By John Bacher
Niagara, Ontario – Honchoes at Niagara’s Conservation Authority have mounted an offensives against forest defenders through their response to the bravely circulated document, “A Call For Accountability at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.”
A threatening salvo was fired off on behalf of the Conservation Authority in the form of a letter by Robert Burns, solicitor with a Niagara Falls-based law firm, Broderick and Partners. It alleges that the authors of “the Call” are “motivated by malice” in their “false and defamatory” attacks.
Following that missive, another barrage was fired off by way of “A Special Statement” from NPCA board chair and St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms.
The “Special Statement”, posted on the Conservation Authority’s website and featured as a full-page ad in Metroland weekly newspapers across Niagara this December 1st, condemns citizen conservationists in the Niagara community for not focusing on “valid concerns.”
This “Special Statement” claims that the authentic debate shaping up over the future of the 500 acre Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, now targeted for urban development, “has shifted to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the City of Niagara Falls, and the province.”
In reality, there has been no big shift because of the mounting exposés of environmentally harmful impacts that would result from urbanizing areas of Thundering Waters Forest. This has caused a major delay in any OMB consideration of the issue.
Before the OMB and Niagara Falls city council can consider the development scheme, there has to be a Public Meeting held under the Planning Act. Holding such a meeting was delayed by the Niagara Falls city council in response to concerns raised about environmental impacts in a letter earlier this year from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. (MNRF)
Among the concerns raised by the MNRF is the impact of the proposed development on Species At Risk. These include the Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Pee-Wee, Barn Swallow, the Chimney Swift, and the Tri-Coloured Bat. Both bats and swifts may utilize the old growth forest for critical nesting habitat.
A second prong in the attack on conservationists in the NPCA’s “Special Statement” is a vigorous defense of the “Strategic Plan” of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). It was this very plan which resulted in justifications for the firing of brave NPCA staff who worked with me in the past to rescue the Thundering Waters Forest.
The NPCA’s website, which details the Strategic Plan and its various drafts, is full of descriptions of the attacks on dedicated people who helped me. It describes how the drilling of these heroic people took part in “Sleeves rolled up” interrogation sessions, where “candid stakeholder” interviews took place.
Here, the stakeholders engaged in what are termed “empowered… change management working groups led by NPCA board members.” These leaders were all NPCA board members who were, at the time, elected municipal politicians.
In the verbiage of the Strategic Plan and its various drafts, “stakeholder” is a euphemism. It is a code word for developers and their minions who clashed with me in my battles eight years ago to protect the Thundering Waters Forest.
Three of these so called stakeholders named on the NPCA website included Ed Lustig, who negotiated the deal with me that resulted in the wetland re-evaluation. Another is Richard Brady, who took part in one of the deal sessions. Another is Johnathan Whyte, who signed a letter to Niagara Falls resident Jean Grandoni and myself when plans for Thundering Waters north of Oldfield Road were completed.
The NPCA’s ” Special Statement” concludes by praising the Conservation Authority’s Advisory Committee. Its Co-Chair is Jonathan Whyte. During the only public consultation on the Ontario wetland policy review, held in Niagara in 2015 (a second one was promised but never took place), Whyte was the only participant in a room of fifty people to present a brief in favour of what was termed, “bio-diversity offsetting.”
One of the Advisory Committee members is Lisa Campbell. She is the author of a 2005 study referenced in the bibliography of the draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Thundering Waters Secondary Plan.
The study concludes that salamanders are absent from the Thundering Waters Forest. This conclusion was later refuted in the 2010 wetland evaluation for the Niagara Falls Slough Forest, the victory that triggered massive firings of NPCA staff justified through its odious Strategic Plan.
The NPCA hired lawyer’s letter, threatening legal action against the authors of the report calling for more transparency and accountability from the Conservation Authority, and the” Special Statement” are just the latest episode in what is so far an eight year struggle to preserve the Thundering Waters Old Growth Forest and the rare species it supports.
It is to be hoped that growing public outrage over these attacks will be another milestone in the campaign to save this precious place.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and is the Chair of Greening Niagara
For more on Greening Niagara click on – http://www.greeningniagara.ca/
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