This second article published in the King Weekly Sentinel covers the expert panel discussion portion of our Environmental Forum at the Kingbridge Centre in King City on April 9th.
Passionate environmentalists spark public discussion
By Mark Pavilons
KING SENTINEL WEEKLY
April 15, 2014
Link to Original Article
Environmentalists are anything but low key.
That was evidenced last Wednesday night as a panel of experts revealed their genuine passion for environmental issues in this province.
Four individuals led a public discussion on the state of Ontario’s environmental protection, during a forum hosted at the Kingbridge Centre, put on by the Concerned Citizens of King Township (CCKT).
The event was put together to inform residents about the importance of the 2015 reviews of major pieces of legislation – the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan and Greenbelt Plan.
Erin Shapero, coordinator of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, said her 80-member organization runs across the Greenbelt and they welcome all coordinated efforts and new members. They are currently working on policy recommendations for the Greenbelt, examining high-level issues.
Environmental lawyer and advocate David Donnelly, who does a great deal of pro bono work for citizens’ groups, said the boundaries for those major plans are not ecological boundaries and are not doing their job. If you look at a map of the Greenbelt for instance, there are several “irrational” geometric boundaries, likely for political reasons. Geological features don’t follow straight lines, so one of the priorities, as we near the 2015 review of these plans, is to re-examine those boundaries.
He also pointed to the need to look at natural heritage planning. Very few of our natural heritage features – headwaters, woodlots, wetlands – are catalogued or protected. Much is lost when we blindly pave over paradise. He did point out that roughly one-third of Halton is protected, but there’s little in the way of similar efforts in Simcoe or Dufferin.
A comprehensive mapping of our natural heritage features is another top priority.
Aggregate operations are still permitted in many parts of Ontario, including those on environmentally sensitive lands. Donnelly would love to see a ban on aggregate mining in the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine.
The province is way too permissive when it comes to creating infrastructure. Big pipes (water and wastewater systems) are akin to urban sprawl.
While most of us concentrate our efforts at ground-level conservation, Donnelly noted there’s a danger lurking in our midst – levels of carbon in our atmosphere.
The global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – a primary driver of climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. Donnelly is sounding the alarm bells, noting if we hit 450 ppm we will “lose control of our planet and atmosphere” perhaps by the end of this century. He doesn’t want his children to suffer the consequences of our actions, stressing the need for “carbon planning.”
Caledon’s Debbe Crandall, one of the founders of Save The Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM), pointed to the successful example and model of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE), something all environmental groups need to follow.
Bob Patrick, CONE president 2012-2013, said more than 100 forest plots are being monitored by his coalition and this data will be used during the plan review process. The Escarpment Plan is based on watersheds and years of expertise has given the Escarpment groups sound footing. Many environmental groups see them as the go-to organization.
Crandall pointed out there has been a major unintended consequence of infilling development in Toronto, namely the dumping of fill into our region. Led by STORM, the Ontario Soil Regulatory Task Force is an umbrella group looking at this very issue.
Crandall noted one of the biggest failings in the system is the government slapping down legislation and walking away. “We’re trying to get us all on the page,” she said.
Caledon resident Barb Shaughnessy wanted to know why individual citizens are burdened with the responsibility of defending environmental plans at the OMB.
Donnelly, who’s represented many citizen’s groups at the OMB, said our tax dollars go to “expert planners” and unfortunately some decisions are overturned by councils, leading to OMB appeals, which are both costly and time-consuming. He said many municipalities are not “savvy enough” to be pro-environment.
King Township has a reputation as being the first council to stand up to developers and fight for its green space at the OMB. “I’m shocked that this doesn’t happen more often,” Donnelly observed.
He agreed the onus should be on the province, which has a vested responsibility. The feds, too, need to ante up as well. The burden shouldn’t fall on average residents who have to hold fundraisers just to argue their case at the OMB.
“We need to stop bake sale justice planning in Ontario,” he said.
Donnelly went as far as suggesting that developers who try to bully residents with what’s known as “slap suits” have their applications frozen.
George Puccia, president of Stewards of the Moraine, pointed out his group spent a lot of time and money fighting an application for a banquet hall on the moraine. They were victorious. He wanted to know how citizens can put more teeth into the legislation and avoid frivolous applications.
Donnelly said Ontario does have the legislation. There is nothing in the world like our Greenbelt Plan and it only has to be improved, strengthened and enforced.
Shapero said during the municipal election campaign period citizens can get more engaged and raise these very issues with their candidates. She encouraged residents to pin down their candidates at every opportunity.
Crandall noted there are growing partnerships leading up to the 2015 reviews and she’s optimistic and encouraged that public engagement is at its height.
This review, she said, will take place out in the open.
“I think we can crack this nut,” she said.