Hamilton Conservation Authority is debating policy to allow relocation of wetlands, woodlots and other natural features
“I think this is wrong for the Conservation Authority to be going in this direction and I think there’s going to be recriminations against the board as a result of it from many conservationists in the community.” – Hamilton City Councillor Brad Clark, who sits on the current board of directors for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA)
News from Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), a Hamilton-based citizen watchdog group
Posted April 19th, 2021 on Niagara At Large
Should developers be allowed to relocate wetlands and other natural features to advance their building plans?
That question is now squarely before a sharply divided Hamilton Conservation Authority with a draft “offsetting” that is heading out for feedback from the public, the home builders association, the city and other stakeholders.
Initiated last fall at the request of developers who want to move a wetland out of the way of a proposed warehouse, the issue has been further complicated by provincial restrictions on Conservation Authorities including imposition of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) that override environmental protection rules and eliminate public consultation and other planning protocols.
The draft sparked an angry exchange between two city councillors at the HCA’s April board meeting.
Calling the offsetting strategy “a dramatic shift in Conservation Authority policy”, Brad Clark asked) why this was being treated as an urgent matter. HCA chair Lloyd Ferguson pointed to a delegation last fall from a landowner “that’s got a parcel of land in the airport employment growth district where they just want to shift part of the wetland” that isn’t currently allowed.
Ferguson went on to explain the Garner Road property would be more valuable without the wetland and that he knows of two similar proposals still heading to the HCA. “You can get better yield with the properties”, he noted.
Clark summarized this as “at the behest of a developer we’re looking at changing for the first time Conservation Authority policy”.
“No I think it’s more of trying to create jobs and allow these things to move forward,” responded Ferguson. To which Clark asked “when did the Conservation Authority get in that business?”
Ferguson said he didn’t want to debate this before adding “We’re not in that business; we’re in the conservation business.” To which Clark shot back: “then why did you say it?”
Ferguson said it was the decision of the CA Board to develop an offsetting policy but Clark replied that it was “because of a developer” and confirmed that he is opposed.
“I think this is wrong for the Conservation Authority to be going in this direction and I think there’s going to be recriminations against the board as a result of it from many conservationists in the community,” Clark concluded.
Subsequently two of the citizen members of the HCA board also declared their opposition, and two other citizens observed that it was not urgent and should be carefully considered.
The HCA board has eleven members, including five Hamilton councillors. The other three – Tom Jackson, Esther Pauls and Chad Collins – didn’t participate in the discussion but all voted in favour of the new direction.
Developers approached the HCA last fall to try to get permission to relocate a wetland on their Garner Road property, but subsequently another option may have been opened up by provincial legislation. In December, the Ford government changed the law to force conservation authorities to provide permits for any project backed by cabinet with an MZO – a previously rarely employed tool that has been utilized over forty times in the last year.
One recent MZO cleared the way for a warehouse on top of the provincially significant Duffin’s Creek wetland on the border of Pickering and Ajax. It ran into vigorous public opposition said they did this “under duress” and demanded creation of an offsetting wetland.
However, CBC News revealed the warehouse was to be occupied by Amazon and on the deadline day for the TRCA permit, the company withdrew from the project. That appears to have saved most of the wetland, and a challenge by the Mississaugas of Lake Scugog First Nation may finish off the rest.
An MZO issued to Stratford has also gone down in because of public outrage, but the threat continues to hang over the heads of the 36 Conservation Authority boards across Ontario. The CEO of the HCA consequently suggested “another option that could come back to the [HCA] board is that because we are now faced with this MZO situation. It could just be that the board could also just be looking at putting in place guidelines in the event of an MZO” which might force the HCA to figure out what compensation it could ask for.
The draft offsetting report is expected to be released for public comment later this month. The version presented to the HCA board can be viewed starting at page 55 of their April 1 agenda.
CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org .
You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/ ?p=subscribe .
To watch a very informative and powerful video on the “myth” – one might say the gaslighting by too many of our politicians and developers around biodiversity offsetting – produced and narrated by Niagara environmentalist Own Bjorgan from a Niagara perspective, click on the video below –