By John Bacher
Posted July 6th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara, Ontario – Under the peculiar system of land use planning we have in Niagara Region, what is termed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a powerful instrument.
Its findings are an important way to protect forested land that is outside of the Greenbelt and not designated as provincially significant wetlands. These forests – vulnerable to development – are categorized in the Niagara Regional Policy Plan as Environmental Conservation Areas(ECAs).
The Niagara Regional Official Plan, along with the plans of eight local municipalities in the region, including Niagara Falls, have forested areas that are called Environmental Protection Areas (EPAs) and are truly protected from development.
Most of the forested areas in Niagara, however, are weakly protected. That is why an EIS is important.
An EIS has the power through the Niagara Regional Official Plan and based on detailed studies of what is termed “ecological function”, to change ECA lands into EPA areas.
When ECAs are changed to EPA areas, the forests become protected from site alteration. Through this process, natural areas can be rescued from bad land use planning that would destroy threatened species like the Wood Thrush and the environmental features they need to survive from narrow-minded greed.
Such a process, helped by the imposition of a peer review of an EIS by the Niagara Region’s planning director, played an important role in the rescue of a threatened forest in Fort Erie from a golf course scheme.
For almost half a year now, there has been an explosion of controversy as the developers of what is termed the Paradise Development (Thundering Waters) in Niagara Falls, have attempted to degrade the cornerstone of real EPA protection – the PSWs.
The development proposal involves close to 500 acres of important natural habitat, including both protected swamp forests and more vulnerable dry savannahs. The land hosting these valuable natural feares is located in Niagara Falls, close to where the hydro power canal connects with the Welland River.
A motion was attempted this spring at both the Niagara Regional and Niagara Falls municipal council levels to have PSW protection for this land wiped out in a “pilot” project for what is termed “bio-diversity offsetting.”
What was not known to the public during the off-putting offsetting debate is that in November of 2015, a draft “Characterization” report had been prepared. One of the reasons used to justify offsetting was that some of the lands proposed to be de-protected were only “small” wetlands located in the southern part of the property.
Almost seven months after it was written, the draft “Characterization” report was revealed inadvertently, through questions during a public consultation. The details in this report provide more information as to why the supposedly insignificant small southern wetlands are important to protect.
One reason is the presence of a threatened tree, the Honey Locust. This wild forest tree, not to be confused with the cultivated variety that lines city streets, is easily identifiable by its massive thorns.
Last week, the proposed EIS for the Paradise scheme was revealed. The factual details, as opposed to the interpretations made from them, show why virtually all of the site, except for a tiny brownfield area, should be protected from development.
One of the new revelations concerns the supposedly insignificant small southern wetlands. It is now revealed that the area has a pond which supports a population of a Species At Risk – the Snapping Turtle.
It also tells us that there are vernal pools which are critical to amphibian species such as the Western Chorus and Gray Tree frogs, outside of the wetlands that are protected as provincially significant.
Furthermore, it divulges that two birds that are recognized as Species at Risk in Ontario, the Wood Thrush and the Eastern Wood Pee-Wee, have nests in both the wetlands and savannahs here. (the Wood Thrush, which requires extensive wooded areas, is recognized as federal threatened)
Despite all the wonderful new information about the wonders of lands threatened by “Paradise”, the authors of the EIS have declined to use their powers to secure more EPA protection.
One of the bizarre ways it evaded rather obvious imperatives to protect more land was through some bizarre twists and turns. There are no EPA designations along the western edge of the Paradise proposal on Dorchester Road.
This will create a concrete wall between the forested Ontario Power Generation lands near the Power Canal and the adjacent protected swamp wetlands. Such barriers would disrupt the annual migration across Dorchester Road of frogs and the regionally rare Blue Spotted Salamander, known as the Big Night.
Showing perverse imagination, the authors of the EIS came up with a creative way to deal with the amphibian parade of the Big Night. Rather than recommend to protect the ecological function of amphibian migration by designating more land as EPA, another path was found.
The authors suggest providing for wildlife movement through using a “Storm water management block interface with Dorchester Road.” This risks poisoning parading amphibians with pollution.
The EIS has also become the vehicle to announce to the public that a road is being proposed to slash the two large protected wetland blocks south of the Canadian Pacific Railway line. It is proposed to slash 1.3 hectares of these swamps for an arterial road.
What is most threatening in the EIS’ proposed war on wetlands is its proposals for how to replace the ecological function of those proposed for destruction. According to the EIS this is to be done through the “Enhancement of degraded provincially significant wetlands” by “recreating vernal pool habitats.” This would be accomplished through excavation which risks spreading invasive species.
The unveiling of the EIS for the so-called ‘Paradise’ project in Niagara Falls is a declaration of war on nature.
Let us hope that people will mobilize under the thoughtful leadership of native groups, such as the Youth Council of the Fort Erie Native Friendship Center, and many other individuals and groups in Niagara to defeat this monstrous scheme.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’. John also works with the Greenbelt Program Team at the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.
His latest book on Ontario NDP icon Mel Swart is called ‘Mel Swart, Ecojustice Champion – 1919-2007 ‘. The book can be obtained from the Niagara, Ontario based Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) for $15 by sending a cheque or money order to PALS at Post Office Box 1413, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, L02 1J0.
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