Enviro Committee Rises From the Dead

At the March 12 St. John’s city council meeting council voted unanimously to approve a motion to re-activate the Environmental Advisory Committee.

Yep. Re-activate.

The Environmental Advisory Committee, established in 1994 as part of the city’s development regulations, fizzled into near-oblivion somehow in the early 2000s.

The committee, which is to be made up of an array of environmental experts, has been mandated to advise council on water, wetland and other environmental issues, and report annually on the “state of the environment” in the city.

“The mandate seems a bit dated and narrow in scope in my view,” says Chris Hogan, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network.

“There is a world-wide movement to ‘green’ urban environments,” says Hogan. “And this touches on every aspect of how we live and work: food production, sustainable transportation, alternative energy generation, building design and planning.”

If the resurrected committee is to have an impact on these things, it will need an expanded mandate, says Hogan.

But, expanded mandate or not, having an active, expert advisory committee is important to “provide better analysis of environmental impacts from development, and make sustainability a key consideration in all decision making and planning,” says Hogan.

This was a sentiment echoed by councillor Sheilagh O’Leary, who added that having a robust expert committee is particularly important now as development continues to ramp up around the city. And especially if plans go ahead to change provincial legislation that has long banned development above 190m elevation for water supply, sewage, and run-off concerns.

In his report on the public meeting held February 12 about the proposed high elevation developments (like “Danny-stan”), the city-appointed commissioner noted, while several reports indicate the current city infrastructure can handle increased water and sewage demand, “zero net runoff” rules—meaning new developments cannot add to storm runoff amount in existing systems-—will need to be in place for all new developments to prevent flooding and other problems that have been caused by other mega-developments. Like the Avalon Mall and Stavanger Drive.

Zero net runoff is an infrastructure concern, as well as an environmental one that presents both a water and wetland conservation challenge. But it is also an opportunity to use green development practices to deal with storm runoff. Something a committee of environmental experts could have a lot to say about.