Ex­panded Green­belt raises ques­tions

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Greg Mercer, Record staff

WATER­LOO RE­GION — Water­loo Re­gion’s farm­ers, ru­ral town­ships and mu­nic­i­pal plan­ners are try­ing to fig­ure out what a pro­posed ex­pan­sion of On­tario’s Green­belt could mean for re­stric­tions on land use in this re­gion.

The prov­ince is con­sid­er­ing adding huge swaths of land to an 810,000-hectare area around the Greater Golden Horse­shoe, known as the Green­belt, as part of ex­panded plans to pro­tect wa­ter re­sources.

Among the areas be­ing stud­ied are the Water­loo and Paris/Galt mo­raine in Water­loo Re­gion — a wa­ter sup­ply that runs through the lo­cal town­ships of Wil­mot, Welles­ley, Wool­wich and North Dum­fries.

While some ru­ral politi­cians are skep­ti­cal of the prov­ince’s tim­ing, just months be­fore an elec­tion, oth­ers point out the Re­gion of Water­loo has had pro­tec­tions for lo­cal farm­land and ground­wa­ter in place for decades.

Re­gion of Water­loo Chair Ken Seil­ing said the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is wor­ried hand­ing con­ser­va­tion of lo­cal farm­land and ground­wa­ter over to provin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion might ac­tu­ally mean less, not more, pro­tec­tion.

“Our con­cern has al­ways been that they don’t weaken the pro­tec­tions we al­ready have in our plan,” he said. “We want a guar­an­tee that what we have isn’t weak­ened by the Green­belt leg­is­la­tion, be­cause in some cases, we be­lieve we’re stronger . ... We don’t want to lose con­trol.”

Oth­ers spec­u­lated the prov­ince’s an­nounce­ment looks like a move to win more en­vi­ron­men­tal votes in the 2018 elec­tion. The area un­der re­view stretches from Sim­coe County and the Ni­a­gara Es­carp­ment to Welling­ton County and as far south as Brant­ford.

“Is this just an elec­tion ploy to ap­pease a certain group for vot- ers?” asked North Dum­fries Mayor Sue Fox­ton.

“We’ll have to see how this plays out . ... We’re not say­ing that it’s wrong or right. But it has to be an­a­lysed to see the true im­pact. We can’t hurt farm­ers any­more than they’ve al­ready been hurt.”

She said an ex­panded Green­belt could af­fect ev­ery­thing from farm­ing to de­vel­op­ment to the ag­gre­gate in­dus­try.

But she said the town­ships needs to study the prov­ince’s pro­posal fur­ther. Her mu­nic­i­pal­ity plans to weigh in on the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion process, too.

The prov­ince’s study is only fo­cused on ru­ral lands. The ur­ban areas of Water­loo, Kitch­ener, Cam­bridge and Guelph, and the towns within the ru­ral town­ships, are ex­empt.

The Re­gion of Water­loo, one of the largest mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in On­tario that re­lies on ground­wa­ter for its drink­ing wa­ter sup­ply, has had poli­cies to pro­tect its wa­ter sys­tem since the 1990s.

When the Green­belt was first be­ing drafted, some of the rules around farm­land pro­tec­tion were also based on po­lices de­vel­oped by the Re­gion of Water­loo when the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was formed in the 1970s.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity is plan­ning to for­mally re­spond to the prov­ince’s study, but firmly be­lieves it al­ready has more rig­or­ous pro­tec­tions than what’s be­ing pro­posed.

“The re­gion has al­ways been a leader on this. Based on our re­view of the poli­cies, I’d sug­gest the re­gion’s cur­rent policy is ac­tu­ally stronger,” said Michelle Sergi, the re­gion’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity plan­ning.

“The re­gion has al­ways had very strong poli­cies for pro­tec­tion of our ru­ral areas. We’ve had those in place for a long pe­riod of time.”

The Grand River Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity, which pro­tects the Grand River wa­ter­shed, said it’s also re­view­ing the prov­ince’s pro­posal, and plans to re­spond.

Les Arm­strong, mayor of the Town­ship of Wil­mot, said he’s sus­pi­cious of the tim­ing and doubt­ful of the po­ten­tial im­pact around ex­pand­ing the Green­belt into areas where’s there’s al­ready strong con­ser­va­tion po­lices in place.

“I’m not sure why they’re look­ing at this. I know these are things they look at around elec­tion time,” he said. “There’s al­ready lots of pro­tec­tions in place.”

In other parts of On­tario, some farm­ers are con­cerned about a pro­posal to dou­ble the set­backs re­quired to cre­ate a larger buf­fer around wa­ter sources, said Keith Cur­rie, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture.

The prov­ince says the Green­belt is al­ready home to more than nine mil­lion peo­ple, and is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sig­nif­i­cant growth and pres­sure from ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. It says the moraines, cold wa­ter streams and wet­lands that bor­der on the Green­belt are most in need of pro­tec­tion.

“Our lakes, rivers and wet­lands are es­sen­tial to the high qual­ity of life en­joyed by peo­ple liv­ing in the Greater Golden Horse­shoe’s outer ring, to­day and in the fu­ture. We all have an im­por­tant role to play in pre­serv­ing these vi­tal wa­ter re­sources,” said Bill Mauro, Min­is­ter of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs.

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