Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell says the nation will have to be involved in ‘the process’ as any industrial development of South Campbell Heights moves forward. (File photo)

Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell says the nation will have to be involved in ‘the process’ as any industrial development of South Campbell Heights moves forward. (File photo)

Opinions divided about South Campbell Heights decision

SFN chief says it’s time for nation to become more involved

Reaction to Metro Vancouver directors’ vote Friday to endorse Surrey’s plan for industrial development in the environmentally sensitive South Campbell Heights area has been predictably diverse.

Surrey Board of Trade president and CEO Anita Huberman was quick to respond to the decision with a statement of support.

“The Surrey Board of Trade is pleased with this monumental decision in favour of economic competitiveness, industrial land, business and job growth,” she wrote.

“This is a signal to the global business community that we are ready to do business, grow business, and bring business into Surrey and in the Metro Vancouver region.”

Sebastian Sajda, president of environmental activism group Force of Nature, said, however, that his organization – and other similar groups – were “very, very disappointed by the vote” which amended Metro’s Regional Growth Strategy to move South Campbell Heights outside of the ‘urban containment’ boundary.

“It was an incredibly close vote,” he said, noting that some directors who had previously indicated they would be voting against the move, or had supported deferral of the decision, ultimately voted for the amendment.

“Metro Vancouver has historically had a great vision for the region – and its Metro 2050 strategy has even stronger language about urban containment, environmental concerns and consultation.

“(The vote) seems counter to both the historical and currently-stated vision of Metro.”

Going forward, he said, each development within the South Campbell Heights area will have to be approved by Surrey and also meet provincial and federal regulations, all of which will be closely observed by environmental groups alert to the possibility of ecological crisis.

READ ALSO: Video offers top 10 reasons to oppose Surrey’s South Campbell Heights development plan

READ ALSO: Metro Vancouver board endorses Surrey’s South Campbell Heights development plan

“There will be a need for people to keep a clear eye on what is being done and to make sure all of it is being done appropriately.”

Christy Juteau of environmental stewardship group A Rocha said it was “quite incredible” that regional leaders would “wash their hands” of concerns about the plan at a time when attention is focused on Indigenous reconciliation, environmental protection and climate change.

“A Rocha will continue working alongside SFN, together with other governments on both sides of the border, toward (advancing) environmental protection.”

Also expressing disappointment was Chief Harley Chappell (Kwo’pokton) of the Semiahmoo First Nation – in whose traditional territory the South Campbell Heights area is located, and for whom any industrial development is upstream of where the salmon- and other fish-bearing Little Campbell River (Ta’Talu) flows into Semiahmoo Bay.

He said Monday he viewed the outcome as a “missed opportunity” for Metro Vancouver to show that it is truly acting in the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and forthcoming changes in provincial legislation designed to bring laws, regulations and policies in line with the declaration and the principles of reconciliation.

“We had high hopes, because the opportunity was there to do business in a different way.”

It’s happened frequently over the years, he said, that various levels of government have moved forward with development plans impacting First Nations “only to take a step back and say ‘oops’ we forgot to consult (them),” he added.

“At the 11th hour the First Nations are brought into the picture.”

Changes in provincial policy and legislation, he said, have “made us hopeful that we’re able to work in a little bit different way now,” Chappell said.

“There’s a question of how will that work, and how will we do that in future. I saw (the Metro vote) as a chance to change that, and allow us to find a seat at the table.”

Chappell said he’d yet to discuss the vote with members of his council, and it’s too early to say what recourse SFN will have to ensure its interests are addressed as the South Campbell Heights plan moves forward.

“From my lands, I really believe we have to get into the process now,” he said.

A meeting between Surrey council and the SFN council, scheduled for March 14, is likely to be closed to the public, he said.

“We’ve requested to discuss the South Campbell Heights plan at that meeting, and we’d like input on that agenda as well.”

The nation’s overriding concern is reducing the flow of contaminants from the Little Campbell River into Semiahmoo Bay, he said – a situation that could be exacerbated by the introduction of industry and impermeable paved surfaces in the South Campbell Heights area.

He noted also Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s avowed intent, expressed at Friday’s meeting, that consultation with SFN improve.

“As we move forward these discussions need to happen,” Chappell said.

“My goal is a zero net loss – no impact on the river or its tributaries flowing through our lands.

“It’s a high bar – but a very important bar to set.”

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