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Biological diversity, environmental assessment, fisheries, transport, and water

Petition: No. 138

Issue(s): Biological diversity, environmental assessment, fisheries, transport, and water

Petitioner(s): Rustico Harbour Authority

Date Received: 17 March 2005

Status: Completed

Summary: The petitioners are concerned about the environmental and economic impacts from a causeway that connects Robinson's Island to Prince Edward Island National Park in Rustico Harbour, PEI. The petitioners allege that the strategic environmental assessment that Parks Canada Agency and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are currently conducting on the remediation proposal for the causeway will not address the environmental concerns that the petitioners have brought forward. The petitioners ask that the assessment be halted and that another environmental process under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act be initiated to deal specifically and exclusively with the installation of a breakwater on the eastern entrance to Rustico Bay.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada Agency

Petition

February 18, 2005

Office of the Auditor General of Canada
and the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Attention: petitions
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G6

Dear sir or madam;

I would like to present a petition under the Auditor General Act in regards to the following:

SEA for Rustico Harbour/Bay
Solicitation No. - N de l'invitation
FP856-040005/A
Client Reference No. - N de référence du client
FP856-040005
PW-$$SS-070-11733
F.O.B. - F.A.B.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada & Parks Canada
Ottawa

I am concerned with the causeway at Robinson Island, and have serious concerns about the process used to address this problem. I also have concerns about the negative impacts that the continued existence of the causeway has had in regards to the sustainability of the economy of the Gulf Shore, and the risks to the health of the environment and the people living here. The community has been involved in efforts to address this issue for many years, and I will include with this petition letter; as a backgrounder, the Brief to the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans (2002); the resultant recommendation sent by the Standing Committee to and endorsed by the House of Commons*; and the Working Group Recommendations* to which the Report of the Standing Committee referred; a detailed critique of the process which supports our petition: and a timeline of recent events that have indicated that this is not the appropriate public process to be used in these circumstances. The SEA was advertised by Public Works, and the departments most directly involved in the SEA are Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans, both of which fall under the terms of the Auditor General Act.

I think that the SEA should be scrapped immediately and a proper environmental process put in place, which would provide a full environmental study, under the CEAA, specifically on the 1998 Working Groups recommendation, as was the intent of the Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which recommended that the "Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans reach a bilateral agreement to provide funding for the installation of a breakwater on the eastern entrance to Rustico Bay, as recommended in Phase I of the Working Group Recommendations."

The process presently underway is inappropriate for the situation. There should be a full Environmental Assessment Process by an arms-length body, based on the specific recommendation of the Working Group. The SEA being applied here should be used for policy changes, not for specific public projects;

The Members of the Advisory Body are in a conflict of interest. These members are the departmental stakeholders who would ultimately bear the burden of cost if a project went ahead;

The Terms of Reference are not in accordance with the recommendations of the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans, a recommendation that has been through due process in Parliament, which specifically calls for implementation of the Working Group recommendations;

The Public Consultation Process is almost entirely non-existent and of no concrete value. Consultations are not timely and there is little access to information and no valid public input into the recommendations.

BACKGROUNDER

BRIEF TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS (Winter 2002)

Presenters:

James D. Gallant: Co-Chair of the Little Harbour Causeway Working Group, President of the North Queens Wildlife Federation, Chair of the Robinson Island Restoration Committee and Board member of the Gulf Shore Community Corporation;

Norman Peters: Chairman of the Rustico Harbour Authority, President of the North Shore Fisherman Association, Board member of the Gulf Shore Community Corporation, Chair of the Marina and Fisheries Museum Committee.

We are here today to represent the concerns of residents in the Gulf Shore Region of Prince Edward Island, as well as the fishers and shellfishers whose livelihoods are directly affected by the current conditions caused by the Causeway, which was built by the Federal Government (Parks Canada and Public Works) in 1956 to Robinson (Rustico) Island from Brackley Beach.

The building of this causeway has been a mistake from day one. Even prior to construction, in 1952, the Mazur Report (authored by Dr. S.J. Mazur, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, Nova Scotia Technical College and supported by field work subsidized by DPW, Ottawa), stated that it would be necessary to construct a second Eastern breakwater that would reinforce and protect the end of the Island to safeguard against instability. This expert advice was not heeded, and the breakwater was not included in subsequent plans.

In 1962, just six years after the construction of the causeway, the National Research Council (Philpott), responding to worsening coastal erosion, conducted three studies, using wave-board models, that recommended the site for an Eastern breakwater. These studies had as a baseline the 1956 conditions prior to the building of the causeway in 1956.

