A Maple Ridge conservation group is taking legal action against the City of Maple Ridge, and starting a campaign to raise $60,000 for lawyer’s fees.
On Wednesday afternoon at its hatchery on the Alouette River, the Alouette River Management Society (ARMS), held a press conference to announce the launch of the Save Our Salmon campaign. Society president Cheryl Ashlie said the group will fight city council’s approval of a 26-home riverfront subdivision on the South Alouette River.
“We need to raise the funds as soon as possible,” said Ashlie, noting the group has begun legal action with $12,500, and the estimated balance will be sought from donations over the next month through the campaign.
The group opposes the 20-acre development on the flood plain, and is concerned about effects on wildlife and stormwater runoff from roads and houses into the salmon habitat. The group said the river ecosystem is “threatened as never before.”
Ashlie fears the development could open the door to more development along the river. ARMS members detailed their reasons for opposition at a public hearing in April, where council considered the rezoning.
ARMS’ strategy is to have council’s decisions put to a judicial review. Ashlie contends the city has not followed due process, and have contravenedits Official Community Plan. The rezoning bylaw for the development has been given third reading, but could still be stopped by a council defeating the bylaw in a vote at the fourth reading, she noted.
Ashlie said ARMS’ hope is to have council re-start the approval process for the subdivision, and then for the stream keepers to sway just one councillor’s vote. It passed 4-3.
“With that sober second thought, we get another chance again,” said Ashlie. “There were two very junior councillors there, who had to make this huge decision.”
Ken Stewart is an ARMS past president who also served as an MLA and two-term Maple Ridge city councillor. He was “shocked” that the development proposal in the flood plain even made it past first reading, because new urban zoning does not fit with conservation.
“This type of development was never on the radar of council,” he told the group.
Mayor Mike Morden said council is not allowed to take any more input about the issue after holding a public meeting and giving the matter third reading, by rules of process. He would offer no comment about the legal challenge by ARMS.
He was asked if the city is in an awkward position, going to court with a high-profile local conservation group.
“We value the relationships we have with volunteers and stewardship groups in the community,” answered Morden. “And this will likely put a strain on that.”
Morden plans to convene a meeting with staff, to discuss the ramifications of the court challenge.
The event was attended by about 30 people, including representatives of other conservation groups.
Zo-Ann Morten of the Pacific Stream Keepers said council should rely on the expertise of a group with ARMS’ background.
“This is not Chicken Little stuff. This is a group that really understands the system.”
Morten noted her group was to get chum eggs from the Alouette through ARMS’ hatchery, but three times dates were cancelled because there were not sufficient eggs.
“Already there’s no fish – and this is the rebuilding river for chum for the whole Lower Mainland,” she said.