Kent ditch debate continues

Environmentalists side with stricter federal rules and discipline, municipalities try to fund growing demands and keep farmers happy

The District of Kent (DOK) was singled out recently for causing habitat damage in its efforts to reduce flood risk for farmers.

In a Vancouver Sun article published last week, local fish biologist Mike Pearson criticized the district for its siltation from excavations and its effect on endangered Salish suckers and salmon habitats.

Pearson, who has been working on endangered species and ditch cleaning in Mountain Slough since 2001 (and Fraser Valley fish biology since 1997), questions whether or not that history of action “constitutes a Fisheries Act violation.”

“This is the latest development in a very long story—and a very hot button issue locally,” he told The Observer.

The Sun article highlights a lower incidence of charges laid for fish habitat damage since the federal Conservatives changed the Fisheries Act, which came into effect two and a half years ago.

It found 11 charges laid in Canada in the four-year period ending March 2014 (zero since the Act changed). Prior to that, there were an average of 20 violations punished per year from 2006 to 2009.

The criticism comes just after the DOK approved $50,000 to fund the 2016 engineering services for the lower McCallum Ditch works—just a portion of what the district will have to spend this year.

This week, as The Observer goes to press, the DOK council will vote on approval of another $53,900 to pay AquaTerra Environmental Ltd. to pit tag and trap Oregon spotted frogs prior to instream works.

“That’s part of the report to bring in our environmental consultants to do what’s required for our approval process with the senior levels of government,” said Mick Thiessen, DOK’s director of engineering services.

The DOK tries to get all the requirements in place to get approvals as early as possible in the year to ensure that their drainage maintenance works are completed for each year, as the engineering department tries to squeeze in the work between the August 15 to end of September allowable window.

One challenge is that the approval and feedback process from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) takes a long time after the DOK has submitted information.

And then there’s the increasing cost the increasing requirements for species at risk.

“It really is putting a burden on our municipality,” Thiessen said after the previous council meeting. “We have limited resources, we’re a small tax base and yet we have a large geographical drainage area that we have to maintain which presents a unique challenge for us.”

He added that the DOK is interested in having a balanced approach with environmental concerns, but that these are drainage ditches and “drainage is a priority.” That’s what the streams were intended for.

“We want to support the agricultural community and ensure they have proper drainage and that’s our mandate as a district,” Thiessen said.

But at the same time, DOK staff and council are making the effort to meet the environmental regulations requirements of the senior levels of government.

At the March 14 council meeting just before the $50,000 funding was unanimously approved, acting Deputy Mayor, Coun. Sylvia Pranger commented on the situation.

“If the Minister and the MFLNRO keeps changing the rules and adding different criteria for anything that we do, maybe they should start signing the cheques instead of the District of Kent taxpayers,” she said.

“And I think we need to keep making that point with the Ministry that they’re making things more and more difficult for our staff to continue to get work done which is very vital to keep the farmland drained.”