By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Area wants residents to voice their opposition to changes made by the provincial government to the Conservation Act.
On Nov. 5, the Ontario government held its first reading of Bill 229 known as the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act. Of the many changes in the omnibus bill included the Conservation Act.
Mark Peacock, CAO secretary treasurer of LTVCA said he takes particular issue with changes that now limit the scope of what a conservation authority’s mandate is.
“Basically, the object or purpose of conservation authorities, since 1946, has always been the same; to do watershed management to better the watershed. We’ve been doing that for 70-some-odd years and made significant connections with our farmers, communities and took local action to make our watershed better and protect the species,” he said.
Peacock said the new mandate would limit authorities’ programs and services related to the risk of natural hazards.
“That’s not what a conservation authority is all about or what the public expects us to be.”
Bill 229 would also allow the ministry to “arbitrarily make a decision” regarding permits for developers who would be allowed to appeal conservation authorities’ decisions directly to the ministry.
The current system was put in place after Hurricane Hazel struck southern Ontario in 1954, killing more than 80 people living on flood plains. In response, the provincial government amended act to enable conservation authorities to acquire lands for recreation and conservation purposes, and to regulate that land for the safety of the community.
“One of the challenges we have is we are trying to make it so people can work together. You can very well make it so one person’s piece of shoreline blows out. We are trying to get neighbours to work together to support each other, If people start appealing this stuff, decisions may be made that don’t necessarily work to follow larger shoreline problems,” Peacock said.
One of the first principles passed in the early days of the Conservation Act was that the costs of projects should be shared by municipalities and by the provincial government.
A local conservation authority follows the natural boundaries of the watershed, not municipal lines, Peacock explained. However, the new act would make it so that the municipal councillors who sit on LTVCA are only responsible for their municipalities.
“But the purpose is to get all the member municipalities together to work for the betterment of the watershed, not just the municipality. Takes away from the whole concept of what we are about,” he said.
“We are saying Lakeshore and Chatham-Kent have to get together because if Lighthouse Cove floods, that affects everyone. So farmers have to work together to be responsible to everybody on the river.”
Peacock said Bill 229 is only an enabling act so the full effects it will have on conservation authorities will not be known until regulations for the act are passed.
In the meantime, Peacock is hoping to drum up local support by having residents reach out to their local MPPs and discuss the issue.
“The idea of a conservation authority is about a municipality forgetting about the square lines of their map and realizing water runs right from the top to the bottom.”