-Rich Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario is Target of $1.5-Billion Urban Development Proposal
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted July 18th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
What a difference a new board of directors at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority can make.
Three years after a former Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) board was so agreeable to a developer using something called “biodiversity offsetting” to potentially build over provincially significant wetlands (PSWs) in Niagara Falls’ Thundering Waters Forest, the Conservation Authority’s current board is taking quite a different tact.
Not only is there no mention of biodiversity offsetting in any discussion of these wetlands, the NPCA’s current board has decided to express its support for the PSW designations the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) now has on them.
It is a position that may not sit well with those who continue to support an estimated $1.5-billion proposal for urban development in a Thundering Waters Forest that is rich with wetlands. It may be received as good news though for citizens who have been fighting for more than three years now to save these sprawling green lands in the southwest end of Niagara Falls from any development at all.
At a full meeting of the NPCA’s board of directors this July 17th, board members voted to send a letter to Ontario Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski, communicating the Conservation Authority’s support for leaving designations his ministry now has on provincially significant wetlands in Thundering Waters as they are, and not possibly lowering the designation of PSWs in ways that could very well leave them open to urban development.
A motion for Niagara’s Conservation Authority to support the current PSW designations for wetlands in Thundering Waters Forest was tabled by board member and Hamilton City Councillor Brad Clark and seconded by another Hamilton City Councillor and board member Brenda Johnson, after the board heard this July 17th from NPCA staff that the developer has apparently approached the ministry to see if at least some of the PSW designations could be re-evaluated.
The China-based developer, GR (Can) Investment Co. Ltd., purchased the forested area off Oldfield Road in Niagara Falls more than a decade ago from local interests. It has been proposing to develop up to about a quarter of its 484 acres with what it now calls a “Riverfront Community” that would feature a mixture of residential and commercial uses.
There is a total of about 280 acres of wetlands on the land and more than three years ago GR was looking to agencies at the provincial and regional level in Niagara to support using something called biodiversity offsetting to allow the covering over of wetlands in Thundering Waters and the reconstruction of wetlands like them somewhere else.
The NPCA board at the time, with then St. Catharines regional councillor Bruce Timms serving as the board’s chair and then NPCA CAO Carmen D’Angelo (later sitting for about two years as C AOs at Niagara Region), supported the biodiversity offsetting idea, and in January of 2016, more than 200 Niagara area residents packed a meeting at the Balls Falls Centre for Conservation to express their opposition to it.
As the biodiversity offsetting controversy raged on, field staff at the MNRF completed another study of wetlands on the Thundering Waters property. The results of the study led to a larger acreage of wetlands being designated as PSWs – a development that has reportedly frustrated GR and its supporters, and has had them asking the ministry to re-evaluate the more protective designations.
“A large developer can lobby Queen’s Park to have a designation wiped out at any time? That is disconcerting,” said John Metcalfe, a new member of the NPCA board from Haldimand County following a discussion this July 17th on the status of the Thundering Waters issue. “We as a board have to stand up and tell Natural Resources at Queen’s Park that we are not in favour of picking and choosing who gets to designate development when and where over wetlands.”
Clark said the letter the NPCA is sending to the Ontario Natural Resources Minister should make it clear that the current PSW designations at Thundering Waters should be left in place.
We should, as a board, be on the record very clearly to the minister that this is becoming a political issue” and the designation of the wetlands should remain based on science.
Copies of the NPCA’s letter to the minister will also be sent to other parties, including the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara Region, Haldimand County and the City of Hamilton.
For all readers out there, regardless of what position you make take on the Thundering Waters development proposal, it is important to keep in mind that the NPCA can only serve as a commenting agency on this proposal. It does not have final say over the designation of the wetlands, or on whether or not the proposal is approved.
Niagara At Large will continue following this issue and providing updates to our readers.
To listen to the NPCA board’s July 17th discussion on this, click on the screen below and move the bar at the bottom of the screen to 117 minutes into the board meeting –
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