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Designed by Polly Ko

Moraine growth continues, despite act

by Serena Willoughby
Metroland: York Region
Dec. 18, 2006

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Remember when the province promised to protect environmentally sensitve lands in York Region under its Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act?
Activists do remember and are wondering, then, why growth is still taking place in areas covered by the act, including hydro pole installation on Bayview Avenue in Richmond Hill.

But Save the Oak Ridges Moraine -- a group key in getting the legislation passed -- says it was never intended to halt development in the environmentally sensitive zone.

Carrie Hoffelner, a environmentalist who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on Richmond Hill council last month, questions why the transmission lines, which she says aren't in keeping with the natural features of the moraine, are being installed by PowerStream, the area's hydro utility, and why the public wasn't consulted before work began.

The lines, which run between Stouffville and Bethesda roads, will serve as feeder lines, acting as a back up for existing residences and to serve new areas PowerStream spokesperson Eric Fagan says.

But the Oak Ridges Moraine Act is meant to protect the natural features of the moraine, not prevent growth, says Debbie Crandall of Save the Oak Ridges Moraine.

"The problem is the Oak Ridges Moraine Act is not there to protect against sprawl, it is there to protect the moraine. It was never thought that this would stop hydro poles and sewers from going in," she says.

"That's a weakness of the plan, but by protecting the moraine, it sets the bar higher than anywhere else in the province."

She argues that while the act won't stop every single project, it offers a level of protection that's better than what existed before.

For Ms Hoffelner, it comes down to lack of enforcement.

"They've got the legislation there, but they simply refuse to endorse it," Ms Hoffelner says.

She points to a similar situation with the lower Leslie Street trunk sewer that stretches from 19th Avenue to Bethesda.

The project is exempt from the full environmental assessment process because, due to its small scale, it is not subject to the more stringent Environment Ministry approvals.

The problem is the legislation is not being interpreted in good faith, Ms Hoffelner says, adding York Region won't enforce it because the region is under pressure from the Places to Grow Act, which calls for high growth in parts of the region, including Newmarket, in the next 20 years.

"It's sort of like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," she says.

Like sewers, the scope of the hydro pole project isn't large enough to warrant an environmental assessment, despite the fact it runs through a core area of the moraine.

"The Oak Ridges Moraine Act and the greenbelt plan and other measures work together to make sure there isn't a free-for-all on the moraine," says Laurel Broten, Ontario's environment minister. "It doesn't mean we won't see development of any kind."

Consultation with the public and experts plays a major role in determining if projects go ahead, Ms Broten says.

But with such a small-scale project, there is no one to ensure consultation happens, other than resident groups such as the Richmond Hill Naturalists and activists such as Ms Hoffelner, who is protesting the hydro project.

She is working with PowerStream to get a consultation process going but, in the meantime, construction continues.

"We're at the point now where we just want to get a copy of the Oak Ridges Moraine Act and read it over a loud speaker as the construction is going on," she says. "At least then we would feel like we were doing something and not getting caught in some bureaucratic process," she said.

Within the act, a core area has the highest level of protection and only servicing for existing and "very restricted new resource management" is allowed.

"No matter how you look at it, there are people on the moraine and people need power," Ms Crandall says.

The key, she says, is opening dialogue with developers to ensure they are installing infrastructure in keeping with the natural features of the area.

Meanwhile, groups are working with York Region to come up with a strategy for dealing with the infrastructure they know is coming.

Projects, such as lighting for pedestrian crossings on Yonge Street in parts of the moraine, need to be looked at differently, says Mary Ann Yake, the group's president.

"They (York Region) understand where we're coming from and they want to work with us," she says. "There's an opportunity to redefine the approach to these areas that are supposed to be protected."

STORM Coaliton is planning a symposium for February. Visit stormcoalition.org

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MORAINE FACTS

-One of Ontario's most significant landforms, the irregular ridge stretches 160 kilometres from the Trent River to the Niagara Escarpment.

-The moraine divides watersheds draining south into western Lake Ontario from those draining north into Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe and the Trent River system. There are 190,000 hectares of land and water within the moraine.

-The moraine has a unique concentration of environmental, geological and hydrological (features that make its ecosystem vital to south central Ontario.

-The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001 received Royal Assent Dec. 14, 2001.

-The Oak Ridges Moraine Act and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan are key elements of Smart Growth, the Ontario government's long-term strategy for what it says promotes and manages growth, sustains a strong economy and promotes a healthy environment.

-The plan divides the moraine into four land use designations: natural core areas (38 per cent of the moraine), natural linkage areas (24 per cent), countryside areas (30 per cent) and settlement areas (8 per cent).

Original link: http://www.yorkregion.com/yr/yr4/YR_News/TopStories/story/3817325p-4414792c.html

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