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How BC's election may affect protections for huge swath of coastline

After 11 years, millions of dollars, dozens of stakeholder meetings, and several unexpected bumps, a marine planning process that could impact the entire B.C. coast is nearing completion.

With an election ahead, environmental groups want to make sure the plan doesn't lose momentum. And a related poll by the David Suzuki Foundation found that 95 per cent of British Columbians wanted more protection for their coastlines.

"This is across partisan lines," Bill Wareham, marine conservation specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation told The Tyee earlier this week. "We want the governing party to continue to commit resources to it."

At stake is a number of critical coastal planning decisions, including re-allocating fishing activity, designating where tidal projects may occur, prohibiting recreation activities in certain areas or permitting it in others. The plan could severely limit activity in particularly sensitive ecosystems, like the glass sponge reefs of the Hecate Strait.

Early planning stages began in 2002. Then, in September 2011, the federal government withdrew from a funding agreement with other stakeholders. It did so under the auspices of streamlining, claiming that the previous plan was neither practical nor efficient enough to meet a December 2012 deadline.

The plan "could definitely restrict where additional fish farms may or may not be located, and may recommend removing fish farms from some areas," says Wareham. "And as far as shipping goes, it could alter the routes that ships take through the region."

Although Wareham says "you never know" if a new NDP government would axe the planning process, which started under Campbell's Liberals, it seems unlikely.

"You never know. We lived through the New Democratic Party government as well, when Glen Clark called us the enemies of B.C. It's strange politics in B.C."

[Editor's note: To read the full version of Colleen Kimmett's top Tyee story today on how a marine coastal protection process dropped by the federal government -- but kept by B.C -- could affect fish farms, ship routes and more, click here.]

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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