Again in 1979, the Sand Movement Study (Fenco Construction Ltd.), commissioned by DFO, identified that the main problem facing the Rustico Harbour entrance was the erosion of Rustico Island. In this study, Fenco noted that DPW sounding charts from 1918 to 1979 confirmed Philpott and Mazur research about channel depth deterioration and recommended hydraulic modeling of the Harbour for planning and design of remedial work.

Again and again, for five decades, there has been scientific evidence that there have been substantial negative affects from the building of the causeway. In 1990 the Baird Report (Baird and Associates Ltd), the North Rustico Sediment Transport Study, suggested siting an Eastern breakwater.

Over these years we have been calling continually for government to act on the evidence. From 1956 until the present time more than 2 km of Robinson Island has eroded. This has resulted in siltation and water quality problems in two of the biggest watersheds (Hunter-Clyde and Wheatley River) and their estuaries on the North side, with resultant loss in shell and finfish fishery. During this period of time residents and fishers have worked to have the problem solved. The National Parks Act (Revised Statutes 1970 CMH13)7C, states "National Parks will remediate and prevent any obstruction of waterways covered under Parks designation for fishing." That gives them a direct responsibility.

The North Queens Wildlife Federation submitted an official brief in 1995 to the Honourable Shiela Copps, asking for action and suggesting a three-point plan. The then Deputy Minister and Minister for Canadian Heritage, responded by setting up the Working Group, Co-Chaired by North Queens Wildlife and Parks Canada, to review the issue and forward recommendations to her Department.

This Working Group was given a specific mandate and was resourced for scientific data collection, in response to a firm written commitment from the Prime Minister (Honourable JeanChretien), in a letter to the Premier of Prince Edward Island (Honourable Pat Binns), in 1997.

In the letter the Prime Minister pledged that "Canadian Heritage and Public Works and Government Services, co-operating with scientists from the Geological Survey of Canada and Acadia University, and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography would gather the scientific data that is required to complete the government review Through the continued efforts of the Federal Government, the Working Group and the various community groups involved, I [the Prime Minister] fell confident that we will arrive at an environmentally sound solutions that all parties support."

In 1998 the Working Group, endorsed by the Prime Minster in 1997, from evidence based on several scientific studies, released its report. This Working Group was co-chaired by James D. Gallant, representing North Queens Wildlife, and Dave Lipton, representing Parks Canada. This Working Group had representatives from shellfishers, as well as lobster fishers and groundfishers, environmental groups and other stakeholders.

The Working Group commissioned several scientific studies and made an agreed-upon set of recommendations which were intended to address the problem in three phases:

Phase I: Involves the construction of the Eastern Breakwater, designed to maintain traditional channel depth of 10-12 feet by tidal flushing. After the building of the Eastern Breakwater the situation would be monitored for a period of 2-3 years; and

Phase II and III: Depending on those monitoring results, determination would be made for the necessity of implementation of Phases II and III (see enclosure*)

These recommendations were prepared on November 26, 1998, and were forwarded by Parks Canada to Minister Copps. We have seen no action since then, other than discussion between Federal Departments about accountability.

We are very concerned about this for economic reasons. In our entire Gulf Shore region we have a total combined landing of cod, groundfish, pelagic and estuarial valued in excess of $5 millions. This is a small fraction of what would have been our traditional fishery if our water depth had been maintained over these last 40 years.

There have been ongoing negotiations with Senator Joe Landry, as well as federal and provincial governments about a possible state-of-the-art crab processing facility in Rustico, if the depth of the harbour were restored. This has a potential of creating badly-needed new jobs in the area.

We are also presently embarking on a regional eco-tourism strategy, the focal point being a million-dollar marina and Fisheries Museum now being built in North Rustico. We are presently looking at pleasure boats, but an extensive PEI Marina Tourism study has recommended that his harbour could form the core of a 100mi. Network, if Parks Canada corrects Harbour access/causeway. It could be a future destination marina. A destination marina is the highest level of marina identified in the study, and this type of development could open up a very substantial market for the entire North Shore region.

Recent exit surveys by the Department of Tourism have indicated that as many as 471,000 visitors travel through the Gulf Shore region from May to October. Further degradation of the gulf and the watersheds could harm this vital tourism sector.

