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Housing development near Mission, British Columbia

Petition: No. 122A

Issue(s): Biological diversity, compliance and enforcement, fisheries, and environmental assessment

Petitioner(s): A Canadian resident

Date Received: 22 July 2004

Status: Completed

Summary: This petition concerns a proposed housing development near Mission, British Columbia. The petitioner believes that the development will damage the Silvermere/Stave River ecosystem and affect spawning salmon. The area is home to a number of listed endangered species that fledge and forage nearby. The petitioner asks that a statutory review or federal environmental assessment of the development proposal be conducted.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Petition

July 5, 2004

Sheila Fraser,
Auditor General
Commission of Resources and Sustainability

Dear Ms. Fraser,

I am writing this letter to your office to request an Environmental Petition by the Auditor General in regard of the Silvermere Housing Development application, Mission, B.C. As I understand it, the environmental petition is a process through the Auditor General Act that reviews environmental matters related to sustainable development. My understanding is that both DFO and Environment Canada are accountable for ensuring that the proposed Silvermere development does not cause damage to the Silvermere/Stave River ecosystem. I am hoping that this petition will set in motion a process which ensures that the ministries live up to their responsibilities.

According to a report by Dr. M. Rosenau, MWLAP Sept. 10, 2003, the proposed development would cause damage which is "malfeasant and unrecoverable". He described the area as a "biologically rich and unique ecosystem comprised of aquatic, terrestrial and avian communities and argued that "the scope of the project is considerably out of line with the environmental values associated with this particular landscape and the extensive amount of damage it will cause".

As a resident of the area who has witnessed the salmon spawning, who has seen buses of school children visiting the area to see the spawn, and who has identified and photographed the extensive bird life of the area, Dr. Rosenau's concerns are highly credible and do not exaggerate the importance of the area. The Stave River functions as a salmon spawning ground for 500 - 1,000 000 fish/year and there is heavy spawning areas directly adjacent to the proposed road access. I am very concerned about the impact of runoff from this road on this highly sensitive and productive area. The development also proposes to withdraw water directly from the Stave to service its 100 houses, and then discharge the sewage back into the Stave or Fraser River. This proposal also concerns me as the Stave supports Endangered White Sturgeon whose fry live in the mouth of the river. Local residents tell me that Coho fry have been successfully released into Silvermere Lake. I also understand that construction of a fry ladder may be sufficient to enhance survivability of the fry over the 2 summer months when the lake waters are too warm. The argument that bass in the lake negates the fisheries value makes little sense given that bass are also a protected species under the Fisheries Act.

The area is home to several listed species including a large Great Blue Heron colony who fledge their young and forage in the wetlands directly adjacent to the proposed road access and peninsula housing development. The island habitat is unique and includes a mature mixed woodland forest which is also prime owl habitat. Endangered Western Screech Owls and Barn owls inhabit the island. I have enclosed* a photograph of one of a nesting pair of Barn owls which currently occupy a large Maple tree on the Island.

In addition to these listed species, the ecosystem supports large number of Eagles and Ospreys. There is an eagle's nest on the island itself. According to Dr. Rosenau's report, the setbacks around the nest site recommended by the developer's consultant are incorrect.

I am very concerned that recent activities suggest that DFO is failing to meet its mandate to protect the fisheries and wildlife of this unique watershed. Specifically, Dr. Rosenau's report stated that "removal of vegetation within the 30 meter perimeter area on the island and from the causeway and peninsula will contravene Section 35(1) of the federal Fisheries Act". Despite this, the developer has cleared sections of the peninsula site to within 15 meters from the lake, and has begun removing gravel and soil from Silvermere Island to deposit on the peninsula clearing based on its own privately commissioned environmental assessment. I am concerned that the biologist who wrote the private assessment is in a conflict of interest and is accountable to the developer suggesting a vested interest in down playing the sensitivities of the area.

I contacted DFO Feb. 2, 2004 when the clearing took place, and was pleased by the quick response of Craig Sciankowy, who visited the site and sent a letter to the developer warning them that they may be in contravention of the fisheries act and were acting in contradiction to the recommendations of both MWLAP and DFO. I was dismayed to see an article March 4, 2004 in the Mission City Record in which a representative from DFO, Dale Patterson, is quoted as saying that "if habitat is lost, a policy can be put in place to make up for it somewhere else". To my knowledge no further action has taken place to assess the damage or reconcile the issue of setbacks. It seems illogical to me that a productive and environmentally important area such as this could be sacrificed to enhance another area, particularly since many mammals and listed birds also depend on the Stave River salmon run.

To summarize, I believe that due to the importance and sensitivity of the area, and controversy between differences in recommended setbacks proposed by the environmental consultant hired by the developer, DFO, MALWP and within DFO itself, a statutory review/Canadian Environment Assessment Act review is required before any further environmental damage is done. This review becomes all the more urgent due to a recent announcement by the developer to drain Silvermere Lake later this summer.

Please find attached* a copy of Dr. Rosenau's report in regard of this application, a copy of Craig Sciankowy's report following the clearing, a copy of the newspaper article quoting Dale Patterson, DFO and a copy of Genstar's notification of intention to draw down the lake. If you require further information to activate this request, please do not hesitate to call me at [number withheld].

Thank you in advance for your assistance in ensuring that the high environmental values of this unique and important area are safeguarded.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by petitioner**]

*[attachments not posted]

**[name and address withheld at petitioner's request]

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Minister's Response: Environment Canada

October 29, 2004

Dear [Petitioner]:*

I am writing in response to your Environmental Petition No. 122 to the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, concerning the proposed Silvermere Housing Development in Mission, British Columbia. Your petition was received in the Department on August 6.

I understand that Genstar Development Company applied to the District of Mission to have the subject property rezoned to allow for future residential development, and that this application process is in the preliminary stages. The District of Mission has referred information related to this application to potentially interested agencies, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

At this time, no specific project is being proposed by Genstar which would require an environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Should a project proposal be put forward, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and other federal departments, as appropriate, would review the information to determine whether any authorizations or approvals may be required that would trigger a review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. For example, should an authorization under subsection 35(2) of the Fisheries Act be required for the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, Fisheries and Oceans Canada would need to ensure an environmental assessment of the project is conducted.

An environmental assessment under the Act would include a thorough consideration of the environmental effects of the project. In addition, to meet the requirements of the Species at Risk Act, the assessment would identify any adverse effects of the project on listed wildlife species and its critical habitat. It would also set out measures to avoid or lessen those effects and to monitor them in a way that is consistent with any applicable recovery strategy and action plans.

I appreciate your interest in this issue and trust that this information is helpful.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Stéphane Dion, Minister of the Environment]

Stéphane Dion

*[name withheld at request of petitioner]

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Minister's Response: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

December 6, 2004

Dear [Petitioner]:*

This letter is in response to your environmental petition no. 122 addressed to the Auditor General, concerning the proposed Silvermere Housing Development in Mission, British Columbia. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development forwarded your petition to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on August 6, 2004.

DFO has participated in the development of a response with Environment Canada and I would refer you to the response to your petition signed by my colleague, the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister for Environment Canada.

As indicated in the letter from Minister Dion, no specific project proposal has been put forward, DFO has not received an application for a subsection 35(2) authorization under the Fisheries Act, and an environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) has not been triggered. If DFO receives an application for a subsection 35(2) authorization, the Department will complete the necessary reviews, including, if applicable, an environmental assessment under CEAA.

I thank you for your interest in the environment.

Yours truly,

[Original signed by Geoff Regan, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans]

Geoff Regan

*[name withheld at request of petitioner]