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Environment Minister talks Site C

Despite concerns expressed about Site C's environmental impacts, Environment Minister Mary Polak said she wants to have the review process play out for the proposed dam.

Despite concerns expressed about Site C's environmental impacts, Environment Minister Mary Polak said she wants to have the review process play out for the proposed dam.

"I don't believe in short circuiting the process," she said on a visit to the Peace Region on Thursday. "It's really easy with a large project and one that's controversial for people to form opinions before they have all the information in front of them."

"But my job as a Minister of Environment will be to analyze the project and aspects of the project from a scientific point of view, as well as a socioeconomic point of view," Polak added. "When you make a decision about any project, you're always striking a balance between the benefit it's going to have and whether you can mitigate the damage that could be done."

However, when asked for a specific example of ways that her ministry is looking to better mitigate these aspects, she said that was "project-specific."

"One of the challenges you have of course is you had industry at work for a long time," she added. "You've got some well established operations that in some cases now are in different places in relation to residential development because that development took place afterward."

She also said that local residents have a part to play in mitigation.

"A lot of it, though, is working with the local communities themselves and the local governments," Polak said. "It's the local people who understand it better, not the people in Victoria."

Water may be on her mind as her ministry launches the final consultation on the Water Sustainability Act, a new piece of legislation that will regulate groundwater in B.C., something new to the province's environmental regime.

"This plant really represents what we're trying to encourage through the Water Sustainability Act and through our education resources as government," she said, adding that "Dawson Creek sure has something to be proud of" in the water reclamation plant.

She said groundwater governance was "hugely important" for communities in B.C. like Dawson Creek. However, despite the importance of understanding aquifer health, she remained supportive of industry.

"Over the last 50 or more years of fracking, we have absolutely no evidence of any negative impact on drinking water or contamination of drinking water," she said.

This shift is one of many that Polak said is going on within the Ministry: "Our whole attitude towards environmental assessments is shifting towards looking at entire areas and thinking collectively and comprehensively about the whole number of activities that are going to take place, and not just one at a time."

Part of this could be changes to how industry interacts with the public.

"We're looking at ways that we can encourage industry to engage in greater public consultation before they even come to the environmental assessment process, so that you're already starting with the company having a better idea of what they're project is going to need to do to suit the needs of the community," Polak said.

Polak also discussed her ministry's relationships with First Nations and M√Čtis communities in B.C. She said the relationship was "certainly much improved" from 2011 to 2012, when she worked as the Aboriginal Relations Minister.

"One of the things that we're looking at in the environmental process is how we can more effectively involve First Nations when we're reviewing projects in their territory," Polak said. "With respect to (the Water Sustainability Act), we've been in discussions with the First Nations leadership as we develop the regulations."