Burns Bog Conservation Society president Eliza Olson isn't surprised with B.C. Auditor General John Doyle's findings on the province's environmental assessment process.
"There is no way a proper assessment and proper enforcement of the EAO (Environmental Assessment Office) would have allowed the South Fraser Perimeter Road in its current design to go forward. At least in my opinion, after reading report after report and listening to people who have a real understanding of the impacts of the road on farmland, people's health, the health of the bog and the Fraser River," Olson said following the release of Doyle's audit last week.
Doyle's report noted the Environmental Assessment Office's oversight of certified projects is not sufficient to ensure that potential significant adverse effects are avoided. The EAO also isn't evaluating mitigation measures and isn't making appropriate compliance and outcome information available to the public to ensure accountability, Doyle noted. He also found some certificates were written in a way that couldn't ensure measurability and enforceability, or written with vague phrasing that would be difficult to implement and enforce.
Suing the federal government over the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the Burns Bog Conservation Society has been lobbying to halt the new highway being constructed in close proximity to the environmentally sensitive bog. The Gateway Program has guaranteed a series of mitigation measures, which have been dismissed as inadequate by the society and others.
"There is more than one agency that is culpable in this charade. It all has to do with priorities. If protecting people's health, especially children's, this road would not be going within a few hundred feet of a school...
It's all a matter of priorities, and it is becoming obvious the government's priorities are not the same of the people - roads over public transit, duty-free zones over the health, safety and security of the common tax payers," Olson said.
Doyle pointed out what he described are examples of good environmental monitoring practices, including the hiring of environmental monitors for the SFPR and Port Mann Highway 1 projects. While the monitors are usually consultants, for these two projects Ministry of Environment staff was temporarily assigned. In each case, the monitor was responsible for making onsite decisions and taking action if necessary to avoid or respond to potential environmental effects, Doyle's report noted.
Olson's response was, "They say they have monitors, but who's monitoring the monitors?"
Doyle listed a series of recommendations including the EAO conducting post-certificate evaluations to determine whether environmental assessments are avoiding or mitigating potentially significant adverse effects of certified projects. Some of the other recommendations, which Doyle will see whether they're followed up on in another report next year, include the EAO developing and implementing a comprehensive compliance and enforcement program that includes an information system to monitor projects.
When the report was released last week, Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington, who has long complained about the environmental assessment process, said a lack of basic follow-up, clear compliance requirements, and only one rejected application since 1995 shows that the EAO is simply used to rubber stamp environmental applications.