“The NPCA had not gathered information on the ecosystems in Thundering Waters to determine if they contained unique features that cannot be replicated.” – Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 29th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
If anyone still thinks that those calling the shots at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) put conserving what are left of our region’s wetlands and other natural spaces first, a read of a “Special Report” released by the Office of the Ontario Auditor General this September 27th should put that thought to rest.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s 103-page report, based on months-long investigation of the NPCA’s operations by her staff, is rife with examples of conservation issues getting the short end of the stick by this Conservation, guided by a board of directors dominated by regional councillors and mayors in Niagara.
One of the more high-profile examples of conservation concerns taking a back seat to other interest, including those of developers, was a consideration the NPCA’s then CAO Carmen D’Angelo (now the CAO for Niagara Region) and other senior members of the agency began giving three years ago to using something called “biodiversity offsetting” to destroy wetlands in a green area in Niagara Falls called Thundering Waters Forest to make way for a China-financed urban development project.
The idea that the NPCA was floating, to construct three acres of wetland somewhere else for every one acre destroyed in Thundering Waters, “was not based on any scientific analysis to determine the feasibility of offsetting in Thundering Waters,” stated Lysyk’s report.
Furthermore, “the NPCA had not gathered information on the ecosystems in Thundering Waters to determine if they contained unique features that cannot be replicated.”
In the wake of growing opposition from members of the public in Niagara and a lack of support for trying biodiversity offsetting on wetlands in Thundering Waters, the NPCA, along with developer, eventually dropped the idea.
However, plans for urban development inside Thundering Waters Forest remain on the books and the fight by citizen groups to save it goes on’
The Auditor General discusses the Thundering Waters issue in a section of her Special Report on the NPCA under a heading that reads; “NPCA Proposed Project to Allow Wetland Destruction in Contravention of Provincial Policy.”
For the record, here is that whole section of the report verbatim –
“NPCA Proposed Project to Allow Wetland Destruction in Contravention of Provincial Policy
“In 2015, a developer purchased a 195-hectacre parcel of land in an area in the Niagara Region called Thundering Waters (in Niagara Falls) with the intention of developing it into a multi-use residential, commercial and entertainment community.
“About half of the land (100 hectares) is Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSW), which the Province has designated as important because of their biological and hydrological functions and the benefits they provide to society.
“According to the Provincial Policy Statement, PSWs cannot be altered or developed. In March 2015, NPCA staff began attending consultation meetings with representatives from the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara Region and the developer to discuss the development proposal.
“Minutes from these meetings indicate that NPCA senior management informed the developer that it was working on an alternative way to address the obstacle posed by the wetlands within the land proposed for development.
“In May 2015, the NPCA retained the services of a registered lobbyist firm to “advance key issues amongst senior levels of government.” The firm was involved in organizing meetings between the NPCA and senior provincial government officials about “biodiversity offsetting” in Thundering Waters.
“Biodiversity offsetting is the practice of recreating an ecosystem, such as a wetland, elsewhere to compensate for one that is destroyed due to development. In December 2015, the then NPCA CAO, a Board member, and staff met with a Member of Provincial Parliament and an advisor to the then Premier to propose and obtain approval for a pilot biodiversity offsetting project involving the Thundering Waters development.
“NPCA senior management informed us that this meeting was in response to a discussion paper on wetland conservation that the Province posted on the Ontario Environmental Registry in July 2015 and about which it requested comments from interested parties.
“The NPCA had previously submitted a public response to this discussion paper in September 2015, via the Ontario Environmental Registry, but this public response did not mention any specific sites for attempting biodiversity offsetting.
“The NPCA stated the pilot offsetting project would result in three hectares of wetland being created elsewhere for every one hectare destroyed in Thundering Waters.
- The proposal was not based on any scientific analysis to determine the feasibility of offsetting in Thundering Waters. An NPCA staff member specializing in wetlands raised this concern to senior management, stating that there was no sound science to support the proposal given the type of wetlands in Thundering Waters. •
- The NPCA had not gathered information on the ecosystems in Thundering Waters to determine if they contained unique features that cannot be replicated. Meeting notes on file indicate that when a Niagara Region representative asked if there would be an environmental study before attempting biodiversity offsetting, the then NPCA CAO stated that it would take too long. The CAO had planned to enter into a research partnership with an academic institution to conduct research on biodiversity offsetting in other provinces and countries, but only once the NPCA received approval from the Province for the pilot project.
“The Province did not support the NPCA’s proposed pilot project. At the time of our audit, the development was still in the planning stages.
“We noted that, in 2008, a municipal staff member requested that the NPCA, through its Board of Directors, allow biodiversity offsetting on the same site. At the time, the Province had not yet classified the wetlands as PSWs, which meant that development of the wetlands was not prohibited under the Planning Act.
“However, NPCA staff expressed concerns to the Board, stating that although development was not prohibited, such a “large-scale wetland relocation to accommodate major development proposals [was] outside the parameters of [the NPCA’s] policies.”
“In 2010, the Province designated the wetlands as PSWs. Our survey of conservation authorities found only two other conservation authorities (Kawartha Conservation and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority) allow biodiversity offsetting of Provincially Significant Wetlands. Kawartha noted that it would only do so when directed by the Board, and Toronto considered it as a last resort when major infrastructure projects are involved.
“Our survey also found that, unlike the NPCA, the 16 conservation authorities that submitted comments on the Province’s wetland conservation discussion paper did not provide additional information to Members of Provincial Parliament beyond their submitted comments.”
In response to this section of the Auditor General’s report, Niagara Falls city councillor Kim Craitor, who is running for mayor of Niagara Falls in the coming October 22nd municipal elections, shared the following with Niagara At Large –
“From a Niagara Falls perspective, naturally I am concerned regarding the behind-the- scenes dealings related to the Thundering Waters development and the plan for ‘biodiversity offsetting’,” said Craitor.
“As the report characterizes it, the plan was for wetland destruction in contravention of Provincial Policy. I am shocked that a Conservation Authority would propose such a project without any scientific analysis or determination of ecological features on the property.”
Craitor added that at a candidates’ debated aired by Cogeco this September 26th, Niagara Falls’ current mayor, Jim Diodati, who sits on the NPCA’s board, “took exception to my comment that the matters related to Thundering Waters were not being brought forward, first, to Niagara Falls City Council, as they should have been.”
The Auditor General’s report, said Craitor, “confirms my suspicion. Before our Council was given an opportunity to determine whether it would even consider the issue of bio-diversity offsetting, parties had been working months, without the Council’s knowledge, to attempt to make it happen.”
“Thank goodness the Province ultimately rejected the request,” Craitor said.
Niagara At Large will have much more news and commentary on the findings in Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s Special Report on the NPCA coming up in the hours and days ahead.
The read the entire Special Report, click on – http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/specialreports/specialreports/NPCA_en.pdf
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