BC’s guidance for provincial land use plans – here is what you need to know

“The purpose of land use planning is to guide land and resource management decision makers to regulate the use of land in consideration of the needs of communities, the economy, and the environment.”

Hemmera’s Social Sciences Practice Lead, Nina Barton, was asked to attend an expert elicitation workshop on changes to BC’s guidance for Socio-economic and Environmental Assessments (SEEA) for provincial land use plans. SEEA are conducted to assess how implementing a land use plan will affect people, communities, the economy, and ecosystems in the plan area. The workshop was hosted in Victoria by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).

The updated SEAA guidance will address a range of critically important considerations including climate change, Indigenous interests and cumulative effects. Hemmera has the expertise to support clients with SEEA, whether for land use plans alone or for projects that require environmental impact assessment.

Land Use Planning in BC: A Brief History

The purpose of land use planning is to guide land and resource management decision makers to regulate the use of land in consideration of the needs of communities, the economy, and the environment. Most of BC’s land area (about 94%) is Crown or public land; however, before the 1990s, most resource management decisions in BC were on a valley-by-valley basis and were made to resolve specific land use conflicts. The Province initiated a comprehensive, large-scale planning process in the 1990s that used a consensus-driven model. The main goals of land use planning at the time were to increase protected areas across BC while maintaining the economic stability of resource industries. By the early 2000s, higher-level, regional Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP) covered more than 90% of the provincial land base. Many sub-regional, component-based planning processes were also conducted for smaller areas or specific issues, such as management plans for community watersheds or establishment of wildlife habitat areas.

Modernized Land Use Planning

In 2017, FLNRORD and the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) launched a revitalized approach to land use planning called Modernized Land Use Planning. They recognized that previous land use planning processes had generally lacked First Nation involvement, consistent monitoring programs, and mechanisms for legal enforcement. Other important issues identified included water sustainability, socio-economic stability for rural communities, and climate change implications for land use.

Since 2017, the Province has engaged with Indigenous groups to identify critical areas for updated planning, and several pilot projects to update LRMPs are now in progress. The new approach to land use planning is designed as a government-to-government approach between Indigenous groups, FLNRORD, and MIRR. There is also close communication between the two ministries and the BC Environmental Assessment Office – updated SEEA guidance will be aligned, where appropriate, with the approach to environmental assessments set out in the new BC Environmental Assessment Act (2018).

Revitalizing SEEA

The existing (2007) guidance for SEEA uses Multiple Accounts Analysis (MAA) to identify and characterize the effects of proposed land uses on selected economic, social, and environmental indicators that have been identified as relevant to the plan area. The MAA approach compares the outcomes of indicators under a base case scenario and as a result of plan implementation. Key indicators listed in the existing SEEA guidance focus mainly on economic activities and ecological risks.

The updated SEEA guidance will need to also fully consider new challenges, including:

  • The ever-increasing complexity of factors affecting the land and water, e.g., climate change effects and species-at-risk management
  • Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: BC’s recent implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and adoption of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
  • The role of Indigenous knowledge in land use plans
  • Increasing demand on resources, coupled with the need to balance various and sometimes conflicting social, economic, cultural and environmental objectives
  • How to facilitate the meaningful participation of communities and stakeholders
  • Differential effects for vulnerable sub-populations
  • Cumulative effects.

Implications of the Updated SEEA Guidance for Client Projects

It is no coincidence that the modern challenges of land use planning are also key areas of focus in the new BC and federal guidance for environmental impact assessment of major projects. The revitalized approach to the socio-economic assessment of land use planning is being designed to be responsive to people and communities, by providing more opportunities for meaningful engagement and increasing the transparency of the assessment and planning processes. Greater transparency and increased opportunities for meaningful engagement can lead to greater public trust in land use decisions and greater certainty for clients who may be planning projects.

At Hemmera, our team of socio-economic practitioners and land use specialists are participating directly with the Province to develop new guidance for socio-economic assessment under changing regulatory frameworks. We have the experience and expertise to lead SEEA of land use plans and to help our clients be aware of the implications of updates to land use plans as they consider new projects, including those that may require not only land use planning but also environmental impact assessment.

