Niagara Escarpment’s new policy ‘ridiculous’ for farmers, wineries
Regional councillors are asking the province to reconsider its “ridiculous” new 2017 Niagara Escarpment Plan that adversely affects one-third of Niagara’s wineries.
“I think it’s important for us to understand how truly granular and ridiculous this is, and I use that word very broadly because the only people who are suffering here are people who are trying to operate their farms in full production,” said Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton at Wednesday’s planning and development services committee meeting.
While presenting a report on the new provincial policies, Niagara planner Erik Acs said about 29 of Niagara’s 96 wineries fall under the province’s 2017 Niagara Escarpment Plan, that includes “more restrictive controls … lacks clarity” and “causes implementation problems for wineries at the local and regional level.”
“It also places certain land owners at disadvantages,” Acs said.
“In short, these restrictions are counter-productive to growing a successful agri-food sector.”
Pelham Coun. Brian Baty, Niagara’s sole representative on the Niagara Escarpment Commission, said he’s aware of policies that “seemed to be more positive,” adding the concerns “come as a bit of a surprise.”
“There may be an anomaly,” he said, adding the commission has been dealing with a large number of vacancies recently leading to months when the commission did not meet.
“There were months when we didn’t even have a chair,” Baty said, wondering if the policy was not dealt with by the commission due to missed meetings.
He said the vacancies have “really crippled the functioning of the organization.”
Baty suggested referring the presentation to the next meeting of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, because “members, most of whom are new, need to be informed.”
St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms said the Region needs to endorse efforts to change the provincial policy “sooner rather than later.”
“Is there any action we can take appealing the act itself through cabinet at this state?” Timms asked.
“I believe the option to appeal has passed,” Acs told him.
Acs, however, said the policy could still be amended.
“There are ways of clarifying the implementation challenges that are highlighted here. We need to start that discussion with them,” he said.
Niagara’s director of planning, Rino Mostacci said amendments to the plan can be made through a number of different scenarios.
Although currently the onus is on wineries to initiate amendments to the policy, Mostacci said it is a “very onerous process for an operator.”
“It’s not their specialization. It’s not what they do, and it takes a long time,” he said. “We would rather have the escarpment commission initiate their own plan amendments.”
Committee members also discussed Baty’s concerns about vacancies on the Niagara Escarpment Commission left unfilled by the province’ s public appointment secretariat.
“We had a total of eight people leave who were long term,” Baty said. “It’s those vacancies that have not been filled to the point that we have not had quorum at several meetings.”
The Region previously approved a motion in July, calling on the province to fill the vacancies on the commission.