We are also concerned for safety and water quality reasons. Last fall some of our fishers actually got stuck coming into the Harbour. Rustico is the province #1 tourist port, with 10 charter boats available for Deep Sea Fishing trips. It is only a matter of time before there is a tragedy. We feel that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to correct this problem, which was precipitated by the building of the causeway by Parks Canada.

In 1992 the P.E.I. Department of Environmental Resources documented seasonal siltation problems in Rustico Bay and the Wheatley River estuary, which results in loss of fish habitat, eutrophic conditions, bacterial contamination, odour problems and fish mortality. Some of this can be attributed to farming practices, and as an Island society we are addressing that aspect. However the hydrodynamics research by Brylinki in 1997 indicates that the causeway has been a major culprit.

Since the causeway was built to Robinson (Rustico) Island in 1956 all of the watersheds have been affected by poor flush conditions. This is everyone problems because it affects one of the economic mainstays of the 16 communities in our region, including both lobster and shellfishery, and it also affects the environment of the entire region.

There are compelling reasons for addressing the issue immediately, and the community as a whole is anxious for action. We would like assurances that the recommendations of the Working Group, mandated and endorsed by both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister, and supported by science, will be acted upon immediately. We include as part of this brief, Appendix I*, The Official report of the Working Group, which should serve as the basis of future action.


Recent Timeline

I.  1997. Prime Minister Chretien endorsed study of Working Group which included representation from all stakeholders and which was given funds to commission expert research;

II.  1998. Working Group presents recommendations;

III.  2002. Brief is presented to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, recommending that the Working Group study be implemented;

IV.  Winter 2002. Standing Committee endorses recommendation and House of Commons accepts the Standing Committee endorsement. Money is then allocated to develop a Terms of Reference for a RFP;

V.  Winter 2004. representatives from several committees in the Gulf Shore meet with [name withheld]. He examines the file and reports back that what is needed is an environmental assessment, and that the money is secured;

VI.  Spring 2004. MP Wayne Easter makes a public announcement about a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to the community, saying that this is just the last step before the remedial work begins. He repeats this promise throughout the election;

VII.  July 2004. The community hand-delivers an open letter to both Wayne Easter and [name withheld], pointing out the issues that it has with the SEA. They receive no response. Follow-up phone calls still receive no response;

VIII.  Fall 2004. [name withheld] once again hand-delivers a copy of the open letter to Wayne Easter, who was hosting a Rural Roundtable in the area. There has still been no response;

IX.  In February of 2005, three community members, [name withheld], Clarence Gauthier, and Norman Peters, are called upon by the CBCL (consultants) and informed that the public will be given an opportunity to meet with them. The contractors are informed by the community that they have an incomplete inventory of scientific studies and relevant documents. CBCL were previously unaware of this because the Advisory Committee is comprised only of Parks Canada and Fisheries ad Oceans and they provided an incomplete inventory. CBCL is also informed that they have an incomplete list of interested stakeholders;

X.  On February 16, 2005, CBCL starts sending out notices by email to organizations inviting them to focus groups, with no supporting documentation or format for consultations. Focus groups would begin on February 28. Groups are told they will receive something in the mail three days before their appearance. Since the Terms of Reference for this process are not part of the CEAA registry, most of the groups do not even know the terms of the SEA that they are supposed to be speaking to;

XI.  There will be a newspaper ad during the week of February 21-26, offering groups that have not been invited to register for Focus Groups, beginning February 28. Once again, this effectively gives those groups no opportunity for consultation and preparation;

XII.  When asked, CBCL explained that the focus groups will just be discussion, with no formal structure, and that participants will be required to sign a paper signifying that the meeting summary reflects the proceedings. There is no prior or subsequent public disclosure of the research results to the participants or the general public. CBCL has informed the groups that their role as investigators is to just compile a report on the research but make no recommendations. Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans are solely mandated to make recommendations.

MAJOR ISSUES WITH THE SEA (STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT)

This is everyone's problem because it affects the economic, social and environmental health of our communities across the entire region. It started with the federal government changing the natural flow of water by building a causeway.

We have been working on a solution for years and in 1996 Minister Copps formed a Working Group co-chaired by [name withheld], representing the North Queens Wildlife Federation, and David Lipton, representing Parks Canada.

