By Michael Bennett
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ridgetown Independent
Sarah Emons was elected the new chair of the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority during its annual general meeting on at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus.
Emons is a municipal councillor for the Township of Southwold. She replaces Trevor Thompson, the South Kent councillor, whose two-year tenure as chair expired. Thompson was elected 1st vice-chair while Paul Tiessen, a municipal councillor from Leamington, was elected to the second vice-chair position. Thompson, who has been a Chatham-Kent council representative on the LTVCA board since being elected in 2014, served as vice-chair in 2019-20.
Other appointments announced at the AGM included Amy Finn, Chatham-Kent councillor, and Larissa Vogler (Lakeshore) to the C.M. Wilson Learning Centre Advisory Committee.
East Kent councillor John Wright is not returning as a board member. Chatham councillor Mike Bondy took his place.
“It is an honour to be elected as Chair of the LTVCA,” said Emons. “I am proud to represent an organization, which provides such value to the public, and to work with staff and board members who enthusiastically work to enhance the quality of life in their community. The LTVCA is strong and will rise above the many challenges we face in 2023 to continue to provide holistic approaches to improve the economic and ecological health of our watershed.”
Thompson’s tenure as chair came after the province’s Bill 229, which reduced elected chair terms from four to two years and reduced funding to Conservation Authorities across Ontario.
“It means you’re in constant changeover,” Thompson said about the downside of the two-year term. “You have one year to figure out what you’re doing, and just as you’re figuring out your role, you’re being replaced, so you really don’t get the chance to accomplish what you set out to do.”
The Cedar Springs’ resident said one of the highlights of his term locally is the revitalization of the Chatham-Kent Children’s Safety Village at the C.M. Wilson Conservation Area.
“It’s a facility that, due to COVID and other extenuating circumstances, has fallen into disarray,” Thompson said.
The LTVCA is working with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and its business partners to continue the safety village’s operations with an expanded outdoor education curriculum in addition to the children’s safety programming for 2023.
Thompson said he would remain active in the reopening of the safety village.
The biggest source of frustration for Thompson, which will extend to the new LTVCA executive, is the ongoing downsizing of funding and responsibilities from the province. The government passed Bill 23, the ‘More Homes Built Faster Act,’ last fall despite opposition from municipalities and Conservation Authorities across the province. The bill brought sweeping changes to the province’s natural heritage and land use planning legislation and policy, weakening environmental protections and diminishing the role of Ontarians in land use planning and decision-making.
“It’s really going to have a big impact on the LTVCA, all conservation authorities and municipalities, but we really don’t know how that’s going to shake out,” Thompson said. “The government announced Bill 23 without having all of the background work.”
Thompson said while financial and manpower cutbacks are still unknown, the bill limits conservation authorities’ ability to work with municipalities on erosion, flood plains, hazard mitigation and planning applications.
“We do a lot of that work with the Lake Erie bluffs and flood plains, the municipality doesn’t have the expertise, but we do,” said Thompson. “And we won’t be able to help them figure out best practices.”
Meanwhile, the LTVCA’s 2023 Budget of $4,200,484 was approved at the AGM, which was originally scheduled for February 23 but was cancelled due to a power outage as a result of the ice storm that crippled much of southern Chatham-Kent.
The budget represents an increase of $307,978, or 8% in overall spending, compared to the 2022 approved budget of $3,892,506.
The corresponding increase in the municipal levy is $75,331 to the LTVCA’s 10 municipalities which consist of Chatham-Kent, Dutton Dunwich, Lakeshore, Leamington, London, Middlesex Centre, Southwest Middlesex, Southwold, Strathroy-Caradoc and West Elgin.
Awards were presented in person for the first time since 2020.
The Rotary Club of Chatham Sunrise was named the Board & Committee Category winner for their volunteer work at the Chatham-Kent & Lambton Children’s Water Festival, C.K. Paddle & Clean event and many tree planting events over the years.
The winner for the Special Events Category is the Border Services and Police Foundations for providing security at the Children’s Water Festival since 2007.
The winner for the Environmental Category is David Braukis for his efforts in keeping our conservation areas clean, beautiful, and safe.
The Environmental Awards winners were Chad and Kate Hoskin for restoring three acres of farmland back to nature and the Twin Dolphin/Strong House Canada Corp. for providing paddlers for the C.K. Paddle & Clean event, which resulted in 700 lbs. of garbage being removed from the Thames River and McGregor Creek.
The 2022 Annual Report highlighted the important work completed by staff at the LTVCA throughout the year. A total of 30 flood messages were issued for shoreline areas, including eight advisories, two safety bulletins, five flood outlooks, and one flood watch.
A Low Water Level One Condition was declared for the entire watershed in June.
Water quality monitoring was conducted at 22 sites. Planning staff dealt with 409 municipal planning submissions, and regulation staff dealt with 453 permit applications.
Stewardship staff sold 94,458 seedlings and 616 large-stock trees and worked with 217 landowners to restore 120 hectares (296 acres) into trees, wetlands and tallgrass prairie.
Aquatic species at risk (mussels and fish) received extensive study across the watershed.
Phosphorus Reduction Initiatives helped offset the cost of 3,960 hectares (9,785 acres) of cover crops to 70 agricultural producers. Conservation areas were very busy in 2022, with over 30,000 campers, 396 parking passes sold, and 72 seasonal campsites in use.
Education programming was able to be offered more fully in 2022, with the LTVCA education team seeing 3,586 students.
The lessening of COVID restrictions allowed many events to take place, including the Chatham-Kent & Lambton Children’s Water Festival, Battle of Longwoods and Cultivating Conservation Tour.