About the author
Nina Barton is a Practice Leader in Social Sciences with over 15 years of diverse experience working in natural resource management in western Canada.

Completing Environmental Remediation Work with the New Realities of COVID-19

By Peter Reid, Vice President, Site Assessment and Remediation at Hemmera

Hemmera looks at the new realities of conducting environmental remediation work with COVID-19 and considerations that property developers need to make when refinancing or redeveloping a property from the perspective of Environmental Site Assessments.

During the recent response to COVID-19, Hemmera had several on-going remediations that needed to continue without risking harm to the environment.

With market conditions changing rapidly, it is anticipated that many Canadian property owners and developers may consider property refinancing.  Depending on the nature of the site and the areas around it, this may require an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) be conducted. Some things to consider are:

  • Redevelopment and refinancing have different requirements for environmental site assessments. Depending on your situation, a redevelopment may trigger environmental requirements that a refinancing may not.
  • Upcoming changes to schedule 2 uses in British Columbia will expand the number of sites that require assessments, including sites that have re-used asphalt as fill.
  • ESAs can be safely conducted during COVID-19, however the safety requirements for these assessments varies by province depending on each province’s health department rules.

The Hemmera team has been able to continue to conduct ESAs while managing the safety considerations required by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a webinar held on 30 April 2020, the team talked through some examples of the considerations above and discussed how these site investigations can be conducted while ensuring the safety of workers and the local community. The webinar was moderated by James Mair, with Rob Hamm, Peter Reid, and Karey Dow speaking.

Watch the recording of the webinar below.


Hemmera names Vicki Heron as new Vice President, BC/YT

Hemmera is delighted to announce the appointment of Vicki Heron as Vice President, BC/YT. Vicki will draw upon almost 2 decades of technical expertise in the project management of Environmental Assessment (EA) and Environmental Permitting (EP) projects within the transport, power, water, waste, and manufacturing sectors to deliver innovative solutions to Hemmera’s clients as the new Vice President of BC and Yukon. Vicki will lead the development and implementation of our strategy for growth supported by Hemmera’s key regions and business lines.

“Vicki’s deep knowledge and leadership, combined with her industry relationships and ability to successfully deliver large-scale projects, will be a huge asset to Hemmera,” says Greg Quandt, Senior Vice President, National Operations. “Her experience will further strengthen the suite of services we provide to our clients and communities. We are excited and honoured to welcome Vicki to our team.”

Thanks to her work across compliance, operations, technical development, and environment, Vicki offers an in-depth understanding of project life cycles. She is also skilled at managing multi-disciplinary teams specializing in permitting, community relations, and Indigenous relations.

“I’m thrilled to join Hemmera and look forward to working with the exceptional team here,” says Vicki, who adds, “I look forward to building upon that foundation as we continue to promote a supportive and collaborative environment of constant learning for our team members, while tackling exciting projects.”

Hemmera welcomes Gonzalo Rios as the Mining Lead for Eastern Canada

Gonzalo RiosHemmera is pleased to announce that Gonzalo Rios has joined the Oakville team as the Mining Lead for Eastern Canada. Gonzalo has 25 years of experience holding corporate management positions at several mining companies with operations throughout North America and Latin America. With a B.Sc. (chemistry), and an MBA, he is a safety and environmental engineer and has expertise on enterprise risk management. Gonzalo also offers clients unique and balanced technical and operational expertise across the sustainability spectrum including health, safety, and environmental management; stakeholder engagement; community development; and relationships with regulatory and government agencies.

Committed to building strong relationships with regulatory and government agencies, Gonzalo is experienced developing closure plans and permitting requirements for the mining industry in Chile and South America. He has worked on open pit and underground precious metal and copper mining projects, managing not only on the environmental impact assessment process, as well as preparing and submitting mining sector or operational permits. Gonzalo is also experienced managing the development and execution of several closure plans for open pit and underground mines, including mills, tailings dams, mine waste deposits, spent dumps, pits, tunnels, and other infrastructure. He has managed the closure plans of more than 10 different mine sites on a yearly basis and conducted the closure cost estimate / asset retirement obligation for all sites at Pan American Silver and Aura Minerals during his tenure there. He also has vast experience on water quality assessment and superficial and underground water monitoring programs.


