The Save French Creek Estuary Land group is upset they are being denied copies of a Bio-Physical Assessment completed for a development permit application for French Creek Estuary Lands.
The group has submitted a freedom of information letter to the Regional District of Nanaimo but report they were only allowed to view the reports at the RDN office and that copies cannot be released without the permission of the developer.
The group is contesting this decision quoting that under section 25(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), the head of a public body must, without delay, disclose to the public, to an affected group of people, or to an applicant, information the disclosure of which is clearly in the public interest.
Section 25 overrides every other section of FIPPA, including mandatory exceptions to disclosure and privacy protections (FIPPA s. 25(2)).
Denise Foster of Save French Creek Estuary Land told the RDN in a letter that the assessment report is a critical document that contains expert opinion and facts about the environmental impacts of the proposed development.
The RDN, Foster says, rely on the assessment to make decisions whether or not to approve the development and releasing it. He pointed out, is clearly in the public interest.
“The public should be able to obtain copies of assessment documents; it is not sufficient to simply view them in the RDN office,” he said, noting residents are concerned about the potential environmental impact of the proposed development within the estuary land.
“Should all of the scientific, legal and development experts needed to review the Bio-Physical Assessment be required to attend the RDN office to view a single, immobile copy of an assessment during office hours? It is absolutely necessary for concerned citizens to provide a copy of the assessment to experts so they may determine the environmental, legal and other impacts of the proposed development.”
The RDN’s manager of Long Range Planning, Paul Thompson, said the regional district has always done it this way, where they allow the public to come into the office and view the documents.
“It has never been an issue in the past,” said Thompson.
“This is the first time that it has come up that somebody actually wants to have a copy and take it away.”
Thompson also explained there are instances where the regional district publishes reports online but in this case the main application has yet to be submitted with respect to the development of these lands.
Copies are not made available to the public until then.
“There’s nothing being hidden,” said Thompson.
“Generally when we have a permit and if it references a report of some kind then it becomes a part of the permit. Those permits are available for anybody to see.”