Abbotsford scientist says more oversight needed after last-minute report stops soil permit

City staff recommended permit approval before a scientist warned proposal would harm fish

This story has been updated with a response from the provincial government.

A last-minute report from a BCIT scientist warning about the possible destruction of fish habitat in an important Abbotsford stream derailed an application to deposit soil on a Bradner farm Monday.

But Dr. Marvin Rosenau warns that other proposals that affect fish habitat aren’t getting the oversight they deserve.

An Abbotsford couple had proposed to dump 71,900 cubic metres of soil on two properties located off of Townshipline Road, just east of Ross Road.

The couple was hoping the soil would create a better environment for growing crops, and the proposal had been reviewed by an agrologist and an environmental consultant, while winning approval from both the Agricultural Land Reserve and the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO).

City staff also recommended council grant a permit, which would have garnered the city $48,000 in fees over the life of the permit.

But on Friday, the same day the staff report recommending the permit was finalized, Rosenau – a BCIT fisheries instructor and Abbotsford resident – learned that the proposal was to go before council on Monday.

Over the weekend, Rosenau – a retired provincial fisheries biologist and longtime advocate for stronger fisheries protections – put together a 29-page review of the proposal that strongly criticized the environmental assessment report commissioned to support it.

Rosenau said the environmental report missed several key aspects of the proposal and that the project would damage fish habitat in McLennan Creek, which he says is one of the most important fish-bearing small creeks in the city.

Rosenau noted that the report indicated that the person writing it had only visited the property in September, when streams are at their lowest point. By not visiting during high-water times, when fish migrate, Rosenau said the consultant could not back up his assertions that the project could actually help fish.

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Rosenau finished his report Sunday evening, and sent it that night to local and provincial politicians, as well as City of Abbotsford staffers.

The following day, council decided to refer the proposal back to the proponent, citing the review.

Rosenau said he had been worried the permit was destined for approval, and was glad to see it not proceed. But he told The News that the situation underscores a lack of oversight from B.C.’s regulatory bodies and governments.

“I don’t think this is a one-off,” he said. “I think this is symptomatic of what is happening in British Columbia right now … There’s really no oversight.”

Rosenau said the provincial government, in particular, has left oversight largely in the hands of the organizations that oversee the professionals tasked with generating such reports.

Rosenau said he has been told that government agencies like FLNRO’s water stewardship branch don’t have the manpower to properly oversee their role handing out permits that allow fish habitat to be disturbed.

Instead, Rosenau said the ministry will sign off on a report as long as it was created by someone with the proper credentials. But Rosenau said the Abbotsford case and others show that isn’t enough.

He said the problems in the consultant’s report could have been spotted had someone taken the time.

“My report was not rocket science,” he said. “All I did was walk through the basics of what I’d do.”

A spokesperson for the City of Abbotsford said its permit review process “is working well.”

The city had held a public information meeting, and had also anticipated receiving more “11th-hour” information. With that in mind, Katherine Treloar noted that the staff report also presented council with the option to defer the item.

A provincial spokesperson also defended the FLNRO process, saying that “prior to any decision to authorize works, every application undergoes a review to ensure application completeness and to balance environmental risks, if any, against provincial standards.

The spokesperson said the staff “rely upon proponents and their submitted information,” along with that of qualified professionals. Audits are also conducted, the province noted, to verify information conatined in applications.

“This site was not visited to confirm the data in the professional report but has been flagged for a field audit during or after construction,” the spokesperson said.

A request for comment from the environmental consultant was not returned.


@ty_olsen
tolsen@abbynews.com

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