As the president of Alouette River Management Society – a volunteer position – I recently found myself in an uncomfortable situation, along with the rest of the volunteer board of directors due to having to launch a fundraising campaign called Save Our Salmon.
The campaign is dedicated to raising funds to cover potential legal expenses that ARMS will incur if we are forced to request a judicial review if Maple Ridge council passes the final reading for a controversial development proposal in the Alouette watershed.
The board of directors of ARMS does not find it uncomfortable advocating for the Alouette River, as it is our mission to protect this jewel in our community.
And as a non-profit society, we are constantly looking for funding, so that, too, is not uncomfortable.
However, we do find it uncomfortable having to take a stand against the city, as we view it as an ally in our efforts to protect the Alouette River and it saddens us that we have had to take this stand and are forced to raise $60,000 to cover our legal costs.
As a non-profit, this is not an easy feat and such funds would go a long way in other areas of our operations that work to protect this amazing watershed.
However, the city is also facing its own financial pressure brought on by the demands of the public to deliver new amenities and needed infrastructure, as well as to replace aging infrastructure, which the city does not have the funds to adequately address.
So now we now find ourselves in the position of allies being on opposite sides of an issue.
Cities across the country are facing the same financial challenges, as they do not have the tax base to fund all of the required capital projects in a timely manner.
So more are turning to the development community to deliver some of these amenities through the type of density bonus provision that we are presently facing within the Alouette watershed, whereby the developer gets to do something they typically would be denied, by giving additional amenities or funds to the city’s coffers.
This quid pro quo scenario needs to be watched carefully by residents, as this type of deal-making has the ability to overshadow the intent of our official community plan, which we believe is happening with the development in question.
Locally, the developer is requesting density that is four times greater than what the OCP presently allows and, in exchange, the developer will provide additional amenities to the city over and above what is typically required.
The developer is offering to provide park space — the land being offered floods on a regular basis — fill placement for the proposed future 240th bridge, re-connection of a stream to the Alouette River, public access to the waterfront and the usual off-site upgrades that go along with development.
On the face of those offerings, anyone not involved may think that those gains are a good deal for the citizens of Maple Ridge.
However, therein lies the problem, as once again the application is being judged by the city and council through the lens of a public need’s perspective and not from that of the needs of the watershed and the impact an urban standard development will have on it.
Historically, communities developed based on the needs of people and government and developers paid little or no attention to the environment in building their projects.
The Alouette Dam, which dealt the first death blow to the five species of salmon that were historically abundant in the river and now struggle to survive, was one of these projects.
Anyone who turns on a light cannot dispute that a public need was met by the dam. However, the negative impact on the aquatic life and the surrounding eco-system continues to be felt today.
Communities were developed in and along waterways, filling in streams where needed and using the rivers as dumping grounds for waste.
Other species in our wake went by the wayside because, historically, we did not care, as people needed the land and that was the lens that decisions were made upon.
Today, we care about the environment and other species and we know how to protect them and by that fact we should do better, which this development does not do.
ARMS is not against responsible development and understands the challenges of meeting the demands of a growing community and has strived to educate and work with the city at every opportunity.
The city has leaned on us a number of times to provide feedback on how a development can be done responsibly around an important tributary to the river and the river itself.
The city actually told the developer to consult with ARMS about the proposed development and we said we did not support it at the outset.
ARMS believe the density bonus provisions being used to develop communities, while making sense for some areas – especially in the higher density zones – do not fit within the Alouette River watershed.
Yet, these practices have been the driver of why this development has been able to proceed.
The reason the OCP contains the provision of low densities in and around the watershed is to act as a means to minimize human impact on ecologically sensitive areas, as well as act as a pseudo flood mitigation plan.
Basically, if you don’t put the people there, they won’t wreck nature and they won’t get flooded out.
Increasing densities to an urban standard, which this development will do, contradicts the intent of these provisions and ARMS believes it will cause irreversible damage to the already sensitive watershed and will encourage further development of this nature.
Yet, because of the amenity provision from the developer, the city is ignoring its own planning rules and is putting people in the flood plain and in an environmentally sensitive area.
It is disappointing that cities are put in these situations. But in our case, ignoring the intent of our OCP in order to gain ‘gifts’ from a developer to alleviate some of that pressure is short-sighted and ignorant to the historical facts of what we know the impact will be on the area.
The city knows the river is still trying to recover from those decisions.
ARMS is uncomfortable with that.
If you are, as well, please support our efforts.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and currently
president of ARMS.