Status of Environmental Assessments for Transportation, Infrastructure and Utility Projects on the Oak Ridges Moraine since 2001

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Observations: Plugging the Hole in Moraine Monitoring

 


As previously mentioned, there is no central agency that tracks or archives information on moraine-specific EAs. Data on Municipal Class EAs not subject to a Part II order are not centrally located with the Ministry of the Environment and are not required to be published on the Environmental Registry webpage. This made the search for information on EAs challenging. Several of these difficulties include the following:

  • Obtaining even the most basic of information (location, type of undertaking and status of the project) through a Freedom of Information request was a lengthy process that involved a monetary cost. Obtaining more detailed information may well be beyond the resources of most third party organizations.
  • Identifying EAs from some municipal websites, which contained only references to such projects in council meeting minutes, was challenging. However, some municipal websites were more helpful, with full lists of projects (e.g., the Regions of Durham, Peel and York).
  • Obtaining lists of EAs from municipal staff often involved two to three months of repeated communications. In many cases, the request was passed from staff member to staff member, and several mentioned the large amount of time necessary to gather the requested information.
 

In some of the surveyed municipalities, public works and engineering staff have had little or no exposure to the ORMCP. This could be because the ORMCP is a land use plan and the primary focus is placed on implementation through municipal official plans and zoning by-laws. Section 41, however, is applicable primarily to municipal public works and engineering projects and unlike the planning conformity exercises, there is no mechanism within the ORMCP to ensure compliance with section 41. The combination of departmental silos and a lack of more prescriptive policies in section 41 means that municipalities may have significant challenges with understanding and implementing the design, planning and construction of infrastructure projects as required by the ORMCP.

Conclusions
Unlike land use planning (where the ORMCP is implemented directly through municipal decision-making), infrastructure, transportation and utility projects are subject to a separate piece of legislation - the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). The ORMCP is not an undertaking of the EAA, and therefore EAs proceed on their own track. Given that the review and approval of specific projects are undertaken and housed with the proponents, relevant agencies or ministries, tracking even the most basic coordinates of EAs becomes difficult.

 

 

This is of concern for a number of reasons. The overriding nature of the EA process is out of step with the land use planning process and, unless this discrepancy is internally rationalized between the various provincial ministries in preparation for the 2015 Review, impacts associated with infrastructure projects may not be accounted for when assessing the ecological state of the moraine. This could be significant given that the construction and operation of highways, water and sewer systems and other infrastructure facilities have the potential for large scale cumulative impacts on the ecological and hydrological features and functions of the moraine. In addition to problems in assessing on-the-ground impacts, determining the effectiveness of section 41 of the ORMCP could well be beyond the ability of the province to deliver.

The difficulty in obtaining information on the whole range of infrastructure projects on the ORM could represent a challenge during the review of the ORMCP in 2015. Unless there is a centralized depot for such information about EAs on the moraine, it will be very difficult to evaluate section 41 and to determine how effective it has been in meeting the objectives of maintaining, restoring or enhancing the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine.

 

         
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