The Burnaby office of an intergovernmental program that helps protect the Fraser River and Burrard Inlet is closing its doors on March 31.
Annemarie De Andrade, program manager of the Burrard Inlet Environmental Action Program and the Fraser River Estuary Management Program, announced the news in a Feb. 28 email.
"In most recent years, the evolving mandates of partner organizations have necessitated change," De Andrade wrote. "As a result, the BIEAP-FREMP office, located in Burnaby, will be closing its doors on March 31, 2013. All partners intend to continue the partnership and are establishing a new model based on renewed cooperation and ongoing collaboration."
The Burrard Inlet Environmental Action Program and the Fraser River Estuary Management Program, often referred to as BIEAP-FREMP, is an intergovernmental program that coordinates environmental management review and interagency communications for projects and shoreline developments in the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River estuary. A major part of BIEAP-FREMP's work is to streamline the environmental reviews for anyone working on a project that may impact the water or foreshore in the Lower Mainland. BIEAP-FREMP the project application from the proponent, (a municipality or business, for example) and then contact all relevant agencies - which could include Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or Port Metro Vancouver, for instance - and consolidate their feedback into one coordinated response so the proponent didn't have to approach each agency separately.
Some of the Burnaby projects reviewed include Chevron's interim leak mitigation measures on the Burrard foreshore and Kinder Morgan's remediation work on the Westridge Marine Terminal.
BIEAP-FREMP's partners and funders are Environment Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Metro Vancouver, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Port Metro Vancouver. The NOW learned in January that the Burnaby office was facing financial uncertainty.
"The federal government, as a whole, they have cut some budgets as well, so obviously that affects the programs as well," De Andrade told the NOW. "It's very traumatic, and it's very traumatic for us. People value the program, but we understand there is need for renewal. Hopefully it will come back stronger."
De Andrade said there could be some impact with the office closing, but she's not anticipating any.
"We are anticipating that the port will deal with this," she said.
Carrie Brown, manager of environmental programs with Port Metro Vancouver, confirmed that her organization has taken over the lead role in coordinating the project review applications.
"It involves reviewing the projects, as well as forwarding the projects to partner agencies for their review and advice, as well as putting together a letter of environmental mitigations and conditions that the proponent can follow when they conduct their project," she said. "Really what's happening is the BIEAP-FREMP office is closing. That coordinator role is no longer there, so therefore Port Metro Vancouver will take on that role until a new form of the partnership can be launched and developed."
According to Brown, Port Metro Vancouver was involved in more than 230 environmental reviews last year.
"It's a fair amount of work, and a lot of that was front-handled by the BIEAP-FREMP office," Brown said. "We, as a port, are concerned it's going to be a significant increase to our workload, and we're obviously concerned about being able to resource that. So, from our perspective, the work that BIEAP and FREMP had done on behalf of the partners was a lion's share of the work when it comes to environmental review."
Brown also outlined other work done by BIEAP-FREMP through various committees, including a planning and implementation committee that looked at environmental indicators around Burrard Inlet. The partnership also worked with Metro Vancouver to develop a liquid waste management plan, the Fraser River estuary management program had a land and water use committee that looked at issues for the Fraser River.
"Quite often development and preservation are in conflict with each other. The BIEAP-FREMP programs were part of the solution to that, to bring everyone together - not just government agencies, but often municipalities, the public First Nations - and be sort of a neutral body that could kind of stick-handle a lot of the issues along the Lower Mainland," Brown said. "All of that is currently not being worked on. The partnership still exists, and I think that's where the partnership wants to move forward so we can continue doing programs and have committees similar to what was doing under the BIEAP-FREMP program."
Rivers Day founder and Burnaby resident Mark Angelo said BIEAP-FREMP has done good work in the past and in many ways they were a pioneer in intergovernmental cooperation.
"To see any group like that close is sad to see. The work they've done, there will be an attempt to redistribute it elsewhere, but all other groups and agencies are already heavily burdened with their workload," Angelo said. "You worry some of the things will fall through the cracks."
Angelo said the office's closure is indicative of the continuing trend of the degradation of environmental protection.