The work of this Working Group was endorsed by the Prime Minister in 1997

Our group commissioned several scientific studies which looked at the entire issue and explored the alternative solutions. From these reports the Working Group, which included all stakeholders, made a set of recommendations, based on those studies, which was deemed to be the best possible approach to address the problem. TheWorking Groups' Recommendations included three phases, because they wanted to take a cautious approach:

Phase I: involves construction of the Eastern Breakwater, designed to maintain traditional channel depth of 10-12 feet by tidal flushing. The estimated cost of this would be $6M, and these breakwater construction activities are normally the responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans

Phase II: would be to monitor siltation for a period of 2 - 3 years

Phase III: depending on those monitoring results, would be to address the issue of removing the Robinson Island Causeway

As noted, these recommendations were prepared on November 26, 1998 and were forwarded by Parks Canada to Minister Copps.

A brief was presented in winter of 2002 to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and the Committee endorsed the need to act on these recommendations in their report to the House of Parliament. The House then agreed to work on a solution. In September 2002 we had a letter form Hon. Robert Thibault, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, stating "It is my intent to fully support my cabinet colleagues in resolving this long outstanding concern." The government then committed to begin a study, in Spring of 2003. This did not happen, but in spring of 2004 it was announced that an unknown hurdle was being put in the path of the community. A Strategic Environmental Assessment was announced, which is not an environmental assessment, but rather a federal government analysis of policy, plan or program proposals of departments and agencies (Page 1:1.0 Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals). This leaves us facing a disheartening and unfair situation. We do not think this SEA is the appropriate process for this project and would like to see it halted, and the proper Environmental Assessment Process under CEAA put in place. Here are some of the issues:

MISINFORMATION

The public was told by MP Wayne Easter at the announcement of the SEA that this would be the last step. This promise was repeated in a CBC phone-in during the election, and at the doorstep during the campaign;

Now the wording of the SEA contract reads differently. Rather than proceeding with the project defined in the recommendations of the 1998 Working Group Report [James D. Gallant et al], a series of several options for dealing/not dealing with the problems in Rustico Harbour/Bay has been put forth. It must be emphasized that these alternatives are just some of the alternatives available and that there is no predetermined or preferred alternative currently under consideration for resolving the various problems. In effect, the process has been pushed back ten years. Whichever physical alternative is ultimately recommended, except the status quo alternative, would likely require: authorization for the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat under section 35(2) of the Fisheries Act; approval to ensure navigation safety issues are dealt with pursuant to section 5(1) of the Navigable Waters Protection Act; and would involve federal funding and federal lands. These regulatory duties and federal involvement would, in turn, trigger an environmental assessment (EA) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) (Pages 16/17:1.2, Current Requirement). Again reference to prior to the environmental assessment... (Page 27:4.13, Additional Information...);

There is also the possibility that the study will recommend that nothing at all be done, because there is reference to the status quo alternative (Page 17:1.2, The Current Requirement)and this Status Quo Alternative is one of the six alternatives listed in the Objectives of the SEA (Page 19: 2.1);

The SEA must also address how the alternatives affect, or relate to, the DFO Sustainable Development Strategies, the National Park Act, and Parks Canada Guiding Principles and Operational Policies (Page 23: 4.5, Compliance with DFO and Parks Canada Policies);

This is a CONFLICT OF INTEREST, because the problem has existed and been prolonged because of these policies. How can this SEA be considered an objective, public and transparent process under these terms?

The question remains, why is this not an Environmental Assessment of the Working Group Recommendations, in preparation for commencement of the process, as Wayne Easter indicated - instead of a Strategic Environmental Assessment in preparation for a series of other assessments?

STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP IS ONE-SIDED:

The Steering Committee is made up of DFO and Parks Canada, who has a large amount of input, who also would be required to foot the bill if a project went ahead. There is no Community Representation on that Steering Committee. There must be equal, effective representation;

REVIEW DOCUMENTS LIMITED BY STEERING COMMITTEE:

There are several research/scientific documents which are cited for consideration by the contractor (Page 19:4.1, Documentation Review and Relevant Background Information), but some of the ones which were cited in the Brief to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans presented by the late [name withheld] and Norman Peters are not included. There is no formal mechanism to put these or any new materials on the list of documents.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE ON RECOMMENDATIONS TO BE REVIEWED:

A Scientific Study commissioned by the federal government on the causeway issue, and conducted under a Working Group representing all stakeholders made specific recommendations (1997). These recommendations were also cited in the Brief to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. These recommendations and the rationale around them were the basis of the Standing Committees recommendation to the House of Commons that the situation be rectified.

