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Maple Ridge: Relax stream protections regulations

While Maple Ridge looks at an umbrella plan dubbed an environmental management strategy, two councillors renewed the call for a review of the district’s stream protection rules.

“I think we need to question whether or not we need to stick to the SPR [streamside protection regulations]” or whether we go to RAR [riparian area regulations], Coun. Al Hogarth said Monday.

In 2005, Maple Ridge decided to keep its streamside protection regulations, developed in consultation with federal and provincial governments and environmental groups.

Those rules usually require any developments to be set back up to 30 metres from stream banks.

But other municipalities adopted riparian area regulations, for which environmental consultants, hired by developers, decide the distance a development is allowed from streams.

Coun. Mike Morden echoed Hogarth’s view.

“I support Coun. Hogarth’s move to review streamside protection. I hear comments that in the ALR [Agricultural Land Reserve] they’re working with five-metre setbacks, and yet here in the district we’re working with 100 feet.”

And the provincial riparian area regulations are different again.

“In the end, for the consumer who has to deal with this, it’s just another pile of regulations they have to work their way through.”

Morden added that environmental requirements seem to be always changing. “A lot of what I hear is that it’s a moving ball.”

Developers don’t mind following environmental standards, they just want consistent standards. Morden also wondered about the cost to the district of maintaining the conservation and setback areas that it requires developers leave when housing is built.

“All of this is simply adding to the taxpayer’s bill.”

Council was hearing a presentation from consultant Catherine Berris about creating an environmental management strategy.

The goal of the strategy is to consolidate and fine tune Maple Ridge’s environmental policies and practices into a single document that all can easily understood.

Maple Ridge has an “incredible richness of environmental resources. That’s something that many communities would like to have, but not all do,” Berris told council’s workshop meeting.

Many cities are spending millions uncovering buried urban streams, but it’s far cheaper to preserve such features from the start.

Berris said there is a “passionate public” that cares about the environment and there is no problem getting people to meetings on the topic. Focus groups show that people are happy with Maple Ridge’s stream protection regulations and its environmental mapping system, and that wildlife habitats have to be maintained.

“It’s really important to have these big wide corridors.

“Everybody understands these days, you don’t clear-cut the world to get development.”

Growth has to be balanced and done to build a resilient community that can cope with climate change, she added.

Councillors wanted more background information about the reason for creating an environmental management strategy, a goal that dates back to 2009 and which is supported in the official community plan.

Three goals are proposed for the strategy: conserving natural assets, designing sustainable communities, and improving awareness.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie liked the idea, but wanted clearer, more predictable rules. “When it comes to the environment, there seems to be this elasticity.”

At a future council meeting, politicians will review the consultation process and timeline for creating the strategy.

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