By Chris Drost
The Bancroft Times (the Echo’s sister paper) was contacted recently by a Highlands East resident who asked us to investigate who Conservation Authorities are responsible to and why the timeline for obtaining a building permit listed on the Crowe Valley Conservation Authority website has not been changed to be more realistic of what people may expect.
In 2021, Debbie Christie of Highlands East, had a minor variance approved by the Municipality of Highlands East to build a small mudroom onto her residence. It had also been approved by the Crowe Valley Conservation Authority (CVCA). In April of this year, she applied for the building permit and lined up a contractor to complete the work in June. The website says the wait for a building permit is typically 15 to 20 days. It has now been 12 weeks and Christie’s frustration is growing.
“If it is going to take six months for a permit, then announce it on the website. If we had known we had to wait six months we would have planned for it,” Christie said.
During the first week of August Christie was told she was now seventh in line and it will take two to three more weeks for the permit.
“We are at risk of losing our contractor and may have to put it off for another year. It is because of this that people don’t get permits,” she said.
Christie explains that when they applied for the zoning variance, they had to move their shed three inches.
“We keep our shoreline natural. We aren’t people who defy these things,” she adds.
The Bancroft Times reached out to Tim Pidduck, general manager and secretary-treasurer of the CVCA for a response.
“We have been experiencing an increase in workload. The timeline on the website is based on the application being completed, which it sounds like it was in this case. We can have a look at the timeline on the website,” Pidduk said.
The CVCA has had a lot of additional planning items and property inquiries to deal with recently.
“It is similar to a lot of other services throughout Canada, things like passports and health care,” Pidduk said.
He believes that services have been hardest hit.
“We are a victim of changes COVID-19 imposed,” he explains.
“We don’t have the resources,” Pidduk said.
There has been a reduction in funding to the CVCA. The province previously funded $116,742 but now, it is basically cut in half,” Pidduk said.
Now, the bulk of the funding comes from the municipalities instead of the province. According to Pidduk, the province first started making cuts in the mid-1990s and it has continued to decline.
“The province was funding 60 to 70 per cent of total revenue, but with the cuts there has been a complete reversal. The municipalities are now paying 70 to 80 per cent,” he explains.
“There is only so much we can ask for from our municipalities. Some in our area are paying more than the province. We have not been able to expand our capacity and COVID-19 has made it worse,” Pidduk said.
Recent changes to the Conservation Authority Act, under which conservation authorities operate, have delineated that the municipalities have more say, but at the same time it stipulates that more programs and services must be offered. Most conservation authorities in Eastern Ontario are experiencing the same pressures, according to Pidduk. He noted that Lower Trent has hired additional staff but they are still not keeping up.
“The conservation authorities are underfunded, understaffed and under capacity,” Pidduk said.
Municipalities are responsible to fund conservation authorities.
“This makes it difficult to ask municipalities [for more funding] when our conservation authority has the highest per capita rate in the province, approximately $70 per capita. In most other areas it is $20 or less,” he said.
“It is basically a rural versus urban issue. The province should be trying to reallocate funding to rural areas that can’t afford the rates. In these times it is difficult. Balance has never been allocated to rural conservation authorities,” he explains.
Pidduk finished by reiterating that he will investigate changing the expected timelines for permits on the website to something more realistic. He also agreed to follow up on the Christie case.