However, instead of having this be the scope of the Strategic Environmental Assessment there is a list of six scenarios that the contractor must assess (see Page 18:2.1, Objective of the SEA). This shows a lack of respect for the good faith of the Working Group and their endeavours in the earlier study; a lack of respect for due process because the understanding was that these recommendation would be the basis for the final comprehensive review, with assurances from the Prime Minister himself (letter of August 25, 1997, from Jean Chretien).

MEANINGFUL CONSULTATION WITH PUBLIC IN JEOPARDY

It makes public input very difficult, because the public has to respond to SIX different scenarios (see Page 18:2.1, Objective of the SEA);

There is only an opportunity for people identified in the Contract to participate in focus groups (Page 23:4.4, Stakeholder Focus Group Consultation);

There is a list of organizations which will be consulted, but any additional focus group sessions will have to be agreed upon beforehand by the Steering Committee (Page 23:4.4, Optional Work for the Stakeholders Consultations);

There is absolutely no opportunity for input from individuals not represented by a formally organized group, i.e., subdivision residents, health or science professionals (Page 23:4.4, Stakeholders Focus Group Consultation);

Also, the contractor will meet with the Steering Committee to verify that the material going to government groups is complete and accurate (Page 20:4.3, Regulatory Context and Multi-jurisdictional Consultations). This gives an opportunity for DFO and Parks Canada, the only members of the Steering Committee, to have too much influence in the outcome of the consultations;

The Steering Committee will have observer status at any government group consultations that occur (Page 20:4.3, Regulatory Context and Multi-jurisdictional Consultations). This gives an opportunity for DFO and Parks Canada, the only members of the Steering Committee, to have too much influence on the outcome of the consultations. They have the final say as to what materials are given to the Governmental departments for response/input;

The entire section on the Steering Committee (Pages 26 & 27) gives enormous scope for the process to be influenced, i.e., Confirmation of appropriateness of any written material and the content of any presentation going to government and to stakeholder/focus groups ; confirmation of the appropriateness and any public notifications with the SEA consultation process;

Obtaining from the Steering Committee comments as to the completeness and relevance of biophysical information compiled during the government group consultation component of the SEA;

Other issues determined by the Steering Committee are timeline, boundaries, and ecosystem components.

Input into the report through focus groups is influenced by the fact that the contractor shall meet with the Steering Committee as a milestone point to discuss and verify that the presentation going to the focus groups is complete and accurate (Page 22:4.4, Stakeholder Focus Group Consultation).

  • The appendices to the SEA shall contain a summary of the stakeholder consultations responses without attribution (Page 23:4.4, Stakeholder Focus Group Consultation). This approach of not naming the groups presenting does not give any weight to the expertise or knowledge the people giving the responses have, thus diminishing their impact. Also, will these indeed be summaries, meaning that the actual documents will not be part of the public record? This is not public consultation. There is not appropriate or meaningful opportunity for individuals or organizations to present there evidence and concerns, and there is no process to ensure that these are part of the public record, and the input from the community is taken into account in the drafting of the report.
  • In a traditional Environmental Assessment there is a section on Registry objectives that highlights
    • Public access to information and records
    • Timely notice about commencement
    • Timely notice of opportunities to commence

All three of these objectives have been circumvented through this Strategic Environmental Assessment, which apparently does not have to follow these guidelines, as indicated in the last items of the timeline posted above in this document.

ALL THREE OF THESE PRINCIPALS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED!

OTHER ISSUES

Complexity of issues to consider, including how balancing cost/benefit and cumulative effects of six alternatives, and who balances them. How can a group prepare a presentation when only given three days to study the TOR?

Inappropriateness/illegality of the SEA - It seems to be a Cabinet Directive designed for Policy and Program analysis, not projects. Why are we having this, rather than an EA (Environmental Assessment) on the Working Group Recommendations, as per the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans?

There has been no validation of the background information supplied to the contractor by the other stakeholder groups. There has been no access to information, and even the Registry can give us no contact names. Parks Canada and DFO communications divisions have not responded either. The SEA doesn't fall under the public disclosure guidelines of regular Environmental Assessments, so the public has no access to the process other than attending (if invited) a focus session.

There has not been timely and sufficient access to information, as indicated in the timeline above.

