Major Vancouver Island projects will go ahead without federal environmental assessments because of changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that critics say will dramatically reduce environmental checks.
A new luxury marina in Victoria Harbour and replacements for Craigflower Bridge and B.C. Hydro's John Hart Generating Station near Campbell River are among 500 projects in B.C. that will proceed without environmental assessments. Of those, more than 150 are on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Other Vancouver Island projects affected include shellfish aquaculture, run-of-river hydro, marina and harbour expansions and clearance of unexploded ordnance from a sunken ship.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency spokeswoman Isabelle Perrault said the changes affect "small, routine projects that pose little or no risk to the environment."
Government will focus on proposals that "have a greater potential for significant adverse environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction," she said.
Opponents say it has more to do with helping business.
"We have a federal government that looks at environmental laws and regulations as red tape, and what they are doing is greasing the skids for business," said Gwen Barlee, Wilderness Committee policy director.
Government can't admit to such an extraordinary drop in environmental standards, she said.
"So they have cloaked it in reassuring language and say this is about reducing duplication and streamlining and devolving responsibility to the province," she said.
But most projects will also avoid provincial environmental assessments.
Provincial assessments of 17 projects formerly undergoing joint screenings will go ahead, but 492 that were to have only federal assessments will not be taken over, said Environment Ministry spokeswoman Trish Rorison.
"Over two-thirds of the federal screenings were originally triggered for reasons that had nothing to do with environmental impacts," she said.
Stephen Watson of B.C. Hydro said the John Hart project will not undergo a provincial review because it's a modification of an existing facility.
"The increase in electricity generation is negligible," he said.
However, B.C. Hydro has undertaken aquatic, wildlife, socio-economic, soil contamination and archeological studies, Watson said.
The marina project requires numerous approvals in addition to the federal environmental assessment, said Lachlan MacLean, vice-president of WAM Development Group.
"It's not like we are home free," he said.
But opponent Barry Hobbis is horrified at the lack of federal environmental oversight as the project involves stirring up seabed contaminants.
"It's a step backwards. It's an abrogation of responsibility," he said.
Jim Hemstock, Saanich manager of capital works, said the changes mean little to the Craigflower Bridge project as requirements of all other federal agencies have to be met.
"We are not going to squash the oysters or disrupt the salmon," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org
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