Ontario Wetlands and Water Activists Are Celebrating Two Recent Victories

Ontario Wetlands and Water Activists Are Celebrating Two Recent Victories

At the end of November 2002, the Ontario Divisional Court found in favor of the Grey Association for Better Planning (GABP), part of whose work has been funded by GLAHNF, when it ruled that water-taking of more than 50,000 liters per day (13,209 US gallons per day) is a land use under Ontario’s Planning Act and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of municipalities and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). In the landmark decision, the court upheld an appeal by GABP of an earlier OMB ruling that dismissed municipal plan policies addressing commercial water-taking in Grey County and that allowed Artemesia Waters Ltd. to operate a water storage and trucking facility near Flesherton (in the Lake Huron watershed). Artemesia has shipped water to bottled-water giant Echo Springs Water Co. in the past and wants a further court decision that would allow future water-taking. Continued groundwater extraction at the Flesherton site would likely suck a nearby wetland dry and threaten brook trout spawning habitat.

The OMB had ruled in 2001 that water-taking was not a land use and decided to deal only with matters pertaining to water storage and loading facilities. The Divisional Court agreed with GABP that this was an unacceptable narrowing of the scope of the issues that the OMB ought to have been considering. The court has sent the case back to the OMB, ordering the board to rehear the matter in a broader way. But in December 2002, Artemesia asked the Ontario Court of Appeal for permission to appeal the court ruling. The appeal court decision is pending. GABP’s valiant struggle to protect groundwater and a wetland, while victorious, has been expensive, and the group is in debt. For updates and to help financially, please contact GABP at our_water_works@hotmail.com.

In another stunning victory for conservation, the Ontario Municipal Board ruled in December 2002 that The Hearn Group Inc., a Windsor-based developer, cannot build an 18-hole golf course on its 79.5-hectare (196-acre) portion of Marshfield Woods, a swamp, near the southwestern tip of Ontario, that is classified as a provincially significant wetland in the Lake Erie watershed. The win could not have come without the tireless efforts of Dr. John Spellman, an area resident who, without legal representation, was successful in persuading the OMB to take the highly unusual step of changing the zoning of someone else’s land. The board “downzoned” the Hearn property to a wetland designation from the previous agricultural one. The wetland zoning prevents the establishment of the golf course.

Supporting Dr. Spellman in his bid to save the Marshfield swamp were Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Essex Region Conservation Authority, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (represented by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund), the Essex County Field Naturalists, and Friends of Marshfield Woods. While Hearn may seek to appeal the OMB decision, the 73-page ruling is a testament to the great ecological significance of southern Ontario’s remaining wetlands and woodlands. The Marshfield case exemplifies the importance of identifying and protecting significant natural features across Ontario through municipal official plans. For further information on the Marshfield win, please contact lindap@ontarionature.org.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.