Lack of oversight leads to considerable environmental damage by ATV trail development

Press Release from the Office of the Opposition

Charlottetown, PE – There is an ongoing concern regarding ATV usage and the destructive impact it is having on the environment in Prince Edward Island. A recent instance in Lot 16 demonstrates the damage that can occur when there isn’t a balanced, responsible approach to ATV trail planning.

“I was very disturbed by the considerable environmental damage caused by the construction of the ATV trail in Lot 16,” stated Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Official Opposition. “It speaks to a concerning lack of oversight on part of government when it comes to activities that impact the environment.”

Conditions of the Watercourse, Wetland, and Buffer Zone Activity Permit issued by the Department of the Environment, Water and Climate Change under the Environmental Protection Act were violated, leading to the Department directing the trail creators to address the damage associated by runoff to nearby waterways.

“While I am pleased to hear the Department of Environment, Water and Climate Changes has directed the creators of this trail to address the damage caused, it will be very difficult to restore these critical parts of the local ecosystem to their previous state,” said Mr. Bevan-Baker. “This unfortunate episode clearly demonstrates more oversight is required, including an appropriate level of public consultation during the assessment and approval process for projects that might negatively impact the environment.”

This recent instance is an opportunity for government, the provincial ATV association and local ATV groups to develop best management practices for the creation of trails on private property. Other jurisdictions across Canada have successfully done this through public engagement, better project assessments, and development of best practices regarding responsible trail planning and usage.

“Islanders are proud stewards of their natural heritage, and I have no doubt they really do want to play a more active role in determining the ecological health of their province,” said Lynne Lund, Official Opposition Shadow Critic for Environment, Water and Climate Change. “We are not saying no more ATV trails, we are simply saying no more wanton destruction of the environment.”

There are a number of possible solutions. These could include an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act for a new level of assessment, the introduction of an Environmental Bill of Rights, proactively involving watershed groups as well as upstream and downstream property owners whenever projects could impact waterways, as well as consulting the public and, especially, neighbouring property owners and communities.

“We must come together and ensure this does not happen again,” concluded Mr. Bevan-Baker. “The public is upset about this, ATV groups are frustrated regarding a lack of direction and guidelines concerning best practices, and our environment is paying the price for it. As legislators, we must do more work to develop best management practices for the creation of ATV trails.”

 

For media inquiries, please contact:

Jonathan Hamel
Director of Communications
Office of the Official Opposition
Tel:         (902) 213-0718
Email:    jdhamel@assembly.pe.ca

 


Backgrounder: Addressing ATV trail construction 

The significant ecological damage to nearby waterways caused by the recent construction of ATV trails and bridges in Lot 16 speaks to a concerning lack of oversight on the part of the provincial government when it comes to activities that negatively impact the environment. Moreover, this unfortunate occurrence has made it clear that more needs to be done to ensure that the public is sufficiently informed about activities that affect the ecological integrity of their communities. 

Current provincial legislation does theoretically allow Islanders the opportunity to have their say in the decision-making process surrounding environmental approvals. According to the Environmental Protection Act, when considering a proposal for an undertaking with potential environmental impacts the Minister of the Environment, Water and Climate Change may require the proponent to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a written submission that outlines the proposed undertaking, highlights potential negative environmental impacts, identifies measures to mitigate any such impacts - and is subject to public review and comment.1 However, it appears that the Department of the Environment, Water and Climate Change only subjects a small minority of total proposals received to the full EIA process. Indeed, only three proposals have required the submission of an Environmental Impact Assessment so far in 2019, while only ten projects required EIAs in 2018. These small numbers seem to be largely due to the high bar used by the Department to determine a given project’s suitability for the EIA process. Indeed, according to the provincial government’s Environmental Impact Assessment Guidelines (2010), projects considered “undertakings” requiring full assessments are typically large-scale projects (eg. the construction of golf courses, marinas, large-scale forest clearances, etc.) with obvious environmental impacts.

Given this high bar, it seems unlikely that a relatively small-scale project, even one with considerable environmental impacts like the trail construction in Lot 16, would ever be subject to the EIA process. Instead, such a project would most likely be approved to proceed under current regulations under the Environmental Protection Act and, by extension, never be subject to any meaningful public consultation. 

Potential Solutions 

1) In order to increase public engagement in the approval of projects with potential environmental 

impacts, it may be necessary to create a new subsection of lesser undertakings under the Act that, while not subject to the full Environmental Impact Assessment process, nevertheless 

1 Under the Environmental Protection Act, “undertaking” is defined as any construction, industry, operation or other project or any alteration or modification of any existing undertaking which will or may: a) cause the emission or discharge of any contaminant into the environment; b) have an effect on any unique, rare or endangered feature of the environment; c) have a significant effect on the environment or necessitate further development which is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, or; (d) cause public concern because of its real or perceived effect or potential effect on the environment.” 2 For more information, see the Department of the Environment, Water and Climate Change’s “Environmental Impact Assessment Guidelines (2010).” https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/sites/default/files/publications/environmental_impact_assessment_guidelines. pdf 

require proponents to engage in an appropriate level of public consultation.3 Indeed, by amending the Environmental Protection Act to include streamlined assessment processes for smaller scale projects that do not meet the current definition of “undertaking” under the Act, the provincial government could dramatically increase the public’s engagement in decisions with potential environmental impacts. The types of projects subject to such approval processes, along with the steps involved in the processes (including consultation), could potentially be defined through regulation under the Act.

2) Alternatively, public input into government decisions affecting the environment could be ensured through the passage of Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) legislation mandating public input on the issuance of authorizing instruments for projects that may have a significant impact on the environment.5 Such legislation could mandate the creation of an online registry for such proposals. While regulations under the legislation would be the most appropriate space for outlining which instruments would be subject to public review (eg. Watercourse, Wetland, and Buffer Zone Activity Permits issued under the Environmental Protection Act), it may be possible to make such clarifications within the legislation. 

3) Short of full public consultation, it may be possible for the provincial government to develop a 

process whereby proponents consult with local watershed groups before approval is granted for any project that might negatively affect the environment. In turn, watershed groups could conduct consultation with local members of the public through meetings or online. 

4) Furthermore, in order to increase ATV operators’ awareness of the environmental impacts of 

irresponsible trail construction, the provincial government could work together with the PEI ATV Federation to develop best management practices for the creation of trails and increase education on the risks associated with violating the Trespass to Property Act

Going forward, the provincial government should take steps to ensure that an appropriate level of consultation is an essential element of any assessment and approval process for a project that might negatively impact the environment. It seems highly likely that Islanders, proud stewards of their natural heritage, are keen to play an even more active role in determining the ecological health of their province. 

3 Such a distinction between significant and less significant undertakings is not unprecedented in the environmental assessment legislation of other Canadian jurisdictions. For example, the Environmental Assessment Acts of Ontario and British Columbia both outline streamlined assessment processes, commonly defined as “Class EA” processes, for more routine infrastructure projects (eg. alterations to provincial parks, remedial flood and erosion control projects) with predictable and manageable environmental impacts. Proposals for such projects are often based on self-assessment and do not always require ministerial approval; nevertheless, these projects are still subject to public consultation. 4 The appropriate level of direct consultation could depend on the significance of the project. For example, a project similar to the creation of the trail in Lot 16 might require the proponents to consult with local landowners and watershed groups, who, through their input, could provide valuable insights into local watershed conditions and advice on mitigating environmental impacts. 5 Both Ontario and British Columbia have Environmental Bill of Rights Acts mandating that government make available for public review any proposals for activities (including from government) that might significantly impact the environment, including proposals falling below the threshold for environmental assessments.