Please respond to these issues.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Norman Peters]

Name: Chairman Rustico Harbour Authority
Address: Hunter River RR#2 P.E.I. C0A 1N0

*[attachments not posted]

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Minister's Response: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

July 28, 2005

Mr. Norman Peters
Chair
Rustico Harbour Authority
RR 2
Hunter River, Prince Edward Island
C0A 1N0

Dear Mr. Peters:

Ms. Johanne Gélinas, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, has forwarded to me a copy of your correspondence and supporting documentation of February 18, 2005, comprising Environmental Petition No. 138, under section 22 of the Auditor General Act. This petition raises questions regarding a Strategic Environmental Assessment for the causeway at Robinson Island in Prince Edward Island.

I am pleased to enclose Fisheries and Oceans Canada's response to the items raised in your petition.

Please accept my best wishes.

Yours truly,

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

Geoff Regan


Response to Environmental Petition 138
Strategic Environmental Assessment for Rustico Harbour/Bay

Concerns raised by petitioner:

The petitioner raises concern about the environmental assessment process which is being used to respond to the recommendations that were made by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (SCOFO) in May 2002 concerning the Little Harbour Causeway in PEI.

Specifically, the petitioner does not agree with the decision to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), stating that this process is not in accordance with the recommendations of SCOFO and that an environmental assessment of a proposed project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be more appropriate to address the issues at Rustico Harbour/Bay. The petitioner also challenges the membership and role of the Steering Committee, as well as the validity of the public consultations.

As well, the petitioner expressed concerns about the negative impacts that have resulted from the construction of the Little Harbour Causeway, in particular the effect the causeway has had on the sustainability of the economy of the Gulf shore of PEI, and the risks to the health of the population and to the environment.

Response to concerns:

Concern that the conduct of a SEA is not in accordance with the recommendations of SCOFO and that an environmental assessment of a proposed project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be more appropriate to address the issues at Rustico Harbour/Bay.

In 2002, SCOFO recommended that the Government of Canada provide funding for an environmental assessment for a three phased project in Rustico Harbour/Bay, PEI, that had been recommended by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group. In responding to SCOFO's report, the Government of Canada recognized that the issues at Rustico Harbour/Bay were complex and long-standing, dating back over 50 years and that several studies had been carried out as well as working groups established over the last decade in an attempt to understand the evolution of the coastal processes that have affected the Rustico Harbour/Bay area.

However, a comprehensive assessment of all possible options which takes into consideration the full range of social, economic and environmental factors had never been undertaken. A SEA is a systematic, comprehensive process of evaluating the environmental effects of a policy, plan or program and its alternatives. Conversely, an environmental assessment is intended to focus exclusively on the environmental effects of a proposed project.

A SEA is required by a Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy and Program Proposals for any policy, plan or program proposal brought before Ministers for approval which may result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative. For the proposal presented by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group for Rustico Harbour/Bay, both of the above conditions were met.

In its response to SCOFO, the Government of Canada determined that, given that there were significant gaps in the information, a SEA was necessary to ensure a full evaluation of the costs and benefits of all possible options. The Government of Canada considered that it was premature to conduct an environmental assessment of a construction project until all the issues had been identified and that the full range of social, economic and environmental impacts of carrying out any action in the Rustico Harbour/Bay area had been assessed. The Government of Canada was also concerned with the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group's conclusion that cautioned that making changes in the Rustico Bay could have repercussions regarding ongoing adjustments to the tidal channels, sedimentation patterns and shore erosion over time.

The Government of Canada has taken a precautionary approach by proceeding with a SEA. The SEA is evaluating the six alternatives that were originally considered by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group. This process will help select the best possible course of action. As such, it will help eliminate or reduce the impact on the environment of any selected project by ensuring that all aspects of a future potential project have been reviewed.

If a project is recommended by the Government, an Environmental Assessment of the proposed project (which would need to be more specifically defined) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be required. Ultimately project implementation would depend on the results of this assessment and available funding.

Claim that the Terms of Reference (TOR) are not in accordance with the recommendations of SCOFO

TORs were developed in response to the Government's decision to proceed with a SEA. These TORs, prepared by DFO and Parks Canada, are in accordance with a detailed level SEA, that includes an analysis of the environmental effects of each proposal option and outcome, fully integrated with the analysis of social, and economic aspects. Specifically, they include an evaluation of the current situation of Rustico Harbour/Bay; comparison of the environmental effects of alternate options; full consultations with interested individuals and organizations; identification of a list of likely direct and indirect outcomes for each alternative identified by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group, as well as the costs and benefits of each of these alternatives.

A contract to conduct the SEA was issued by Public Works and Government Services Canada on behalf of DFO and Parks Canada to CBCL Limited. CBCL Limited is an independent, professional consulting firm with experience in this type of work.

