Proposed Parks Act amendments could open the door for industrial developments in provincial parks
The Valhalla Wilderness Society (VWS) says a new piece of legislation coming down the pipeline from the provincial government would weaken protection of provincial parks and open them up to industrial developments.
Introduced for first reading in early February, Bill 4 – the Park Amendment Act 2014 aims at outlining clear requirements for certain activities in B.C. provincial parks to ensure natural resources are protected, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Environment.
The proposed amendments to the act are currently on their way to second reading in the Legislature, and would change several aspects of the laws governing parks in the province according to the text of the bill, including:
- Allowing park permits to be issued for commercial film production activities if the Minister of Environment determines it’s not detrimental to the recreational values of the park
- Allowing environmental assessments and feasibility studies for a variety of activities including: roads or highways, pipelines, transmission lines, telecommunications projects and structures
- Removes size constraints separating large parks from small parks so they are all managed under the same standards.
The bill also says that the Minister of Environment can approve any park use permit if she thinks the activity is consistent with established guidelines.
According to Minister of Environment, Mary Polak, the goal of the proposed amendments to the act is to balance the government’s priorities of economic growth and environmental protection.
“The Province remains committed to protecting our natural resources, while at the same time expanding our economic activities,” Polak stated in the press release. “Strong economic growth and strong environmental stewardship can co-exist in British Columbia. However these activities will not be at the cost of our environment.”
VWS begs to differ
The VWS says Bill 4 is aimed at opening B.C. Parks to pipelines and other “devastating developments.
“Bill 4 is indiscriminate,” the VWS stated in a recent action alert it issued.
“It does not limit the purposes for which a permit can be requested. It enables permits to be issued for ‘feasibility studies’ for any type of project that the government might decide to to include in the regulations. It would apply to ANY provincial park in the province. I
“It could unleash a gold rush of pipelines, mines, IPPs (independent power projects), tourism resorts and even filmmaking in our parks.”
“It’s an open raid on the parks and they’re trying to sneak it through,” Craig Pettit of the VWS told The Nelson Daily, noting that there was no public process or consultation involved in the creation of the bill.
There is no mention in the bill of what happens after companies conduct research or feasibility studies on parkland, and according to the VWS companies have the ability to apply for “boundary adjustments” to parks to accommodate projects – which would effectively remove the land from the park.
Pettit says that a total of 35 parks have already been listed for possible boundary adjustments to accommodate natural gas pipelines, transmission lines and roads to connect them – mostly in the northern part of the province to accommodate the province’s liquefied natural gas agenda.
But he adds that Bill 4 allows open season on all parks in the province, including those here in the Kootenays.
“Once (this amendment) is there, it means every park is subject to it. We would lose all legal opposition to anything being proposed in any park.”
The case of Grohman Narrows
Pettit points to the 2007 case of Grohman Narrows Provincial Park, when the province wanted to allow a road through part of the small park just outside Nelson that protects a population of painted turtles, but lost a supreme court decision based on regulations in the Parks Act that are being removed with the proposed recent amendments.
Under a Parks Act with the proposed amendments, he says there would be no way to stop such a development in the future.
He also noted that the amendment to put small parks like Grohman Narrows in the same class as large parks effectively allows for the approval of a project in a small park that could disrupt an entire park.
“In this new act, they’re exempting that totally,” he says. “They’re getting rid of the total protection for small parks.”