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B.C. politicos calling for renewed vision of Fraser River estuary management

New West councillor among those championing FREMP 2.0
New West councillor Patrick Johnstone is among the politicians calling for a renewed Fraser River estuary management planning process. File/The Record

B.C. municipalities are calling on senior governments to implement FREMP 2.0.

At the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities’ convention, New Westminster Coun. Patrick Johnstone championed a resolution from the Lower Mainland Local Government Association regarding a renewed vision for the Fraser River estuary. The UBCM approved a resolution to call on the federal and provincial governments to allocate the necessary resources and to appropriately fund and support a renewed Fraser River estuary management planning process that will collectively protect the ecosystem of the estuary through inter-agency collaboration.

“I feel really positive that something good is going to come as far as a replacement for FREMP,” Johnstone said. “It wasn’t my effort; it was the effort of a big team. I appreciate the work they have all done to make this happen.”

The resolution had its beginnings earlier this year at a webinar hosted by the Climate Caucus – Co-Governance Within the Fraser River Estuary: A Conversation.

Then-Coquitlam Coun. Bonita Zarrillo (who has since been elected as Port Moody-Coquitlam’s member of Parliament), with support from Johnstone, Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont, as well as the Fraser Valley regional district and staff in cities around the Lower Mainland, developed a resolution. Johnstone and Dupont took it to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association executive, which sponsored the resolution at the UBCM convention, where it was then endorsed by delegates.

Johnstone said Zarrillo will be championing the proposal in Ottawa, and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Fin Donnelly has been discussing the matter in Victoria.

Established in 1985, FREMP was an intergovernmental program that coordinated environmental reviews and interagency communication for projects that may impact the river or foreshore, such as developments on New Westminster’s shoreline. The Burrard Inlet Environmental Action Program and the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (BIEAP-FREMPA), as it later became, ceased operations in March 2013, with Port Metro Vancouver taking over the lead role in coordinating project review applications.

The UBCM resolution states the Fraser River estuary is a diverse and productive ecosystem, supporting more than 100 species at risk, including salmon and southern resident killer whales, and, is under increased development pressure and impacts of climate change, including flooding of industrial and agricultural lands. The resolution states the river would benefit from a regional planning approach that balances the needs of the ecosystem, people and the economy.

The resolution goes on to say that Indigenous people have lived in and stewarded the Fraser River estuary since time immemorial, and know the various species, habitat, and ecosystems as integral to their existence and identity, and are integral to the planning and governance of the of the Fraser River estuary.

The resolution has garnered the support of New West resident Andrew Murray, a member of the Council of Canadians, a non-profit group whose campaigns include fighting to protect Canadian waterways.

“FREMP was a very successful organizational structure that brought all stakeholders to the table in the planning of the future development of the lower Fraser River,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was too successful, and the Harper government slashed it and handed the power of FREMP over to Port Metro Vancouver.”

Since then, there’s been a philosophy of endless growth, which the planet simply cannot sustain, Murray said.

“We want to put the hands of power back into hands of all stakeholders that are involved, and not just have the port, which you know, it’s the hen house and fox analogy, and that’s been going on for too long,” he told city council. “I spent years with a wonderful group of dedicated citizens to stop coal from being shipped across the river from us at Fraser Surrey Docks. We fought that, we won that, we won at the courts. But it’s just going to be one continuous battle after another unless we get back to a structure that works for all.”

With New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian and Burnaby South MP (and federal NDP leader) Jagmeet Singh representing ridings on the Fraser River, Murray believes it’s a perfect opportunity to push for FREMP 2.0.

“I think this could be a very strong bargaining chip to get that structure put back into place, with the right kind of lobbying,” he said. “We are very hopeful that that comes to fruition.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus