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Wetlands need more protection, OMB told
Tiny frog among species at risk in 7,800-unit site
Greenbelt plan not enough to protect it, biologist says

by Gail Swainson
The Toronto Star
Feb. 23, 2006

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The province dropped the ball when it failed to protect sensitive wetlands threatened by a massive housing development, a provincial biologist has told the OMB.

"These are provincially significant wetlands. They need the highest level of protection," Steve Varga testified yesterday.

Varga, an inventory biologist with the ministry of natural resources, was testifying at an OMB hearing into a 7,800-unit subdivision.

The site is on 600 hectares of countryside northeast of Elgin Mills Rd. E. and Bayview Ave. Fifty landowners are involved in the proposal.

Varga testified that large swaths of the site were protected from development in the province's Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine plans, which he helped draft. But the province stopped short of preserving an additional seven critical spots — most adjacent to wetlands — that should be added to the list, he told the two-member panel.

He said including these seven sections, which add up to about 40 hectares, would protect the wetlands, which are home to the tiny spring peeper frog.

Spring peepers are designated as a local species of concern, meaning they should enjoy a high level of protection, he told the hearing, under chair Marilyn Eger and panel member Douglas Gates.

The additional protected land would also "logically" knit together currently unconnected wildlife corridors, Varga testified.

"These are local stepping stones to get wildlife moving through local tributaries," Varga added.

Varga said the need to protect these particular sites is stipulated in provincial policy statements and other provincial guidelines.

But Derek Coleman, an environmental consultant who testified on behalf of developers last week, said in an interview that the site has sufficient protections already.

"What is being suggested by Mr. Varga is completely unnecessary. There is more protection here than anywhere else in the GTA," Coleman said.

In fact, he said, the recent rash of environmental protections typified by the Greenbelt plan has created "Green Sprawl."

"By unnecessarily protecting areas, you are pushing development farther and farther away," he said. The hearing, scheduled to run 25 weeks, began last week.

The application is the first to be heard by the OMB since the province passed its landmark Greenbelt plan last March.

About 160 hectares of land protected under the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine plans is contained in the proposed development area, but environmentalists say more needs to be protected.

The developers and the town of Richmond Hill are also asking the board to decide whether a key section west of Highway 404 should be designated employment lands — as the city wants — or used for housing.

In late December, it was found that much of the site's western half has an unusually high water table. This means the board will have to decide whether the high water table should put an end to some of the plans for a high-density subdivision.

The board could, alternatively rule that mitigation measures be implemented to allow the development to go ahead.

The hearing continues today.

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