Biologist in Saanich eco-bylaw fight cited for violations

A registered biologist who was instrumental in Saanich council’s decision to overturn a controversial environmental protection bylaw has been cited for ethical violations.

Ted Lea, a Saanich resident and a vocal opponent of the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA), was found to be in a conflict of interest, according to the College of Applied Biology of British Columbia, which investigated Lea’s conduct.

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Lea was found to be in conflict because he authored several reports that advocated for certain properties to be removed from the EDPA while he was a member in the Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA Society, which advocated for the entire bylaw to be scrapped.

The bylaw was passed in 2012 with the goal of protecting sensitive ecosystems on about 2,200 private properties. It was meant to protect sensitive and threatened environmental areas containing endangered species and habitats, including Garry oak ecosystems.

After a contentious public hearing, Saanich council voted 5-4 to rescind the bylaw in November 2017.

Then-mayor Richard Atwell and councillors Susan Brice, Leif Wergeland, Karen Harper and Fred Haynes voted for the bylaw to be rescinded. Councillors Colin Plant, Judy Brownoff, Dean Murdock and Vicki Sanders voted to keep it.

The college’s disciplinary committee, which comprises a panel of three registered professional biologists, found that Lea’s reports lacked due diligence and failed to meet professional standards.

According to the college’s decision, published in December, Lea’s reports lacked supporting documentation such as field notes, photographs, plot data, maps, sketches or data appendices. The reports, which it said were two to three pages in length, instead relied on general descriptions of the property in question.

The college has not ruled on any discipline or administrative penalties against Lea.

Lea declined to comment for the story. When asked if he planned to appeal the decision, he said he is considering all options.

Haynes, now the municipality’s mayor, said he was unable to speak to the college’s findings, but said he and other councillors visited the properties surveyed by Lea, all of which were owned by Saanich residents who believed their properties should not be considered environmentally sensitive areas.

Based on his own observations, he supported Lea’s findings that the areas were not sensitive ecosystems, Haynes said. “And in 100 per cent of those cases, council voted in support of the scientific basis of Mr. Lea on those properties,” he said. “Based on those reports, those 28 properties were removed from the EDPA.”

Haynes said some of Lea’s reports were supported by other independent registered biologists.

Merie Beauchamp, a supporter of the EDPA who attended some of the June hearings into the biologist’s conduct, said Lea “leap-frogged” Saanich staff with environmental expertise to instead bring his reports directly to Saanich council.

“[Saanich council] was actively getting lobbied by an angry group of private residents and Ted Lea,” Beauchamp said. “It’s unfortunate that he used his professional credentials to further his own agenda. I’m glad that his professional association cracked down on it and said, ‘No, this is wrong.’ ”

In a statement, Anita Bull, a member of the Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA Society, said: “Mr. Lea has provided significant input to [the society] along with other professional biologists, and other resource professionals, in terms of enhancing and improving biodiversity in Saanich and in terms of supporting a correctly implemented, science-based EDPA.”

Bull said Lea was never “anti-EDPA” but believes that it should “protect actual environmentally significant areas.”

She noted that other professional biologists came to the same conclusions as Lea on many of the properties.

After the EDPA was rescinded, previous environmental bylaws were reinstated. Saanich is working on a comprehensive biodiversity strategy, but no timeline has been set for its completion.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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