whole riparian area regulation process with the province before city staff members and council had the opportunity to understand what was being proposed, leaving the city without a chance for a full environmental review.

Because council was without a qualified environmental professional of its own, politicians also didn’t have the confidence of a neutral third-party opinion or the ability to question if reports were right, according to Brennan, who sat on the Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability in charge of reviewing the policy.

With the latest changes, developers will now be required to look at all environmentally sensitive areas like marine foreshore and estuaries, not just those which are fish-bearing, and will work with the municipality early on to go over legal requirements and potential ways to avoid dipping into riparian habitat.

There will also be oversight by the city to make sure recommendations made by a qualified environmental professional are being achieved on the construction site and that there’s no net loss of riparian areas.

“We are far more concerned about the environment now than we used to be in the past,” Brennan said. “We don’t want to see wildlife disturbed unnecessarily and the federal government had weakened their regulation in regards to this … they are the ones that said that developers only had to be concerned with fish-bearing streams. We have said not so.

“Here in Nanaimo you have to be concerned with a lot more than that.”

Nanaimo and Area Land Trust representative and advisory committee member Anne Kerr hopes improvements translate into greater conservation and protection of riparian habitat, which act as wildlife corridors.

“There’s not a lot of them left, so a process to help that, both through the bylaw but also through an education process, is important,” Kerr said.

The changes were supported unanimously by council.