July 6, 2018
Niagara Regional Official Plan Threatened by Developers’ Junk Science
Dr. John Bacher
The Niagara Region has embarked on a new three year process to develop a new Official Plan. What is most disturbing about this path, likely to ruin, is that it is heavily influenced by a peculiar type of “environmental stakeholder”. These are armies of environmental consultants in the pay of developers.
In the past the Niagara Region had a formally constituted Environmental Advisory Committee, (EAC). This was abolished recently of the grounds that it met infrequently. EAC however, has been in effect replaced by informal consultations with unnamed “environmental stakeholders”. No minutes of the meetings of the “stakeholders” have been taken. Their names are also anonymous.
The anonymous “environmental stakeholders” have been joined with the equally secretive “agricultural stakeholders.” These unnamed persons have not been named. Discussions have by-passed the Niagara Region’s Agricultural Policy and Action Committee. Their members are known. The committee’s deliberations are public and recorded.
What makes the process of developing a new plan so ominous is what the Niagara Region’s Planning Consultant, David Hayworth identified as the number one concern of the “environmental stakeholders.” He did this at a July 5, 2018 presentation to the Niagara Regional Council.
According to Heyworth woodland mapping was “identified as a major concern by many.” One of the issues raised was the process to determine significance or forests facing problems of “die-off from the emerald ash borer.” Heyworth told council that the impacts “of analysis and options for identifying and mapping woodlands” would be highlighted during the development of a new plan.
Currently in its official plan the Niagara Region, using criteria taken from provincial government standards has mapping of what are termed “Environmental Conservation Areas” (ECAs). In these ECA lands there are restrictions which require the development of an Environmental Impact Study before any site alteration can take place. These studies may, according to discretion of the Niagara Regional Planning Director, be subject to a peer review.
A peep into the plans of the “environmental stakeholders” has been given through the work of the Niagara Falls Planning Department, guided by the Savanta, environmental consultants of a developer, GR Canada. They are urging that ECA lands in the Thundering Waters Forest be developed on the grounds that ash die off, by promoting succession from invasive European Buckthorn, will destroy these forests’ ecological significance.
In putting forward their analysis favouring developers’ Niagara Falls planners were helped by the suppression of a December 11 letter from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, (MNRF), on this issue. Tara McKenna, District Planner for MNRF’s Guelph District, wrote in rebuttal that although such infestations “may result in change of the dominant canopy species but not necessarily the functional value of the woodland. The woodlands are contiguous with existing forested wetland and upland forested areas which contribute to the overall species and structural diversity, size of the larger woodland areas, and the functional linkages between different features.” This analysis based on the view of ecologists working for the provincial public service, contrasts vividly with the junk science put for by employees of developers.
What made the Heyworth’s reliance on anonymous “stakeholders” more irksome was what happened at Niagara Regional Council after its discussion of the new Official Plan. After applauding Heyworth’s presentation based on secretive stakeholders, the majority of the regional councillors condemned criticism of their chief executive officer, Carmen D’ Angelo, which was taken from ten anonymous informants, also anonymous. They were employees of the Niagara Region, and their complaints were made to the newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard. Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Bob Gale, expressed the hope that the Standard would be condemned for the use of anonymous sources, although this approach relying of secret informants was used by the consultant the council had hired to supervise the development of a new official plan.
The bright spot in the grueling August 5, 2018 meeting of Niagara Regional Council was s presentation by a real environmental protection activist, not secretive “stakeholder”, Jean Grandoni. She gave an eloquent plea for the protection of streams from deforestation and illegal dumping. Grandoni pleaded with councillors that, “Fisheries are the FOROTTEN local food supply. Remember that fish are found locally not just in the cottage north country. However, due to a lack of Watershed Plans, illegal dumping, filling in of floodplains by developers, and diversions, much of this local food supply has been lost. We once had pike up to three feet long but with developer encroachment, pike are almost extinct in inland watersheds.”