President, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is David Marit. I'm president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, and first of all I would like to thank the committee for inviting us here to present our views on the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
SARM represents all 296 rural municipalities in Saskatchewan and allows us to act with a common voice for all of rural Saskatchewan. SARM serves as the principal advocate in representing the municipal governments of the province on priority issues, including changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act being proposed through Bill C-45. We are encouraged that Bill C-45 proposes to rename this act the Navigation Protection Act and appropriately refocus the legislation.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act was enacted in 1882 and is creating unnecessary obstacles that are preventing municipalities in Saskatchewan from building cost-effective transportation infrastructure. SARM believes the act needs to be updated to recognize that a significant amount of water transportation on lakes and rivers today is recreational in nature. It is no longer a common means of everyday transportation of goods and people, as it may have been in 1882, when the act was created.
As a result, the existing legislation has become outdated and an unnecessary obstacle to the transportation of those very same goods and people. As currently written, the Navigable Waters Protection Act applies to a very diverse set of waters, including everything from oceans to farmers' ditches. The result is that municipalities in Saskatchewan are often forced to spend time and money to build infrastructure that responds to requirements to accommodate non-existing public water travel. In many cases, this means that municipalities are required to install abnormally large culverts or bridge structures where roads cross water, and they must be large enough for a canoe to pass through.
An example I would like to share with you comes from the Rural Municipality of Insinger in Saskatchewan regarding a bridge replacement project on the Whitesand River. In January 2005 the rural municipality applied to Transport Canada to build a structure to cross the river. In April of that year, Transport Canada determined that the waterway was navigable. This determination was made in spite of the fact that the stream bed was blocked by beaver dams, rocks, and brush, and no one living in the area could recall a canoe ever attempting to travel the waterway.
In July Transport Canada advised the rural municipality that their proposed design for two 2,700-millimetre and one 3,000-millimetre culverts for a total cost of $125,000 did not meet the minimum clearance requirements to accommodate navigation. The RM was also advised that it would need to install a multi-plate culvert that would cost the taxpayers of the rural municipality over $400,000.
To avoid this substantial cost increase, the rural municipality attempted to prove to Transport Canada that the river was not navigable by sending them 56 pictures of barriers to navigation along the Whitesand River. This visible evidence that the stream was not navigable made no impact, and Transport Canada upheld their earlier decision. The RM's hands were tied. The RM then approached SARM in December 2005 to work with Transport Canada for their approval. In February 2006, after many meetings and phone calls, Transport Canada agreed to approve the original three-culvert design. This approval came more than a year after the RM's initial application. This is just one example of many.
SARM believes that the proposed amendments to the act included in Bill C-45 should help mitigate situations such as the one I have just described. The new Navigation Protection Act will clearly list major waterways for which regulatory approval is required for construction projects. It will also allow proponents of construction projects in unlisted waters, such as the Whitesand River, to proceed without approval by the federal government. The list will provide much-needed clarity to municipalities and their residents across Canada.
For years, SARM has been advocating for this distinction, as Saskatchewan municipalities have, for far too long, been required to install larger culverts and bridges to accommodate the passage of canoes and other watercraft, whether it was on a significant navigation route or not. SARM does believe that waters that are used for navigation should continue to be protected and believes the act will do just that. The waterways will all be protected under existing acts.
I will conclude by saying that roads and bridges are the lifeline for commerce and prosperity in Saskatchewan rural municipalities. Removing unnecessary requirements such as those imposed by the current Navigable Waters Protection Act will help ensure that much-needed repair and replacement of the rural road network is done in a timely manner and without unnecessary additional costs. This in turn will help ensure that rural businesses in Saskatchewan remain in their communities and prosper, which of course creates positive economic spinoffs for those communities and for all levels of government.
SARM thanks and supports the federal government for the amendments they are proposing to the Navigable Waters Protection Act as a result of the benefits these amendments will provide to our municipalities.
Once again, I want to thank you for this opportunity to appear today. I'll be pleased to answer any questions.