Councillor opposes eco-asset pilot program

As soon as you put a dollar value on something that tells me and a lot of other people in the world that you're about to sell it, she says.

A letter from a group of organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation had one city councillor in an uproar. At the regular council meeting on March 29, council received a memorandum from Dolores Sheets, manager of Development and Engineering Services, regarding the Municipal Natural Capital Initiative Program (MNCI). Despite the protestations of Councillor Julie Butler, council voted 5-1 to accept the memorandum with Butler the lone opposing vote.

The background information states that the MNCI is a partnership program dedicated to supporting municipalities in recognizing, measuring and managing the contribution natural systems make to people and municipal service delivery, using municipal asset management business processes. MNCI partners include the Town of Gibsons, Sustainable Prosperity, the David Suzuki Foundation, Brooke and Associates, and Asset Management BC.

The MNCI is seeking five municipalities to participate in the pilot phase with a focused or general natural capital/eco-asset management program. The project focus may be on one particular eco-asset or service such as groundwater or wetlands, or it may entail a holistic assessment of all natural assets and services contributing to the municality. There are a number of strategic priorities and city initiatives relating specifically to water, aquifer protection and wetlands protection.

Butler said she opposed the program, feeling that by putting a price on the evironment you commodify it.

“I didn’t even want to accept it as information,” she said. “My fear, even before I was elected, this aquifer in Grand Forks is so profitable that people are eyeing it up and as soon as you put a dollar value on something that tells me and a lot of other people in the world that you are about to sell it and you’re looking at marketing it.”

“It was put on the agenda after the deadline had passed, then we were told by staff that they had gone ahead on their own to apply to this organization to be a test city without any directive from council,” she said.

Councillor Chris Hammett told the Gazette she believes that putting a price on your trees, your water and your other natural environment, people will start to appreciate it more, “because it now has a value.”

“Gibsons was the first municipality that I’m aware of that undertook a campaign to set up an eco-asset management campaign plan,” said Hammett. “They didn’t just look at the infrastructure of the community, they looked at the environment. Now they’re looking at finding five other communities to apply to become part of the pilot project.”

The city had sent out the expression of interest, which had to be done by March 14. Hammett said it would then be up to council to decide whether or not the city would participate if chosen.

“I don’t know enough about the program at this point to pass judgement but I would like to learn more about what this would mean for our community,” she said.