A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted April 12th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – For a second time in as many weeks, a bid by China-sponsored agents and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to “offset” – or to put it more plainly – gut more than 10 acres of provincially protected wetlands in Niagara Falls to make way for urban development has been placed on hold.
The first decision to defer moving forward with the scheme – cloaked in an until recently unheard of, yet already infamous term “biodiversity offsetting – was made this past April 7th by a majority of Niagara regional councillors, following more than three hours of discussion and debate where it was repeated over and over again that they weren’t provided enough information to make a decision.
And the second deferment was agreed to this April 12th by every member of Niagara Falls’ city council outside of the mayor, who is only required to cast a vote to break a tie, after a number of them also made it clear that they were not given enough information to make a decision.
Niagara Falls city councillor Carolynn Ioannoni, after the councillors heard from Ed Smith, one of three members of the public who came and spoke against destroying any of the old forest wetland to make way for some residential and commerical development loosely referred to by some as the “Paradise project,” got the ball rolling by holding up a single piece of paper she said contained the only information the council was given on the project.
That paper contained a motion which, if passed by the council, would ask the provincial government to allow the initiation of “a pilot project to allow for bio-diversity offsetting of wetlands” for the Paradise development in Niagara Falls.
All the council received “is this sole recommendation (and) I think it is shameful” said Ioannoni. “I can’t vote uninformed. …”
“You are wondering why I am upset,” added Ioannoni, looking at the city’s mayor, Jim Diodati, after reminding him that he had taken a trip to China five months ago to meet with agents for the developers and councillors has learned little about the development since, except for what it has read in the media or heard from members of the public like Ed Smith. “We are receiving calls from these people (concerned citizens) and it is getting awfully hard to do this job when we are being kept in the dark.”
“We don’t have enough information,” echoed another councillor, Joyce Morocco, who followed presentations by Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority CAO Carmen D’Angelo and the NPCA’s chair and St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms by asking them; “What are you here really trying to tell us,” she asked as she continued searching for answers from D’Angelo and Timms.
Similar comments were repeated by city councillors Kim Craitor, Wayne Campbell and Victor Pietrangelo.
“This 13 acres (of provincially significant wetland) took undreds of years to get to where it is,” said Campbell. “How are you going to reproduce…what took hundreds of years (to create)? … I am not prepared to support this motion tonight. It is negative, it is a roadblock. …”
“How are we to make a decisions on what you say you aren’t here for,” Campbell told D’Angelo who said he wasn’t at the meeting to speak in favour of the Paradise project. “We have no scientific information. … You are putting the cart before the horse.”
“Do you believe that wetlands can be recreated,” Craitor asked D’Angelo, who responded; “You are asking what is on many people’s minds. … We are not there yet.”
That was enough for the council before voting to defer any further consideration of the matter.
So now we have had two council bodies – the local council for Niagara Falls and the council for all the Niagara region – faced with a motion that could set an Ontario-wide precendent for “offsetting” wetlands that are home to many species at risk and are specially designated by the province for protection – all to make way for development that could be located somewhere else where they would have a much lower impact on the natural environment.
The reason some municipal leaders and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority seem so intent on moving forward with this scheme without putting enough details before councillors and the public to make an informed decision has raised a number of concerns and questions over what is really going on here.
And as citizen speaker Ed Smith put it near the beginning of his presentation to the Niagara Falls council, it adds up to “a very mixed and inconsistent message that has eroded public confidence.”
It also, in the view of this observer, raises questions about the competance and conduct of those, including Timms and D’Angelo, who are now running the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority which, for decades, was respected for its role as a voice for protecting and preserving what are left of this region’s natural places.
We’ll be taking a closer look at what is going on with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the days and weeks ahead.
Before we leave, Niagara At Large wishes to share a message veteran Niagara Falls city councillor posted on Facebook hours before the Tuesday, April 12th council meeting –
Tonight city council is being asked to pass a resolution asking us to support Biodiversity offsetting on the lands known as Thundering Waters now known as Paradise Development.
I want to be very clear, city council has never been informed that this was coming and have been provided no information, except from the residents.
The first time I heard about it was with Chair Caslins official announcement. It has been roughly 5 months since the announcement of this development, give or take, and not ONE discussion with the members of council that the development out there would be requiring this change.
This is a huge shift in policy. I would not have supported phase 2 of that land if this information had been given to me. Once again, council was asked to vote, and did and passed a development without the full information we needed to make an informed decision.
This is not the first time, but it should be the last. Decisions are being made without the public or the councils knowledge. This is a terrible way to run this city. – Carolynn Ioannoni
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