Claim that the members of the Steering Committee are in conflict of interest

It is explicit in the terms of reference for the SEA that a Steering Committee (which is not the most appropriate term in this case) consisting of a single person from DFO and Parks Canada act as a liaison between the two departments and the consultant, in order to monitor the SEA process and to ensure that the terms of reference are followed. CBCL is conducting the SEA and will produce an unbiased, independent report.

By conducting a SEA and involving stakeholders in the process, the Government of Canada wants to gain a better understanding of the long-term costs, benefits and uncertainties of the various proposed options in order to determine the best way to address the social, economic and environmental concerns. There is no predetermined or preferred option currently under consideration for resolving any of the concerns.

Concern that the consultation process is not meaningful

A consultation process with stakeholders is an important component of this SEA. There are many different stakeholder and environmental groups who have various interests in the Rustico area, so it is very important to consult with all of them. As part of this process, CBCL arranged meetings with representatives of all known stakeholder groups and organizations. In advance of these scheduled meetings the consultant placed a notice in local newspapers that included a list of stakeholder groups that the consultant planned to meet and invited any other groups or individuals with an interest to participate. The minutes of each focus group meeting were made available in printed format to the participants to ensure that their input was accurately reflected.

DFO and Parks Canada provided the consultant with numerous background reports and other information relative to Rustico Harbour/Bay. Throughout the SEA process the consultant is gathering and using any other reports and relevant information brought forward by stakeholder groups or individuals.

A very comprehensive Workbook was prepared by the consultant for use by the focus groups during the consultations. This document provided detailed information regarding the SEA process; presented a graphical display of the evolution of the Rustico Harbour/Bay area; identified the known community concerns; presented the various alternatives under review in the SEA; and explained the next steps following the consultations.

The consultation process is one element of this overall SEA. Before making a decision, the Government of Canada will undertake a thorough review of the SEA report which will include a cost-benefit analysis as well as an examination of the biophysical, human uses and socio-economic components.

Effect of the causeway on the sustainability of the economy of the Gulf shore of PEI and risks to the health of the population and to the environment

As part of the SEA consultation process, the study team considered different alternatives, including the removal of the causeway, and asked questions about the consequences of implementing each alternative on each of the pre-identified environmental values, focusing on biophysical, human use and socio-economic components.

The SEA is being prepared now and the final report is expected in the Fall of 2005. The final SEA document will be made available to all of those who participated in the process and to the general public. The completed SEA will be presented to the Government of Canada and a future course of action will be determined.

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Minister's Response: Parks Canada Agency

July 5, 2005

Mr. Norman Peters
Chair
Rustico Harbour Authority
R.R. 2
Hunter River, Prince Edward Island
C0A 1N0

Dear Mr. Peters:

Ms. Johanne Gélinas, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, has forwarded a copy of your correspondence and supporting documentation comprising Environmental petition no. 138, under section 22 of the Auditor General Act, to me, as Minister responsible for Parks Canada. This petition raises questions regarding a Strategic Environmental Assessment for Rustico Harbour/Bay, Prince Edward Island.

I am pleased to enclose Parks Canada's response to items raised in your petition.

Please accept my best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

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

Stéphane Dion


PARKS CANADA RESPONSE TO ENVIRONMENTAL PETITION NO. 138
FILED ON FEBRUARY 18, 2005, BY MR. NORMAN PETERS, RUSTICO HARBOUR AUTHORITY
UNDER SECTION 22 OF THE
AUDITOR GENERAL ACT
CONCERNING THE STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FOR RUSTICO HARBOUR/BAY IN PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Response to concerns raised:

Concern that the conduct of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is not in accordance with the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (SCOFO) and an environmental assessment of a proposed project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be more appropriate to address the issues at Rustico Harbour/Bay.

In 2002, SCOFO recommended that the Government of Canada provide funding for an environmental assessment for a three-phased project in Rustico Harbour/Bay, Prince Edward Island, that was recommended by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group. In responding to SCOFO's report, the Government recognized that the issues at Rustico Harbour/Bay were complex and long-standing, dating back over 50 years, and that several studies had been carried out and working groups established over the last decade, in an attempt to understand the evolution of the coastal processes that affected the Rustico Harbour/Bay area.

However, a comprehensive assessment of all possible options, taking into consideration the full range of social, economic and environmental factors, had never been undertaken. A SEA process is systematic, comprehensive process of evaluating the environmental impacts of a proposed policy, plan or program and its alternatives. Conversely, an environmental assessment is intended to focus exclusively on the environmental effects of a proposed project.