Maintaining our Commitment to you: Hemmera’s Response to Covid-19

To All Clients,

I hope that this message finds you safe and healthy. These are definitely challenging times for all of us on both a personal and business front, and I trust you are finding a path forward. We will get through this, though it’s going to take some time.

Many of you have reached out to us regarding the evolving Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and I wanted to provide an update on the proactive steps and measures that we have taken at Hemmera. In short, I want you to know that we are open for business, keeping staff safe, and continuing to be here for you. I know that many of you have been contacted by one of our team members, particularly those of you with active projects, so you should be aware that all of our staff are able to work from home and are keeping connected via remote conferencing, phone and email.

Our priority is to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that our people remain safe and healthy through this time, while also ensuring that our clients come through this period in the strongest possible position. An outline of the actions we are taking is included below; we will continue to closely monitor developments and will immediately take additional actions as required.

Following are some of the actions that Hemmera has implemented to date. Should your organization require confirmation of compliance with specific health directives, please reach out to your project manager and they can provide that information:

  • Commissioned a COVID-19 response team of senior executives and senior HSEC personnel, which meets daily to track and respond in real-time to any international, regional or local developments.
  • Implemented travel restrictions that have now been in place since early March for all high-risk regions (as defined by International SOS).
  • Supported our people in working from home, investing in additional technology support to ensure minimal disruption to client service.
  • Worked with our clients and local authorities to establish policies and protocol on site to minimize impact to existing operations and operations under construction.
  • Cancelled all non-essential air travel.
  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting measures in our workplaces and especially in all meeting rooms and common areas.
  • Asked people to self-quarantine when they have returned from high risk locations, have exhibited any of the common symptoms of COVID-19, or when they may have been in close contact with someone who has, or is presumed to have COVID-19.

I am confident that together we can work our way through the issues which may confront us. We are a resilient team and have demonstrated our strength during adversity previously. We intend to support our clients, colleague, and communities in the best way we possibly can, and the storm will pass. Until then, please reach out to me, or any one of our colleagues at Hemmera should you have any questions or concerns.

Take care and be safe,

Paul Hemsley, President
Zimi Meka, Chief Executive Officer

Making Sense of the Changing Canadian Environmental Assessment Landscape

On 27 November 2018, the Province of BC passed the new Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). Characterizing the new law as “revitalizing the environmental assessment process,” the Province has revised the process to more effectively consider First Nations legal rights and advance reconciliation; improve transparency and participation; and protect the environment. A notable element of the new provincial EAA is the requirement that proponents obtain Indigenous consent at various stages of the review process.

The new federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA)expected to be enacted in June 2019, shares some similarities with the new provincial EAA, particularly with respect to requirements for public and Indigenous participation and a focus on sustainability, but does not go as far as requiring Indigenous consent.

Hemmera’s regulatory experts have examined the environmental impact assessment legislative changes, and offer the following summary of the key features.

Province of BC Environmental Assessment Act

Key Changes:

  • Facilitating reconciliation with Indigenous people has been added as one of objectives. For some proponents, this will mean changes in the way they plan consultation as well as higher levels of effort during the conduct of consultation.
  • Consistent with objective of facilitating reconciliation, Indigenous nation consent is now required at multiple stages in the new process. To maintain timelines for reviews, a time-bound facilitated dispute resolution process has also been added; this process will enable the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) to make key process decisions even if consensus is not reached with Indigenous nations.
  • More early-stage scoping and consultation with Indigenous and public groups will be needed from proponents. For some proponents, such requirements formalize best practices that have been proven effective at proactively finding solutions to potential land use conflicts.
  • The documentation requirements have changed, especially during scoping when the Project Description and Assessment Plan are developed. Such changes are closely linked to requirements for more engagement throughout the assessment process.
  • There will be a more stringent process for testing whether a project can be exempted from the EA process. Exemption requests will include consideration of factors such as the reconciliation and sustainability objectives of the revised EAA.
  • New co-management requirements with Indigenous nations have been added, and in some cases, self-assessments by Indigenous nations will be permitted. Both of these changes are aligned with UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • The “trigger” for projects requiring assessment remains with the Reviewable Projects Regulation, but the specific thresholds within the regulation are expected to change.
  • Within certain categories, proponents of non-threshold projects will need to notify the EAO and seek a decision on whether an assessment maybe necessary.
  • The one-project, one-process approach will remain available for projects triggering both provincial and federal review. Similar to the new federal “kill switch”, the EAO can decline project review before the process starts if “extraordinarily adverse effects” are identified that are incompatible with climate or other policy priorities.
  • The required content to be provided in an Application will be enshrined in the legislation, rather than in guidance, and proponents will need to develop a project-specific Assessment Plan that outlines scope, process, and methods.
  • The revised EAA will allow assessments to consider both adverse and positive effects and requires consideration of other factors that are becoming common in many jurisdictions: gender, climate change, and sustainability for future generations.
  • The Minister will have the power to introduce commissions, hearing panels, and Indigenous nation assessments as an alternative to EAO-led assessments.
  • Proponents will no longer be allowed to provide a determination of the significance of effects in Applications. The EAO and Indigenous nations will determine the levels of effect with the Ministers making ultimate decisions on project approval.
  • Transition provisions will enable approved projects to continue if they are substantially started or operational. Projects with section 11 Orders under the old legislation may continue to be managed under those provisions within stated time constraints.

Federal Bill C-69 – Impact Assessment Act

Key Changes:

  • Early and ongoing consultation will be required, starting before determination of the assessment scope. This change aligns with existing requirements for scoping documentation and consultation under BC legislation, and is proposed for the Northwest Territories.
  • The National Energy Board will be abolished, replaced with the Canadian Energy Regulator; allied to this change, the new federal IAA removes limitations on “directly affected parties” only participating in impact assessment processes.
  • More factors will be considered during impact assessment, including positive effects, sustainability, gender, and climate change considerations.
  • The “trigger” for assessment remains in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities, which will be revised and will likely provide for assessment of a wider range of projects.
  • Project approval decisions made by the Minister will be supported by a public interest test that considers effects on Indigenous peoples, sustainability measures, extent of effects and mitigation, and climate change implications.
  • A new ministerial power will allow government to veto a project during early stages of regulatory engagement if there are clearly unacceptable effects (“kill switch”).
  • An improved online information system will be launched that will be similar to BC’s ePIC document hosting portal.
  • Advisory bodies will be established to support the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, renamed the Impact Assessment Agency, during the review process.
  • The substitution process will remain in place for streamlining federal and provincial reviews.
  • Similar to provisions that are already in law in other jurisdictions, the new federal IAA will include a process for obtaining amendments to approvals, timelines for initiating construction, regional and strategic assessments, and enhanced compliance and monitoring.

What does this mean? Implications for new projects in BC

While the intent of the early scoping and a consent-based approach may be to resolve issues early and streamline processes, it is unlikely that this will result in substantive reductions in proponent costs or expedited approval times.

It is more likely, most notably in the short term, that costs for EIA preparation and review will rise as a result of more process steps, broader scope of issues to be considered, and increased consultation requirements at multiple points before, during, and after approval processes. Both federal and BC provincial legislation retain the benefits of legislated timelines, substitution, and the one-project, one-process approach that does streamline assessments.

The introduction of a “kill switch” in both the federal and provincial acts, may help to limit investment in projects that may be considered unacceptable due to adverse effects that cannot be fully mitigated, particularly to Indigenous groups. In addition, the inclusion of a process for seeking amendments to federal approvals will be a welcome, and long overdue, change that will benefit project proponents.

Provincial and federal governments have acted on their election promises to revise and modernize environmental impact assessment legislation to reflect contemporary issues and feedback from interests that participated in the change processes. The changes include some of the best elements of the previous laws, new elements such as sustainability and gender considerations that will require changes in thinking. In the case of BC’s new legislation, the changes introduce very bold Indigenous nation consent thresholds and reconciliation goals.