SCRCA: Recent budget bill changes fail to address concerns

Recent budget bill changes fail to address concerns, St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (SCRCA) officials say.

New changes made to the Schedule 6 amendments proposed for conservation authorities (CAs) “fall well short of addressing concerns” and introduce new additions, which create further delays and costs, in addition to allowing the Minister of the Natural Resources and Forestry to disregard CA science-based decision-making for development, SCRCA officials say.

“Our Board of Directors has concerns with the impacts of some of the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act being proposed under Schedule 6 of Bill 229,” stated Joe Faas, chair of SCRA and a Councillor in North Kent, in a press release.

“These changes don’t address our concerns and further erode our ability to protect people, property and the environment. While it appears that a few amendments around board governance may address some of our concerns and those of our member municipalities, overall, the proposed changes don’t go far enough, particularly around planning, permitting and enforcement.”

SCRCA officials say the Bill was reviewed by the governments’ Standing Committee last week.

A new section was added to Schedule 6 which requires a conservation authority to issue a permit when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues Ministers Zoning Orders (MZO) which can override conservation authority science-based decisions, SCRCA officials say.

“The SCRCA, along with other conservation authorities throughout Ontario would be required to issue a permit even if the application failed to meet the criteria for issuing a permit,” stated Brian McDougall, general manager of the SCRCA, in a media release.

“These criteria were developed to protect the lives and property of our watershed community against flooding and other natural hazards.”

The addition of the MZO section and other changes proposed in the Bill are expected to create even more delays and costs, not just for conservation authorities but also for municipalities and applicants, SCRCA officials say.

Conservation authorities are the second largest landowners in Ontario.

“Conservation authorities will find themselves in a position where they are basically the only landowners in Ontario who cannot appeal most planning decisions which affect their lands,” McDougall added.

“This seems to conflict with one of the Province’s proposed mandatory programs that CAs are to manage their lands to protect sensitive ecosystems.”

“Schedule 6 of Bill 229 should be withdrawn, Faas added.

“Conservation Authorities deserve the opportunity to meet with the Province and work together to chart a course that will meet the objectives of the Province, our Municipalities and Ontario’s Conservation Authorities,” Faas said.

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