Conservation group says province could be putting parts of Mississauga at risk
A local conservation organization says that changes put forward in the Ontario government's recent budget could politicize the development process and put parts of Mississauga, such as natural areas, at risk.
Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), a Mississauga-based conservation authority that oversees outdoor spaces in Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon, Oakville, Halton Hills, Orangeville and other municipalities, recently sounded the alarm over changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act. CVC says the changes, proposed in the province's Nov. 5 budget, present potential risks to people, property and the environment.
Conservation authorities, which have been in existence in the province since 1956, work to defend the Ontario floodplains, often on behalf of municipalities.
CVC currently manages such conservation areas as Rattray Marsh (Mississauga), the Cheltenham Badlands (Caledon), Terra Cotta Conservation Area (Halton Hills), Ken Whillans Resource Management Area (Brampton and Caledon), Meadowvale Conservation Area (Mississauga), Silver Creek Conservation Area (Halton Hills) and others.
In a news release, CVC said that while it's pleased that the Conservation Authorities Act continues to provide for "conservation, restoration, source water protection and natural resource management at the watershed level," it has serious concerns about the power the province could wield when it comes to approving potentially problematic development applications.
The conservation authority says the changes could strip organizations of their ability to protect the areas that fall under their jurisdiction.
"…The proposed changes would reduce the effectiveness of conservation authorities to protect the natural environment as well as public health and safety. These changes serve to erode our ability to manage lands containing natural hazards and wetlands, build flood resilience in the face of climate change and preserve critical natural features," CVC said in the release.
CVC said it's concerned that proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act would authorize the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to approve or deny a development permit application, effectively overriding the local conservation authority.
CVC also said that a permit applicant can ask the Minister to review a conservation authority's decision about an application, giving the province the chance to overrule the non-partisan authority.
"CVC and all Ontario conservation authorities are science-based, non-partisan public sector organizations that review permit applications consistently through the requirements set forth under section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act," the release reads.
"Granting permitting authority to the Minister would take science out of the equation, effectively politicizing the permitting process and allowing for development that may be considered unsafe or damaging to the natural environment."
CVC said that changing the permitting process could be dangerous, as conservation authorities regulate lands containing natural hazards and wetlands because natural systems cross municipal and property boundaries.
"Questionable development decisions can have significant and lasting impacts to a property, adjacent properties and downstream communities," the organization said, adding that proposed changes would prevent conservation authorities from issue stop-work orders in situations where the authority believes there is a "significant threat to life, property and environmentally sensitive areas before having to resort to costly fines and prosecution."
CVC also said that proposed changes would direct board members to act only on behalf of the municipality they represent rather than on behalf of the watershed and its residents.
In the release, CVC also suggested that changes to the Planning Act would make it much more difficult for conservation authorities to appeal a municipal planning decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
"This change would also remove our right to appeal planning decisions as a landowner. This is of significant concern as CVC owns and manages over 7,000 acres of land for habitat protection, community recreation and flood hazard management," CVC said in the release.
Cover photo: Rattray Marsh
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