North Coast MLA Bill Belsey has been picked to chair a brand new committee which will be trying to help businesses and communities facing hurdles in their attempts to use crown land.
Mr. Belsey said he is calling it the “yes committee” for now, because it doesn’t yet have a formal name. Premier Gordon Campbell tapped the North Coast MLA for the job last month, announcing his appointment at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver. Four other MLAs will join Mr. Belsey on the committee.
“What the premier is concerned with is a number of issues, which have been brought up by mayors and regional districts,” Mr. Belsey told the Observer on Friday (Oct. 10) from his office in Prince Rupert. “They have projects which hit a brick wall or hurdle because of some rule or regulation.”
For example, he said, some of his constituents were recently sucessful in getting two tenures for crown land in the Bella Coola valley for high-end heli-skiing ventures, projects which he said will bring visitors, money and jobs to the region.
“Both of them have got their signed tenures from Land and Water BC,” he said. “Then, in comes Water, Land and Air Protection, and they start drawing red zones all around these areas… saying these areas are perceived mountain goat habitat.”
Ministry staff ended up red-zoning 60 percent of the skiing area due to mountain goat concerns, he said. This is the type of situation the new committee could get involved in, he said – intervening with the ministry that’s throwing up hurdles to make sure concerns like this don’t derail business opportunities.
“You know, maybe we’ve got to look at the difference between ‘perceived’ and ‘known’,” he said. “We have to balance somehow our concern for the environment… We’ve got to create some jobs and opportunity for the north.”
Mr. Belsey said that although these type of issues probably affect northern BC more acutely, the new committee’s mandate is province-wide.
Another example, he said, could be a company that wants to build a road through a corner of a provincial park to access some minerals on the other side. Right now, this kind of activity is not allowed. But Mr. Belsey is asking why not. Thousands of vehicles drive through Vancouver’s Stanley Park every day, he pointed out, and no one thinks anything of it.
“Why the hell is it that up north we have to have parks where you can’t do all that?” he asked.
“It does not mean we throw environmental issues out the door,” he added, or re-do land use planning decisions. “It means we take a sober second look at these proposals.”
The committee is still getting organized, but once it gets off the ground, Mr. Belsey will be inviting people to share their stories of crown land roadblocks with him.
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