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Recommendations for the Improvement of the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan

Alexander, Lawrence



Since 1974 the West Coast Environmental Law Association ("WCELA") has provided legal services to members of the public who are concerned about threats to the environment. WCELA and the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation provide legal representation, promote law reform, conduct education and research, and maintain a library of environmental legal materials. We submit these recommendations in support of the Cowichan Estuary Preservation Society (the "Preservation Society"). [(1) -- 1. . The author greatly appreciates the assistance of Calvin Sandborn, Ann Hillyer, Bill Andrews, Denice Regnier, Morgan Ashbridge, Catherine Ludgate, Lori Crook, Patrick Roy, Bob Holden, Ann Holden, Bill Austin, Christina Chociolko, David Mahony, and Greg Jones.]


Created in 1987, the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan (the "CEEMP") was intended to provide "guidance and a focal point for pursuing the opportunities offered by the estuary, and for sustaining its environmental quality for the benefit of future generations." [(2) -- 2. . Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan (Victoria: Ministry of Environment and Parks, 1987) p. iii.]

The CEEMP promises to "acknowledge the presence of industry", but to "limit the detrimental environmental environment impacts" of industry activities", "avoid further habitat losses", and to support the "rehabilitation of presently degraded habitat in the estuary". [(3) -- 3. . Ibid. at p. 1.] Parties to the CEEMP have formalized their commitment to the plan. Cabinet has issued an Order-in-Council requiring compliance with the plan, and each of the major industrial users of the estuary [(4) -- 4. . The industrial users of the estuary in 1987 who signed agreements were Doman Industries Ltd., MacMillan Bloedel Ltd., B.C. Forest Products Ltd., and the Canadian National Railway. MacMillan Bloedel and the C.N.R. are no longer active participants.] have signed implementation agreements. [(5) -- 5. . Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan (Victoria: Ministry of Environment and Parks, 1987) Appendix 1.]

CEEMP's decision-making authority, the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Assessment Committee (the "CEEAC"), [(6) -- 6. . G. Jones, Regional Manager, Planning and Assessment, MOE, pers. comm. with L. Alexander, December 16, 1991.] feels that the CEEMP has had some success over the last five years, but that it is need of some improvement. [(7) -- 7. . Letter to Calvin Sandborn of WCELA from Greg Jones dated December 4, 1991, p. 1.] The CEEAC is now asking interested members of the public to help identify problems and solutions that will help "integrate environmental protection with the various uses of the Cowichan Estuary". [(8) -- 8. . Ibid.] WCELA, on behalf of the Preservation Society, welcomes this opportunity to comment on the CEEMP.

Towards a Stronger Management Plan

The CEEMP represents a significant commitment to the preservation and rehabilitation of an extremely important ecological resource. Many different people and organizations have invested considerable time and energy into the Plan. Nevertheless, the CEEMP appears to offer more symbolic reassurance than environmental protection. The Preservation Society has expressed some very serious concerns about the lack of public participation in the Project Review Process, the Re-designation procedure under the plan, enforcement of the plan, and commitments under the plan to restore and enhance the estuary. [(9) -- 9. . Cowichan Estuary Preservation Society, "Analysis and Recommendations for Improving the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan, January 23, 1992.]

In Part II we will present a brief summary of these concerns. In Part III we will examine the role that public participation has played in the administration of the CEEMP. This examination will include a discussion about the need for public participation, its advantages from a policy or decision-maker's perspective, and the essential elements found in meaningful public participation processes. We will also examine some public participation models that have been used successfully in other jurisdictions to manage resource-use conflicts. Ultimately, we will argue for a significantly enhanced public role in the decision-making activities of the CEEMP, particularly in the areas of Project Review and Area Re-designation.

In Part IV we will discuss some methods to improve the enforcement of environmental protection under the CEEMP, and which, potentially, can support a much more rigorous restoration and enhancement program.

Publication Date: 
January 1, 1992
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