Dear ERA Members and friends of the Elk River,
I trust you are all well and continuing to enjoy and benefit from the Elk River and its surroundings. I also hope you have been following our work at the Elk River Alliance as we use science, education and community collaboration to ensure sustainable stewardship of the Elk River watershed.
As you know, ERA works to facilitate community engagement to raise awareness about issues that affect the Elk River and its tributaries.
We are writing to bring to your attention a new threat to Lizard Creek, a critically important tributary of the Elk River.
Over the last several months we have been tracking plans by a local land developer to put a 74-lot residential subdivision of 2-5 acre lots on the area commonly known as the Galloway lands. These lands cover from the south shore of Lizard Creek to the Fernie Alpine Resort boundary, and from Fernie Provincial Park eastern boundary to Highway 3. To help orient you, these are also the portion of lands currently used by the Fernie Nordic Society from the bridge over Lizard Creek and out to and including the Galloway loop. These plans have now been submitted as a Development Application to the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) for a Land Use Amendment to the Elk Valley Official Development Plan. The developer is Reto Barrington through the company Handshake Holdings Inc., with landowner CH Nelson Holdings Ltd., and investors from the Banff area.
PROPOSED GALLOWAY LANDS RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION
The RDEK has started the process for reviewing: 1) by-law amendments to the Elk River Valley Official Development plan to permit such a development; and, 2) zoning changes from Rural Resource Zone and Rural Residential (Country) to Rural Residential (Estate) and Parks and Recreation Zone. These lands have grown into maturing forests since last logged in the early 1980s and they are now one of the few remaining important and broad wildlife corridors connecting the top of the Lizard range to the Elk River as adjacent lands have been developed. The current landowner has permitted the Fernie Nordic Society to maintain the existing cross-country ski trails on these lands.
While the development proposal includes measures to promote conservation and to address environmental concerns, ERA has identified the following concerns and potential impacts related to the proposed development:
Risk to Westslope cutthroat trout (WCT) habitat in Lizard Creek - runoff and sedimentation from land disturbance, impermeable road surfaces with increased velocity and rate of flows, erosion and sedimentation affecting WCT and bull trout. Recent ERA surveys show Lizard Creek provides critical spawning and rearing habitat along its entire length. It is one of a small number of remaining undisturbed tributaries in the Elk River watershed for trout recruitment to the mainstem of the Elk River. Other streams on the proposed development property are also fish-bearing. Recent events have shown up serious issues of flooding and silt transport on disturbed lands
Effects on water quality in Lizard Creek and other tributaries on the proposed property from multiple septic systems (Type 1 & 2 septic systems proposed but not demonstrated to be sufficient), and 74 groundwater wells.
Disturbance to wildlife habitat (grizzly bear, moose, goshawk and other forest plant and animal species) will break up and severely narrow the wildlife corridor from Island Lake Lodge through Fernie Provincial Park to the Elk River; the buffer/setbacks along Lizard Creek proposed for wildlife connectivity are not adequate and no specific wildlife studies have been done
Loss of conservation lands– the development proposal claims that “conservation comes first”. In reality, there are big questions about this commitment including:
- The 51% of land called “primary” conservation areas are in fact areas either not suited to development (inherently unbuildable riparian areas, floodplains, and steep slopes) or “secondary” conservation areas (developable but having required riparian set-backs or better suited to conservation)
- These lands would be rezoned by the RDEK to Parks and Recreation with a covenant to limit permitted uses. While permitted uses under such zoning include conservation areas, recreation reserves, campgrounds, ecological reserves, wildlife sanctuaries; what is RDEK’s stated intent and policy for these lands and what is RDEK’s track record and capacity to maintain and ensure conservation values?
- Conservation covenants held by RDEK are proposed for portions of each of the 74 private lots to limit development. This would be an unprecedented number of individual covenants within such a development and raises questions including:
- Does the RDEK have any experience managing conservation covenants?
How will RDEK resource putting such a number of covenants in place, and the ongoing management and oversight of these covenants to ensure their integrity and effectiveness?
How will RDEK monitor and enforce compliance with the covenant terms by 74 individual private landowners – it is difficult to enforce them after the fact
- How will RDEK monitor and enforce compliance with the proposed covenant terms on its own Parks and Recreation land use area?
In addition to these ecological, environmental, and ongoing management concerns, ERA is focused on ensuring due and fair process is applied by the RDEK and its Directors in the formal development review and decision-making process, having heard concerns expressed by local citizens in this regard.
RDEK has informed us of the following review process
Review by the RDEK Advisory Planning Commission (APC). This took place on November 16th; at this meeting APC members raised concerns about lack of one sewage treatment facility and one water supply facility; the APC decided to recommend the by-law amendment application, while expressing a desire to know what the people of Fernie feel about the proposed development
Public “open house”– late November, early December – no date has yet been set
Review by Planning & Development Services Committee January 13th
Bylaws presented to the RDEK Board of Directors January 13th– open for public presentations
If the amending bylaws are advanced, a public hearing to be held late January and the RDEK will collect formal public comments on the proposal at that time.
Timing of these steps should be available at this link (https://www.rdek.bc.ca/meetings_events/). ERA will let you know when further dates are set or confirmed.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
We are aware of groups of concerned citizens engaging in the development review process. If you are interested in protecting the environmental and social values of the Galloway Lands that are important to area residents, you can become involved by:
Reading the development proposal to gain an understanding of what is being proposed – and form your own views about the proposed development and land use and zoning amendments. Click here to read the development proposal
Write to the RDEK staff and Council members to express your views– click on the name in the contact details below.
If you choose to do so, we suggest you include a statement that you would like your letter to form part of the public record for RDEK Council meetings addressing the Galloway Lands by-law amendments
3. Make your voice heard by participating in the public meetings– at the RDEK Board of Directors January 13th (request to present due January 5th ) and public hearings to follow https://www.rdek.bc.ca/meetings_events/about_our_meetings/request_to_present/
ERA’s hope is that with strong and clear citizen input, the RDEK Council will make a well-informed decision that is best for Lizard Creek and the Elk River watershed, and for the residents of the Elk Valley.
Thank you for your attention and interest,