Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Province changes course after First Nations reject environmental review changes

by Colin Payne

The provincial government was in scramble mode following recently-announced changes to the Reviewable Projects Regulations that got rid of environmental assessments for ski resorts and natural gas plants, after a massive First Nations rejection of the move last week.

Made with no public consultation or debate in the legislature through an order in council, the changes would have exempted about 99 per cent of natural gas plants and all resort developments in the province from environmental reviews.

But Minister of Environment, Mary Polak made a quick about-face after provincial government officials were kicked out of a meeting about liquefied natural gas with First Nations groups in Fort Nelson on Wednesday.

“I would like to acknowledge First Nations concerns about amendments to the Reviewable Projects Regulation under the Environmental Assessment Act,” Polak said in a statement.

“Our government apologizes for failing to discuss the amendment with First Nations prior to its approval.

“Our government is committed to a strong, respectful and productive relationship with First Nations. That is why we will rescind the amendment that would have removed the requirement for an environmental assessment for sweet gas facilities and destination resorts, until we have undertaken discussions with First Nations.”

First Nations representatives told the Canadian Press they felt “blindsided” by the regulation changes and are seeking a meeting with premier Christy Clark.

Jumbo requires environmental assessment

The government also noted in another statement that the Jumbo Glacier Resort development would have remained subject to an environmental assessment even if the changes had gone through.

“Any project that was deemed a reviewable project before the amendment came into effect is still a reviewable project,” the statement noted.

“In the case of the Jumbo Glacier Resort, because there is a previous order stating that the project must obtain an environmental assessment certificate, it cannot legally be built without one.”

Mungall pleased with decision

After decrying the government’s closed-doors decision around environmental assessments earlier this week, Nelson-Creston MLA, Michelle Mungall says she’s happy to hear the Liberals have changed their mind.

“I’m really happy the government has taken a step back and apologized for going forward without any consultations with First Nations,” Mungall says.

“It’s sad that it took first nations basically telling them they’re not welcome at a meeting about shale gas for the government to realize they truly made an error in judgment.”

When asked about the statement about Jumbo’s environmental assessment certificate, Mungall was skeptical about the government’s statement that the project will require an environmental review.

“This government has shown . . . that they’re always willing to change the law to push Jumbo forward,” she says. “This order in council was doing just that. It’s really hard to say whether they’re telling the truth about that or not.”

Jumbo’s current environmental certificate expires in October after 10 years and the resort will need to get a new one in order to keep moving forward.

The proposed Jumbo ski resort, which would include over 6000 beds on completion still faces a legal challenge from West Kootenay EcoSociety.

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