On Municipal Election Day – This October 22nd – Hire Those Politicians Who Will, Fire Those Who Won’t
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 18th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
I heard a brief dispatch on CBC this Tuesday (September 18th) morning about a new report from the Insurance Bureau of Canada – the national association for the country’s insurance industry – about the surging costs of severe weather flooding and the urgent need to conserve what are left of our natural wetlands as one important way of protecting people’s properties from the destruction caused by floods.
Hearing that report drew my mind to the ongoing battle by environmental groups and by citizens in Niagara to save the sprawling, 482-acre Thundering Waters Forest and its more than 200 acres of wetlands in Niagara Falls, Ontario from a, more of half of which is wetlands, in Niagara Falls from an urban development plan backed by Chinese investors and supported by too many politicians on the local and regional council.
This development plan for what is referred to these days a “Riverfront community” began making headlines more than two years ago when, of all agencies, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) was playing with the idea of trying something called “biodiversity offsetting” there – an idea that involves artificially constructing wetlands somewhere else to replace whatever real or natural wetlands may be drained over mowed over to make way for this development.
Bruce Timms, a St. Catharines regional councillor who is running for his seat again this October and who sits on the NPCA’s board of directors and was the board’s chair two years ago, was actually shown on a CHCH Hamilton TV news program in April of 2016 making the following claim –
“We believe you can restore a wetland, a slough forest, within a few years. It’s a matter of five years you’ve got the quality that you had before.”
There is no report of Timms – at lease none that this veteran environment reporter is aware of – ever backing this claim up with credible scientific evidence.
In fact, no one has come forth with evidence that biodiversity offsetting (which can and reportedly has been used successfully under certain minimal circumstances) has ever been used to accomplish the five-year miracle Timms claimed it could for the aged, “slough forested wetlands” common to the Thundering Waters Forest environment.
And this guy sits on the board of a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority that should, first and foremost, be about “conversation” and he was its chair during a critical period where development proposals for Thundering Waters were being reviewed.
On the same April 12th, 2016 CHCH TV news clip, which Niagara At Large is providing a link to at the bottom of this commentary), Niagara Region’s chair, Al Caslin, who has been a supporter of the development project at this location, argues that the project’s critics have to be willing to accept some balance.
“There are also questions about jobs,” he tells a CHCH reporter. “You know, how does this impact our community from a larger sense? How does this impact our community from an investment sense? And what does this say to investors who want to come to Niagara and invest their dollars?”
What it should say to investors is this.
There are plenty of other places inside the urban boundaries across this Niagara region where you can build homes and businesses without mowing over significant wetlands and woodlots or building so close to them that their value as ecosystems is diminished or destroyed.
This has nothing to do with ‘balance’ and only a politician who has no imagination or is siding with land speculators or developers over smart, environmentally and economically sustainable planning would offer up a false choice between what is left of our valuable natural resources and growth or development.
Being “open for business” does not mean having to destroy or compromise more of Niagara’s assets, but unfortunately we now have too many politicians on our regional and local councils who have their heads screwed on that way.
Before I end, here are a few highlights from the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s September 18th report on the need to conserve what are left of our wetlands and other green sites to reduce the damage caused by flooding storms –
“Nature conservation and climate resilience go hand in hand,” said Craig Stewart, Vice-President, Federal Affairs, IBC (Insurance Bureau of Canada). “This report emphasizes that coastal and inland flood risk can be reduced by conserving and restoring natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and coastal marshes, and that the return on investment of natural infrastructure can at times exceed that of built infrastructure, such as dams and dikes.”
“Nature can be our best friend in lowering the risk of exposed communities.”
“Property and casualty insurance payouts from extreme weather have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s,” said Stewart. “Coastal and inland flood risk is rising across the country as a result of extreme weather events driven by climate change.”
“Natural infrastructure, such as an inland or coastal wetland, is not mere decoration – it limits flood risk and the downstream discharge of pollutants, while at the same time supporting biodiversity.”
“Every attempt should be made to retain and restore natural infrastructure today, if we are to avoid unconscionable economic, social and environmental losses tomorrow.”
As for what our political leaders should say to the China-based investors and their proposed Riverfront community project for the Thundering Waters Forest, how about working with them to find other locations in the region where they aren’t building right up to and potentially smothering provincially significant wetlands next to one of the most important watersheds in the lower Great Lakes.
If the developers want a community that includes picturesque little lakes and other water features and if they as talented as the public has been led to believe when it comes to working the landscape, they should be able to take just about any tract of land and construct those features.
More than 150 years ago, a young landscape architect named Frederick Law Olmstead took more than 800 acres of scrap land on Manhattan Island in New York State and turned it into a green oasis called Central Park.
A few years later, Olsmtead did the same on hundreds of acres of land in Buffalo where Delaware Park, replete with its scenic ponds and groves of trees, is located today.
So stop feeding us false choices and stop telling us that the development proposed for Thundering Waters can’t be engineered on lands somewhere else.
And what about all of the millions of dollars we’ve been told that certain parities have invested in the Thundering Waters land – land that all of them knew hosted provincially significant wetlands and rich diversity of trees and wildlife.
The answers to that can be found that latest report from Canada’s insurance industry and in the following words of wisdom from Alanis Obomsawin, a Canadian American filmmaker, singer and activist, who sums it all up this way –
We have municipal elections this October 22nd and I urge you all to take advantage of the days and weeks leading up to the election to ask the candidates running for Niagara regional council and the local council in your community if they embrace Obomsawin’s words, and to ask them how they would vote on the plans for urban development in the Thundering Waters Forest.
This October 22nd is our chance to populate our regional and local councils with people who give high priority to protecting and preserving what is left of Niagara’s precious natural heritage.
A very real choice now faces us and for the sake of the health and prosperity of our region and all who live in it now and in the future, we must take advantage of it.
To read the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s September 18th report on destructive floods and the need to conserve our wetlands and other green areas as defense systems, click on – http://www.ibc.ca/on/resources/media-centre/media-releases/urgent-action-needed-to-curb-possible-debilitating-loss-of-natural-infrastructure-assets-in-canada .
To watch the CHCH TV news clip on Thundering Waters, click on – http://www.chch.com/niagara-wetland-worries/ .
A Brief Footnote – The CHCH news of only refers to 13 acres of wetlands in the Thundering Waters Forest because at the time of its original airing in April of 2016, 13 acres of provincial significant wetlands on the site were earmarked for the “biodiversity offsetting” exercise which was later dropped in the wake of strong public opposition.
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