Recent Media Coverage

Oak Ridges Moraine review gearing up for 2015

Wednesday April 9, 2014

By Sean Pearce
YorkRegion.com

The reviews of the provincial Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation and Greenbelt Plans commence in 2015 and York Region is preparing its preliminary input.

At the same time, an organization comprised of environmental groups is urging regional and municipal governments on top of the moraine not to exclude the public from the consultation process.

The region is providing preliminary comment as a way of influencing the shape of the upcoming review process and to give the province a very general idea of some of the issues it would like to discuss, York’s long-range planning director Val Shuttleworth said.

On the whole, the plans should be viewed as successful, she said, although some challenges have been identified since the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Greenbelt Act became law back in 2001 and 2005, respectively.

“What we’re going to say specifically on the topic, we’re not quite sure yet,” she said.

“We’re at the 50,000-foot level at this point.”

Generically, some of the challenges listed include managing fill and providing infrastructure. Allowing for agricultural viability and a strong rural economy and reconciling provincial legislation and interpretation of the policies are also included as issues, as is the need to permit the development of strategic employment lands along the 400-series highways.

The finer details will be worked out as the process moves forward and as input is received from the region’s lower-tier municipalities and other concerned groups, Ms Shuttleworth said.

The region aims to put together a consolidated package of input and staff is in communication with its counterparts in Durham and Peel, she said, but noted each region, municipality, organization or individual will have the opportunity to participate in the review discussion once it kicks off next year.

The region also has plans to host a public information centre to inform the next phase of input to the province regarding the reviews of the plans.

After all, from a planner’s point of view, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Greenbelt Act are probably two of the most important pieces of legislation to come along since the Planning Act itself, Ms Shuttleworth said. The third law to which she referred is the Places to Grow Act and that’s due for review in 2016.

Recently, an organization dubbed the Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership for 2015 addressed an open letter to the mayors and councillors of municipalities that happen to sit on the moraine and/or Greenbelt.

The piece, penned by Debbe Crandall of the Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition and sent on behalf of it along with Earthroots, Ontario Nature and EcoSpark, said the partnership is eager for the upcoming review of the two plans and pleased by the interest displayed thus far, but is also concerned some municipalities may be developing positions without input from the public.

To be fair, the region consulted with the four organizations that make up the moraine partnership and a number of other stakeholders, Senior campaigner with Earthroots, Josh Garfinkel explained.

And while the letter isn’t directly aimed at the region there is some worry about the fact it’s asking for input from its local-tier municipalities when some of them may not have provided an opportunity for the public to comment, he said.

The plans a very important, Mr. Garfinkel continued, pointing to a recent Top 10 list put out by the partnership meant to show why the moraine deserves protection.

The list refers to it as “Southern Ontario’s rain barrel” as it provides more than 250,000 people with fresh water and goes on to note it is the headwaters for more than 65 rivers and streams.

And while it’s good the plans are there, they’re not perfect, he added.

Several issues remain with the two plans, some of which weren’t envisioned when the laws were enacted, Mr. Garfinkel said.

For example, development remains a threat on the moraine and in the Greenbelt, as even the province has encroached on the two protected areas with infrastructure such as highway expansions and power plants, he said, adding concerns about tree-cutting and the composition of fill dumped in protected lands have also arisen.

The latter two issues are typically municipal concerns, he explained, but many towns and cities either lack bylaws governing them or resources to enforce them.

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