NAPTEP and Bowen Island

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Originally published June 30, 2015 written by Peter Frinton

Ask Bowen Islanders about NAPTEP and you will likely get either a quizzical look or allusions to diapers and sleeping aids.

In reality, NAPTEP is an acronym for Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program, a voluntary conservation incentive found only in the Islands Trust area.

Under NAPTEP, landowners may apply to permanently covenant eligible portions of their land in exchange for a 65% reduction in property taxes on those areas so protected.

Owners cannot disturb NAPTEP lands through such things as construction, vegetation removal or terrain alteration.

Since its inception ten years ago, about 25 parcels of land have  successfully entered the program, and are administered by the Islands Trust Fund.

However, it has hitherto been unavailable on Bowen Island. Due to quirks in the original drafting of the covering Provincial Act, island municipalities were not included. That was amended by order-in-council in 2012 and subsequently approved by Metro Vancouver.

But then it hit a brick wall, as the previous Bowen Council rejected its adoption here despite ‘support in principle’, for what can only be viewed as ideological resistance. The fact is, Bowen has nothing to lose by welcoming NAPTEP as a land conservation initiative. The tax shift from a property registered would average about $1 for each of Bowen’s 2200 folios.

Now it is back for review and likely adoption. Trust Area Services Director Lisa Gordon addressed Council as a delegation in late May, and answered questions on program details. She characterized NAPTEP as “difficult for landowners to get into, difficult to get out of”. Lands for inclusion must have significant ecological value, not be in the ALR or developed in any way. There are fees, assessments and species inventories plus legal surveys. Costs to the applicant can approach $10,000, and to remove land from NAPTEP at some future date would require both paying all back taxes plus receiving assent from Islands Trust and BIM (if Bowen Island Municipality chose to co-sign as a covenant holder). So- not for the faint of heart, but a nice way to rule from the grave.

Lisa Gordon suggested that Bowen Council may wish to put limits on either the value or number of parcels accepted into the program. Other islands haven’t done this (and none have been overloaded with applications). However, Bowen’s incorporated status creates a direct local tax impact, whereas other unincorporated islands come under the provincial rural tax, so the tax shift is dispersed among a much larger inventory of properties.

Still, the cost to individual taxpayers on Bowen would be a very minor peril. Compared to ecological gifting, something done at least twice on Bowen, the cost is miniscule. As well, there are no land use offsets so often associated with conservation tools, such as park dedication or other amenities in exchange for subdivision and additional dwellings.

It will be interesting to see how quickly this comes to a vote, and whether it will be unanimous. Alison Morse was against it last time around, but the optics of her opposing it now that she is again a sitting Trustee would be somewhat akin to a church minister declaring a disbelief in God.

As Lisa Gordon said in her presentation, we (Bowen) already pay for the program through our contributions to Islands Trust; we may as well take advantage of it. All administrative costs and the bulk of staff time needed accrue to the Trust.

I do hope this gets through expeditiously. It represents a truly positive and measurable benefit of being within the Islands Trust federation. Plus, it’s pretty easy for Bowen to get onboard. After all, the program is up and running, it works, and has been well received on the other islands.

It’s time to relinquish our status as the last hold-out.

– Peter Frinton

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