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Bamberton battle highlights flaws in land-use regulations: B.C. Green leader

Sonia Furstenau says the fact the only notice required of Malahat First Nation for its quarry expansion plans was a small ad in a local newspaper shows the regulations are out of date
Sonia Furstenau, leader of the Green Party of B.C., says regulations around mining in B.C. need to be updated. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The battle brewing in Bamberton over the Malahat First Nation’s plan to expand a quarry and foreshore lease underlines the need to update regulations around mining in this province, the leader of the B.C. Green Party said.

Sonia Furstenau, whose Cowichan Valley riding includes the First Nation’s Bamberton lands, said the fact the only notice that was required to be posted was a small ad in a local newspaper shows the regulations are out of date in a world conscious of land-use plans.

“What I think this speaks to is a longstanding need for updating the regulations around mining in this province. They’re basically 100 years old,” said Furstenau. “The processes involved with really significant proposals for land use should be really transparent and really inclusive of the community. People shouldn’t feel surprised or caught off guard about what’s happening.”

Mill Bay community members and a neighbouring First Nation have complained about a lack of consultation about the expansion proposals. Some Mill Bay residents say they only found out about it when someone stumbled across a sign near an existing quarry, which led to others finding an ad in a local newspaper.

The Malahat First Nation plans to nearly double its annual production and expand the area of an existing quarry on the Bamberton lands, and it wants to increase its foreshore lease to allow it to expand industrial operations along Saanich Inlet.

The province’s Environmental Assessment Office is considering an application by the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, submitted last month, asking it to consider the projects for an environmental assessment.

That process would delay and possibly force the cancellation of any expansion plans.

The society claims the projects pose significant environmental risk and have not been properly assessed for their potential environmental, economic, social, cultural and health impacts on Saanich Inlet and surrounding lands and residents.

The Malahat First Nation has asked the province to reject the society’s application, saying the expansion applications are in compliance with existing regulations and laws.

The Malahat say the likely environmental effects are negligible and the designation would be contrary to advancing reconciliation with First Nations.

Furstenau said she and colleague MLA Adam Olsen have heard from the community that the process is flawed, as demonstrated by the outcry from Mill Bay residents.

“The other piece of this is that the application for the expansion of the quarry is to expand it by 47 per cent, and the environmental assessment legislation says that anything less than a 50 per cent expansion doesn’t require an environmental assessment,” she said.

Furstenau said that means a proponent could apply to expand by close to 50 per cent over and over again and potentially never have an environmental assessment of a project that continually increases in size.

“That’s a flaw in the legislation,” she said. “That’s an example of where you have legislation with an intent to ensure that there is proper environmental assessment, but that intent is not achieved.

“The Nation can rightly say, ‘Look, we followed all of the correct processes and approached this according to the legislation,’ ” she added. “What I think this demonstrates is that those requirements at the provincial level are not meeting the needs of the public.”

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