By Serena Smith, Niagara River Property Owner’s Group
We won! We won! I realized I was screaming into Jill Ryan’s ear. For the past five years, we had been consumed with saving a wetland from a proposed golf course construction. This project took our small motley group to local government, regional government and finally to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing.
The 230 acre wetland located on the Niagara River contains rare and endangered forests including Pin Oak and a Green Ash deciduous swamp. Slated to be a golf course, we knew that this wetland was special. But we didn’t know that over the next five years it would be an all-consuming process to prove that this wetland was provincially significant.
There were many hurdles, permits and processes over the years—but it all culminated in two hearings with the Ontario Municipal Board.
The three groups working to promote the golf course had over 15 different expert witnesses available for the hearings. The Niagara River Property Owner’s Group had one witness, Ms. Bonnie Bergsma, qualified as an ecologist with expertise in biology, wetland evaluation, and ecological planning.
There were seven issues that the Ontario Municipal Board had to rule on, the most crucial to our case being, “Is there a Provincially Significant Wetland on the lands and, if so, what are its boundaries and the boundaries of the adjacent lands?”
The Ontario Municipal Board ruled that the only way to determine if a wetland was Provincially Significant was to utilize the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES) that our group was promoting. The OWES methodology scores the biological, hydrological, social and special features. A Provincially Significant Wetland status score must be greater than 600 points. Ms. Bergsma, retained by our group, scored the wetland at 649 pts. and 250 pts. for special features, confirming the presence of a Provincially Significant Wetland. After reviewing the wetland evaluation, the MMAH and the Ministry of Natural Resources confirmed that the site forms part of the Baker’s Creek Provincially Significant Wetland Complex.
The Niagara River Property Owner’s Group prevailed on all the remaining issues, which included a decision that the “development and site alteration will not be permitted on significant wetlands South and East of the Canadian Shield.”
The Niagara River Property Owner’s Group transformed from an organization that believed their task—to convince a town to protect a wetland from development—was a simple one, to an educated and seasoned group that boasted a lawyer and ecologist amongst their ranks. Begging friends and neighbours for money and digging deep into our own pockets, we were able to balance our belief in the case with the challenge of continuing efforts and limited funds. But through it all we had Freshwater Future supporting us, cheering us on and giving us grants. Yeah! With their support we could defend the wetland at two lengthy and expensive OMB hearings.
This wetland is now protected! This wetland provides important habitat and unfathomable value to the Niagara River. A river that is a home to magnificent bald eagles, geese that arrive honking and land with a splash. Fox, coyotes, beavers, raccoons and deer find this the perfect habitat, not to mention the countless blue herons, ducks, frogs toads, and lizards. We feel this Ontario Municipal Board decision will form a foundation for wetland protection in Ontario. Hey did I tell you, we won! WE WON!!!
Niagara River Property Owners Association Grants from Freshwater Future
Spring 2004 $1,800 Wetland evaluation using OWES
Special Opportunity Grant 2004 $500 Community education about wetlands
Spring 2005 $5,500 Fish and habitat assessment and advocacy activities
Spring 2006 $3,300 Technical assistance to prepare for OMB hearing
Spring 2007 $2,500 Legal services and wetland consultant for hearings
Spring 2008 $2,000 Technical assistance for second OMB hearing