With Gratitude and Hope
Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) Board refers Surrey’s South Campbell Heights amendment application back to staff for discussion with the City of Surrey
Dear friends of A Rocha Canada,
We’d like to thank you all for your ongoing concern, letter writing and prayers toward the land use decisions surrounding A Rocha’s Centre in Surrey and affecting the Tatalu/Little Campbell River watershed.
On Friday January 28th, the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) Board voted 64 to 61 in favor of referring Surrey’s South Campbell Heights amendment application back to Metro Vancouver planning staff for discussion with the City of Surrey, to work with expressed board concerns, especially pursuing further consultation with First Nations.
There was much debate amongst Board members about this decision. Councilor Linda Annis, of Surrey, who proposed the referral, stated that she could not ignore the hundreds of emails (900+) and letters she had received asking for more public and stakeholder consultation. Our collective voices were heard, for which we are grateful!
From a conservation perspective that considers aquifer protection, species at risk in the area, and safeguarding the incredible salmon run in the Little Campbell River it would have been optimal for the entire South Campbell Heights land use proposal to be denied by the MVRD Board, but it was all but impossible for that to occur. The decision to refer the application came as a surprise, but it is about as good as we could have hoped for; so it’s a win for the time being!
What does this mean going forward? More time means that any of the following may take place:
1. Meaningful engagement with First Nations
The fact that Semiahmoo First Nation had only recently been engaged in the planning process was one of the Board’s main concerns. This puts Semiahmoo First Nation in a better position to influence the proposal, and therefore what occurs within their traditional territory and the effects on their reserve land which is the estuary of the river’s outflow into Semiahmoo Bay.
2. Consideration of climate change impacts
This brings attention to how the plan is compatible with Metro Vancouver’s goals and strategies for climate mitigation. For example, TransLink concluded that the plan does not align with regional transportation goals, as it would be costly and inefficient to service with public transit. The climate extreme’s we have experienced in BC this past year (fires, heat dome, atmospheric river and flooding) are causing leaders to prioritize climate action for practical reasons, it’s simply too expensive not to when large scale infrastructure is literally breaking down.
3. Alignment with Metro 2050
Metro Vancouver is in the midst of adopting it’s updated Regional Growth Strategy, Metro 2050 (updating the 2040 version). Concern was expressed that this plan does not align with the robust environmental and climate change goals of Metro 2050. There is potential that the 2050 goals will have more bearing on this proposal, which would be good.
4. More public and stakeholder engagement
None of the long-time stewards of the river (Little Campbell Watershed Society, Friends of Semiahmoo Bay, A Rocha, etc.) were consulted in the development of this version of the plan, despite a long history of working collaboratively with the city and developers. None of those groups are in support of the plan, due to the scale and scope of proposed development on both sides of the river. Further, Metro Van board members received a lot of communication from you, the public. We hope for meaningful dialogue going forward.
5. New decision makers
Last time the amendment application for South Campbell Heights was sent back to the City of Surrey, it took three years for a new proposal to be made. Although we anticipate a faster timeline this time around, we’re hopeful that leadership will emerge that will prioritize some of the concerns highlighted in the process thus far; and build meaningful collaboration rather than stoking divisive issues further (some will recall the arson at A Rocha’s property last July during the provincial emergency for fires).
We’d like to acknowledge that particular courage was demonstrated by Semiahmoo First Nations in asserting their concerns and authority. Councilor Annis, who made the motion to refer the proposal back to Surrey, also demonstrated courage and will likely face backlash from many fellow councilors. Please pray for them, as they continue to walk a difficult path.
Although the decision to refer is complex and there is uncertainty about what exactly it means going forward, we’re hopeful for better outcomes in the long term because of Friday’s vote. Whatever the result may be, we will continue to give voice to the created world, advocate for the highest standards of land use and development, and promote the voice of our Indigenous neighbours.
David Anderson, Co-Director of A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre
Christy Juteau, National Conservation Science Director