Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen bylaw amendment has environmentalists worried | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen bylaw amendment has environmentalists worried

South Okanagan mountains.

Proposed bylaw amendments by the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen have some residents concerned that important environmental protections will be lost in vulnerable areas.

Tomorrow, Dec. 21, a public hearing for the amendment of Bylaw No. 2912 will be held at 9 a.m. on 101 Martin Street in Penticton.

The amendment of this bylaw has been part of a long process to alter the use of environmentally sensitive development permits (ESDPs).

At an Aug. 6, 2020 meeting, a Director’s Motion was carried by the Regional District Board that sought to make apply ESDPs only applicable to subdivisions and rezonings and not building permits or land clearing activities, according to the Regional District website.

“In 2020, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Board of Directors expressed concern that the (ESDP) process had become overly focused on building permit applications, that it was unclear if ESDPs were having a positive impact in terms of safeguarding the environment, and that ESDPs may be impeding wildfire reduction activities by residents,” Chris Garrish, Senior Manager of Planning Services at the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen, told iNFOnews.ca.

In April 2022, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the provincial Ministry of Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship requested a 12-month deferral of the amendment bylaws so that it could complete an "Effectiveness Audit".

The audit was then presented in July 2023 to the Planning and Development Committee of the Board and again in November. Now, a public hearing will be held to discuss the motion.

“The RDOS Board directed that amendments be brought forward to re-focus environmental protection at the rezoning and subdivision stage and to no longer apply ESDPs to building permits or land clearing activities,” Garrish said.

Subrina Monteith is the director of one of the seven Electoral Areas (“A”, “C”, “D”, “E”, “F”, “H” and “I”) included in the motion. She voted against the amendments. 

“The reason I voted against it was that we're removing ourselves from a bylaw, but not replacing it with anything that would do what we want it to,” Monteith, Director of Area I, told iNFOnews.ca.

Monteith said despite solutions for ESDPs being suggested to the Regional District by a provincial contractor, none have been adopted by the board.

"If we were working on something... better that would indeed protect the environment, to the extent that the board had hoped that this permit would, I would be happy to get rid of this bylaw," she said. "But we don't have anything even in the works. Like there's nothing. It's not even a consideration to do anything."

Monteith said she agrees that the current model is flawed but says it is the only tool available to the Regional District to protect environmentally vulnerable areas. Monteith also expressed concern that the proposed amendments remove important protections without providing an alternative solution.

“We don't have any tools. This is one tool we do have. Is it doing what we intended? I don't think it's as good as it could be, and I think that there is a lot of room for improvement. But it's the only tool we have right now with mapping,” she said. “Through mapping, (ESDPs) identify areas that are environmentally sensitive. So, to abandon the bylaw and abandon the mapping, basically anybody can do what they want on their property."

The South Okanagan, known for its rich and endangered biodiversity, has been at the centre of environmental debate for some time. Particularly after the announcement of a proposed South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park.

READ MORE: 'The land will be lost forever:' Okanagan is one the most endangered ecosystems in Canada

Now, the apparent lack of protection for this land has many residents concerned. 

More information about the public hearing can be found here.


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