The BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has ordered the Town of Gibsons to release information pertaining to environmental impact and harm mitigation strategies for the George Hotel and Residences project.
Order F20-31 was released on July 13, 2020. In it, OIPC adjudicator Ian C. Davis explains that the information requested by the GABC Society is contained in nine peer reviews prepared by professional engineers hired by the Town to review reports submitted by ‘The George’ developer, as well as one responsive report provided by the developer’s consultant.
These critical technical reports have never been seen by the public, nor by the elected decision makers who approved the development permits for the project.
The George involves proposed development of a large-scale hotel, condominium and marina on a high risk contaminated site in Gibsons Landing. Excavations, dredging and pile-driving to remediate and develop the site could blow-out the community drinking water source, Gibsons Aquifer, and spread toxic sediments in the harbour.
In 2017, GABC filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to access the peer review reports of the technical studies done for the project, after the Town approved development permits (DPA 1, 2 and 9).
In response to the FOI request, the Town identified 82 pages of records containing the peer reviews, yet refused to release the reports to GABC.
In June 2018, GABC asked the OIPC to review the Town’s decision.
“We knew the Town had no right to withhold the factual information contained in these records." says GABC president, Suzanne Senger. “The Town’s Official Community Plan (OCP) and the development permit area (DPA) guidelines expressly require expert study and analysis to determine the risks to our natural assets on this site. How could the Town justify withholding information on the environmental impact of a development project and measures needed to protect Gibsons Aquifer?”
After a thorough investigation and deliberation, OIPC Adjudicator Ian C. Davis issued Order F20-31 and directed the Town to give GABC access to all factual information and information similar to environmental impact statements in the records, by August 25, 2020.
A critical aspect of this decision is that FIPPA doesn’t include a firm definition of an environmental impact statement and Adjudicator Davis decided to define it. In doing so, he looked to the BC Environmental Management Act (EMA) and BC Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation (EIAR).
“This is the first time an environmental impact statement has been defined under FIPPA ,” says Senger. “GABC is very proud to have played a role in establishing this definition and setting the stage to access environmental impact information from all public bodies in BC, not just local governments.”
At paragraph 30, Order F20-31 describes an environmental impact statement as:
“A written analysis or assessment, required by law or policy, about the anticipated effects on the environment of a project or activity and/or environmental harm mitigation strategies for the project or activity. Generally, the statement will be prepared by a professional qualified to opine on the environmental impact of the project or activity.”
Adjudicator Davis notes that the peer review reports include numerous discussions of the anticipated environmental impact of construction and environmental harm mitigation strategies.
“This decision goes to the heart of access to information." says Senger. "It’s a huge relief to know that the next time we, or anyone in BC, wants to access environmental impact information from a public body, they won’t have to file an OIPC complaint or wait three years to receive it. We look forward to finally receiving and reviewing this critical information in August.”
-July 23, 2020