Effort Saves Prime Wetland From Development

Effort Saves Prime Wetland From Development

By Glen Dale, Shoreline Stewardship Association of Cloud Bay & Little Trout Bay

Cloud Bay wetland is 25 miles south of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and 12 miles from the Minnesota border. From our windows we view Michigan’s Isle Royale just 14 miles away. Our bay is small, enclosed, and is a relatively warm-water bay protected from the ravages of Superior’s capricious winds and threatening waves. Cloud Bay is a cosy place to live and provides shelter for a variety of wildlife and their young. TheOntario Ministry of Natural Resources has designated it a Provincially Significant Wetland. The shoreline of Cloud Bay is unique; only 1% of Lake Superior’s Canadian shoreline is designated Provincially Significant. An Environment Canada atlas also maps the area as environmentally sensitive for spawning fish and migratory waterfowl.

Residents of Cloud Bay have been enmeshed in a three year battle to protect this treasured wetland from the development of a trailer park originally envisioned as housing as many as 300 to 600 trailers; the would-be developer eventually scaled down the proposal to 70. In the summer of 1999 citizens of Cloud Bay were horrified to see the clearing of the shoreline at the Cloud River estuary in preparation for this trailer park. The new owners of the land were preparing for development apparently unaware of the sensitivity of this marshland, which supports abundant wildlife.

Neighbours scurried about sounding the alarm. A few met and formed a committee. Neebing Municipal Council and the investors were approached in a formal meeting and informed of wetland concerns; in a heated dialogue we learned that the developers already had the “go ahead” to proceed with the development. The Neebing Council fully supported the trailer park project and announced that a new zoning bylaw would be enacted within two months to accommodate the development. The Neebing Council intended to rezone the area from residential to commercial for phase one of this project: essentially a village of stationary ” cottages on wheels”. Yet the deal to buy the site had not even closed.

Our ad hoc committee took the issue to the settlement of Cloud Bay as well as Little Trout Bay, on the other side of the marsh. A number of concerned families and citizens joined together to found the Shoreline Stewardship Association of Cloud Bay and Little Trout Bay with a mission of encouraging environmental preservation and sound development on our shoreline and to work for the common good in providing a forum for discussion and resolution. Seventy families (99% of households in the area) signed petitions protesting the rezoning of the land. Two major public meetings required under Ontario planning legislation were held (Nov/99 and Jan/01). The halls overflowed with citizens in opposition to the proposal. Shortly after these meetings, the Neebing Council passed a bylaw, changing the zoning of the land, despite the loud protests of residents.

The Shoreline Stewardship Association of Cloud Bay and Little Trout Bay began work to initiate an extensive media and education campaign to increase public awareness of the importance of the wetland, and fundraising for an appeal of the zoning change. Residents have contributed dollars generously, and volunteers have donated endless hours to the effort. We received a grant from GLAHNF to assist in the campa ign and we appealed the zoning change to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which is the Ontario land use planning appeal tribunal. We stepped up our mailings, newsletters, and the amount of information distributed to the public, we hired a lawyer, and we committed to the full services of a professional planner.

Surprisingly, and to our delight, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing withheld approval of the local municipal zoning change on the property. They deliberated well past the normal 90-day period allowed to make a decision. Our persistent pleas to Ontario officials led to a year of stalling. Impatient at the delay, the investors and Neebing Council jointly appealed the delay to the OMB. We opposed their appeal in the Association president’s name; we had to be a voice in the process if we were to defeat the commercial zoning.

This appeal resulted in a two-week hearing held in June 2002. In the final decision the chair of the OMB issued these welcome words: “The proposal for approximately 70 fully serviced campsites represents an over-development of the site that poses too great a risk to this unique and pristine environment. It represents bad land use planning.” The chair’s decision showed that the protection of the environment and the wetland was our strong suit. The OMB chair’s written decision stated that persuasive to the Board was the fact that the proposal was not compatible with what was acknowledged as a pristine environment. An environment that is unique on the North shores of Lake Superior. An environment that must be protected from harm. An environment that must not be put at risk.

The OMB’s decision had ruled out the Municipality of Neebing’s zoning change which would have allowed the trailer park. However, the Municipality and the developer quickly sought leave (permission) to appeal the decision to the Divisional Court of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. We were, however, persistent in our defence of the wetland. We began to review and prepare scientific and planning reports to defend our victory. We worked to maintain and rally member and community financial support for the legal aspect of our defence. We received a second grant from GLAHNF to assist with an awareness campaign involving news releases, a public education campaign, and efforts to educate regulatory decision-makers about the wetland.

In July of 2003 we achieved a second huge success for the protection of the wetland when a Superior Court judge dismissed the Municipality of Neebing’s request for leave to appeal the OMB decision.

Success arose out of many factors in a long, exasperating struggle. We kept careful records of the council activity; we stored copies of all correspondence with the Council and provincial agencies; we lobbied and pressured. Council hostility and discouraging local setbacks were a transparent injustice; justifiable irritation helped us remain united. Three dedicated professionals entered half way into our standoff. They gave heart, competence, and commitment to our effort: a university biologist from McMaster University, a Toronto based planner (expert in OMB procedures), and our local lawyer, who tied it all together and meticulously prepared the case with us. All along we appreciated the important moral support of organizations all around the province and states of Lake Superior.

Perhaps a crowning success has been in the recent November 2003 municipal elections. Our “Clean Slate candidates” unseated the mayor and majority of Council; representing our ward within the Municipality of Neebing is Bev Dale, a founding member in our Association.

We have come to see that land use carelessness in each local, sensitive area creates a cumulative impact in damaging the water quality and the aquatic habitats of Lake Superior. We will continue to network with others in trouble spots around the Basin and to work for the watershed’s good health. We must all think globally but act locally.

Shoreline Stewardship Association
Glen Dale, President
RR7, Thunder Bay, ONT P7C 5V5 CANADA
807-964-2920
Email: Gbdaleview@aol.com

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