In its response to SCOFO, the Government determined that, given that there were significant gaps in the information, a SEA was necessary to ensure a full evaluation of the costs and benefits of all possible options. The Government considered that it was premature to conduct an environmental assessment of a construction project until all the issues had been identified and the full range of social, economic and environmental impacts of carrying out any action in the Rustico Harbour/Bay area had been assessed. The Government was also concerned with the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group's conclusion cautioning that making changes in Rustico Bay could have repercussions regarding ongoing adjustments to the tidal channels, sedimentation patterns and shore erosion over time.

The Government has taken a precautionary approach by proceeding with a SEA. The SEA will evaluate the six alternatives that were originally considered by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group. This process will help select the best possible course of action. As such, it will help eliminate or reduce the impact on the environment of any selected project by ensuring that all aspects of a future potential project have been reviewed.

If a specific option is recommended by the Government, an environmental assessment of the proposed project (which would need to be more specifically defined) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be required. Ultimately, project implementation would depend on the results of this assessment and available funding.

Claim that the terms of reference are not in accordance with the recommendations of SCOFO

Terms of reference were developed in response to the Government's decision to proceed with a SEA. These term of reference, prepared by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Parks Canada, are in accordance with a detailed SEA, which includes an analysis of the environmental effects of each proposal option and outcome, fully integrated with the analysis of social and economic aspects. Specifically, the SEA includes an evaluation of the current situation of Rustico Harbour/Bay, a comparison of the environmental effects of alternative options, full consultations with interested individuals and organizations, identification of a list of likely direct and indirect outcomes for each alternative identified by the Rustico Island Causeway Working Group, and the costs and benefits of each of these alternatives.

A contract to conduct the SEA was issued by the Department of Public Works and Government Services, on behalf of DFO and Parks Canada, to CBCL Limited. CBCL Limited is an independent, professional consulting firm with experience in this type of work.

Claim that the members of the Steering Committee are in conflict of interest

It is explicit in the terms of reference for the SEA that a Steering Committee (which is not the most appropriate term in this case) consisting of one person from DFO and one from Parks Canada act as a liaison between the two departments and the consultant to monitor the SEA process and ensure that of the terms of reference are followed. CBCL is conducting the SEA and will produce an unbiased, independent report.

By conducting a SEA and involving stakeholders in the process, the Government wants to gain a better understanding of the long-term costs, benefits and uncertainties of the various proposed options to determine the best way to address the social, economic and environmental concerns. There is no pre-determined or preferred option currently under consideration for resolving any of the concerns.

Concern that the consultation process is not meaningful

A consultation process with stakeholders is an important component of this SEA. There are many different stakeholder and environmental groups who have various interests in the Rustico area, so it is very important to consult with all of them. As part of this process, CBCL arranged meetings with representatives of all known stakeholder groups and organizations.

In advance of these scheduled meetings, the consultant placed a notice in local newspapers that included a list of stakeholder groups the consultant planned to meet and invited any other interested groups or individuals to participate. The minutes of each focus group meeting were made available to the participants in print format to ensure their input was accurately reflected.

DFO and Parks Canada provided the consultant with numerous background reports and other information relative to Rustico Harbour/Bay. Throughout the SEA process, the consultant is gathering and using other reports and relevant information brought forward by stakeholder groups or individuals.

A comprehensive workbook was prepared by the consultant, for use by the focus groups during the consultations. This document provided detailed information regarding the SEA process, presented a graphical display of the evolution of the Rustico Harbour/Bay area, identified the known community concerns, presented the various alternatives under review in the SEA, and explained the steps that would follow the consultations.

The consultation process is one element of the overall SEA. Before making a recommendation, the Government will thoroughly review the SEA report, which will include a cost-benefit analysis and an examination of the biophysical, human-use and socio-economic effects.

Effect of the causeway on the economic sustainability of the Gulf of St. Lawrence shore of Prince Edward Island and risks to the health of the population and the environment

As part of the SEA consultation process, the study team considered the different alternatives, including the removal of the causeway, and asked questions about the consequences of each on the pre-identified environmental values, focussing on biophysical, human-use and socio-economic components.

The SEA is currently being prepared and the final report is expected in fall 2005. The final SEA document will be made available to those who participated in the process and the general public. The completed SEA will be presented to the Government and a future course of action determined.