in-nb-wetlands-220

Environment Minister Margaret Ann Blaney is scrapping a controversial map that designated as much as 18 per cent of the province as wetland. (CBC)

Landowners had two standing ovations for New Brunswick Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney Friday.

Blaney told a news conference in Saint John the government is scrapping a controversial map that designated as much as 18 per cent of the province as wetland.

The announcement garnered explosive applause from landowners and developers, while reaction from conservationists was more subdued.

"I think this took real guts," said developer Kemal Debly, one of dozens of landowners who had effusive praise for the move.

The controversial map, released in January, put many developers and lot owners in the position of having to prove their property was not a wetland

At a cost of thousands of dollars, developers like Michael Hay found themselves caught up in a personal financial crisis, carrying multiple properties that suddenly couldn't be developed.

Blaney singled Hay out at Friday's announcement telling him both of his properties had been released.

"What a great day. I'm emotional," Hay responded.

Before the January map, just four per cent of the province was designated wetland.

The short-term solution announced Friday will use a Department of Natural Resources Map that designates six per cent of land in the province wetlands.

As part of changes under the short-term strategy:

  • a map released Jan. 1 with a predictive layer and 50-metre buffer zone will not be used. Government will use known areas of wetland as mapped by the Department of Natural Resources
  • the department will no longer require property owners to hire someone to map and assess wetlands, however permits will be required for alterations within the 30-metre buffer of a mapped wetland
  • the compensation requirement for lost wetland habitat will be two to one
  • anyone already using land in a designated wetland will be allowed to continue
  • limited development will be allowed in wetlands next year

Blaney said about 2,000 people turned out to voice concerns about the policy during meetings held across the province.

"I believe it is possible to find a balance between promoting the environment and fostering the economic development our province needs, especially during this time of financial crisis," Blaney said. "This is a difficult task but it is necessary to ensure our province remains in a place where people can live, work and raise a healthy family."

While Atlantic Coastal Action Program executive director Tim Vickers said the pendulum had probably swung in the right balance, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick isn't so sure.

"The wetlands lost today," said Stephanie Merrill, the council's coordinator.

As part of the province's long-term strategy on wetlands, Blaney said the government will launch a wetland stakeholder engagement initiative on the future of wetland management. Blaney said it would bring together key stakeholders to prepare recommendations by the end of the year on the best way to protect wetlands in the province.

The province implemented its wetlands protection policy in 2002 and since that time many different groups have expressed their frustration with the system.