By Darren Lum
It didn’t take long for the Municipality of Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts to address the controversy related to the public’s demand for the municipality to protect wetlands such as the one that was partially filled in on Gelert Road, which has been the lightening rod for calls for a site-alteration bylaw.
“We are all doing our best to care for this community,” she said within seconds of starting the Dysart’s regular meeting on Tuesday. “The onslaught of e-mails, whether it be the shoreline bylaw, or protecting our wetlands. There’s such a nasty tone to some of them and it’s really hurtful. We’re all human beings. We’re part of this community and we’re doing our best as councillors, whether we’re here for Dysart council, or myself and Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy on county council,” she said.
She continued, “My only message is try to be kind. To be kind to each other and try to be patient as we work through these processes. We are all doing our best. We are listening.”
Director of planning and land information, Jeff Iles presented a report at the request of Roberts. His presentation centred on the protection of significant natural heritage features wetland and endangered or threatened species.
He said the township’s official plan states the primary objective is protection enhancement of the environment, but this is at the time of development.
“Based on this objective, there are numerous policies sprinkled throughout the official plan designed to protect natural heritage features, wetlands, lakes habitat. These policies, which are vital to the protection of these features are strictly enforced at the time of development control, which is mostly the processing of planning applications. Having said that, currently there is no tool in place that enable staff to enforce these actions. So there’s no law. No bylaw. Unless the official plan policies are implemented by a bylaw or some other development agreement or other agreement, they are only addressed at times of development.”
Iles said the Municipal Act does provide council the authority to pass bylaws to prohibit and regulate filling and site-alteration.
“Furthermore, council has the ability to pass bylaws to implement the direction of our official plan such as the zoning bylaw having been the biggest example there,” he said.
Other enforcement options exist such as with Haliburton County council, which is in the process of reviewing the proposed shoreline preservation bylaw to include site-alteration regulations. He added the bylaw, if implemented as it is presented, could regulate and would prevent site-alteration within 30 metres of lakes, water courses and wetlands.
In addition to online messages and social media posts directed to council members, there were close to two dozen letters of concern sent and included as part of the report presentation at the meeting.
The letters demanded the municipality implement a site-alteration bylaw to protect the wetlands, which includes animal habitat and wildlife. They cited such mechanisms are necessary to ensure water quality, mitigate flooding, protection of nature and heritage.
Roberts said she and Kennedy were at the county meeting where discussion about the shoreline preservation bylaw lasted the better part of five hours. Part of the discussion referenced how “bodies of water” should include wetlands.
“The consultants Hutchinson Environmental [Sciences] were suggesting that we do include wetland and ponds, but that ended up being quite a bit of a conversation … I know the wheels of municipal government, government in general may seem like they work painfully slow, but that’s exactly, really, what we did when we delegate that authority to the county to look at strengthening the shoreline [preservation] bylaw. That’s exactly what we were talking about last week,” she said. “So for Dysart to undertake any bylaw of their own at this point wouldn’t make any sense until we see what happens at the county. I don’t know if we’re any further ahead … there’s a lot more questions that day that came up than there were answers and there was very few things we sort of landed on a consensus,” she said.
Roberts said she is in favour of a “compliant process” similar to the tree bylaw.
“You don’t need a permit. You just can read the bylaw. You go measure the tree and if it’s greater than five centimetres at a certain height, then you just can’t cut it down,” she said. “So, there are ways or other examples that we really haven’t looked at it at the county in terms of bylaws, and other municipalities.”
There was hope that a county bylaw would apply to all four municipalities, but no one envisioned the time it would have taken, Roberts said.
“We’ll see where we land on that and if the county bylaw is either defeated or never comes forward or is contested then the municipality can do something on their own, but the thought was three, four years ago that we’d all work together, all four townships work together … So, let’s see where the county lands and the clock is ticking because it’s an election year and so we only have so long to go forward on this,” she said.
Councillor John Smith asked about what the timeline is for when the review process for the shoreline preservation bylaw could conclude.
“How long should we wait for the county to reach a conclusion on something they’ve been evaluating for three of four years or more before, we, as a local municipality, take some action to protect the wetlands and other resources in our community?”
Roberts said there isn’t a clear answer with many unanswered questions by some members of county council and a version of a bylaw that isn’t ready to vote on at this point.
“So, I would say, really, the timeline would be this term of council,” she said.
Kennedy noted how the county director of planning, Steve Stone was asked to provide information with his experience from working as the planner for the Town of Seguin where there is a bylaw for “placing or dumping or removal of fill in areas” such as shoreline areas and to land zoned Environmental Protection, which could move the process closer to establishing a draft of a bylaw for the following county council meeting.
“I sympathize with councillor Smith that at some point, I think we probably should act on a site-alteration bylaw, perhaps with a limit, so it only affects properties that have natural hazards with that type of thing. So it’s not everybody having to do a site that doesn’t have environmental protected areas on it has to move forward with that initiative of only maybe eliminating site-alteration bylaws. I think the clock is ticking on it. It’s a decision we should make before the end of term of this council, so that staff can start to prepare options for us to look at a local level. I don’t see any problem with us working concurrently,” Kennedy said.
Iles said he would look to learn about updates related to what the Ministry of Environment is doing about the wetland at the Gelert Road property, which is on land zoned Environmental Protection.