Thursday, December 26, 2013

 

Opinion

Location, Location, Location

WWP looks to Gaetz for better planning, local watershed management

Released by Sheila Muxlow, WaterWealth Project

 

would like to thank Mayor Sharon Gaetz for highlighting her concern with Cheam landfill and let her know that any operation that has the potential to release toxic pollutants into our local waterways is a concern to us at the WaterWealth Project.

 

However, this does not address the questions that are being asked by local residents about the proposal to locate a new toxic waste recycling/disposal operation in a flood plain next to the Fraser River.

To be clear, our issue is not with the purpose of the facility – we agree that it is important for hazardous waste to be kept out of landfills and dealt with by experienced professionals. Our issue is with the location, with it being so close to the Fraser, in a known floodplain.

We are also concerned with the way the City is dealing with the issue, in particular, not respecting the requests of Stó:lō Nation to review the proposal, nor allowing the opportunity for the public to learn more about the implications of this decision and have the opportunity for their legitimate questions to be answered.

When dealing with the chlorine issue earlier in the year, Mayor Gaetz herself commented to the Progress (article dated February 12th) on the importance of seeing the science behind the decision:

"They have to demonstrate to our community that this decision for chlorination is science-based."

She also noted the importance of giving local residents an opportunity to hear and talk about issues that affect water:

"That's what happens when a decision is made for Chilliwack before we even get to chat about it. That's how some feel about Metro Vancouver and the prospect of incineration. They have been saying, 'No more.' You can't impact something so integral to people's daily lives like water and not expect a reaction."

Based on such a comment we can only assume the Mayor anticipated such a reaction to the current Council decision, which begs the question, why wasn’t there an attempt for more proactive public discussion?

And while we recognize that the City followed the strict definition of the Local Government Act in terms of public notice, it seems reasonable to query the sufficiency of sticking to this low bar in circumstances where there could be a serious risk to a critical community asset, like the Fraser River, and where there is a need to consult with First Nations whose rights and title are directly impacted by the decision.

Perhaps what this issue most clearly highlights is a serious problem with our current planning system and the critical need for a comprehensive watershed governance plan for our region. A process that is community-driven and jointly lead by First Nations and local governments and would allow us to be proactive when making these decisions.

It would identify areas of high significance for our water wealth, such as floodplains, headwaters - like those at Luckakuck Creek - and the sources of our drinking water. There are interesting examples of such planning here in BC that we could look at for guidance, such as the watershed plan developed by the Cowichan Watershed Board (co-chaired by the Regional District and Cowichan Tribes), the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and emerging efforts in the Columbia watershed.

The truth is without a proactive plan to protect our water wealth we will continue to have conflict over proposals that put our home waters and our communities at risk. One doesn't have to look very far to see how the decision to chlorinate our drinking water was poorly made, or how the plans to twin the Kinder Morgan pipeline are polarizing people who should be united as a community.

We all deserve better than jumping from conflict to conflict, which means we have to get serious about being proactive in planning for our community’s future and planning for the health of our home waters.

 

 

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