Does the Ministry of Environment Value Public Participation?

One June 27, 2023, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) came out with its report recommending against an environmental assessment of the quarry and foreshore lease activities at Bamberton. One aspect of this report that is concerning is the EAO’s dismissive attitude to the level of public support for an environmental assessment.

Environmental assessment legislation requires the Minister of Environment to decide whether an environmental assessment would be in the public interest. There was an outpouring of support for an environmental assessment from members of the public, municipalities and First Nations. Yet the EAO seems to have undervalued this public input, claiming that the public’s concern was due to misinformation. In fact, it was this deep public concern, regarding the two permit applications on the Bamberton Development, amongst Mill Bay and Willis Point residents, that was the catalyst for SIPS getting involved and making an Application to the EAO, for a review for an Environmental Assessment. 

In a section of the EAO report called Public Interest in Designation, the EAO claimed that misinformation had been circulated that “may have led to increased public opposition to the Bamberton quarry expansion as a whole and an increased public interest in having the projects undergo an environmental assessment.” In other words, the EAO appears to have discounted public opinion.

We asked for examples of misinformation and the EAO provided nine. We were not impressed. The alleged “misinformation” was, in our opinion, either accurate, minor, made too late in the process to have influenced public opinion, or some combination of these.

You can see our response to the EAO here: SIPS Response to EAO Misinformation.

It is important to remember that public groups—including SIPS—and First Nations have been actively engaged in efforts to protect Saanich Inlet for decades (and in the case of First Nations, much longer than that). The public was heavily involved in the government’s 1996 study. A decade or so ago there was extensive opposition to a proposal for a large-scale residential development at Bamberton.

The EAO’s website states:

Public participation in the Environmental Assessment process helps ensure that community values and public goals are considered in project planning and decision-making. Public comments also help ensure that all potential effects of a project are captured and appropriately assessed.

Unfortunately, the EAO’s comments in its Bamberton report indicate that this statement is a hollow one.

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