Development plans don't align with city's desire to be leader in addressing climate change, letter writer says
The Inch Farm developments are proposed to happen near Highway 11, seen at right.Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters
Mayor Clarke and Mr. Lauer may not be alarmed by the plans for the Inch Farm Development area, but I am, and so should anyone who is concerned with a sustainable future.
The area in question may not have been evaluated wetland, but the Environmental Impact Study (EIS; 2021) completed for the road project labelled much of the area as “Other Wetlands” — swamp, marsh and fen were noted.
The EIS report also noted a remarkably high presence of wildlife and diverse vegetation, including evidence of 32 breeding bird species and several mammal species, including white-tailed deer, as well as amphibians, two endangered bat species, and one bird species of special concern.
The Silver Creek tributaries were identified as wildlife corridors. The combination of various types of wetland, mixed forest, and meadow provide for tremendous biodiversity, and most of the area is a Significant Groundwater Recharge Area (Schedule F, Source Water Protection Map). If these attributes do not constitute a “sensitive area,” what does?
Greater analysis of the EIS is warranted. The environmental consultant’s recommendation was that tree cutting occur prior to April 15 to avoid interference with breeding. Let’s identify this for what it is — destruction of habitat while birds are migrating and bats are hibernating.
The consultant suggested the wildlife would be minimally affected because of the presence of the “Environmentally Protected” (EP) valley/corridor — referring to the tributary areas; a 30-metre (m) setback from the watercourse was recommended.
Perhaps the consultant was unaware that in 2019 the City of Orillia approved the clear cutting of all the trees on the residential development site, leaving a meagre 7.5m buffer on each side of the North Tributary watercourse — half of the 30m setback for EP land specified in the 2010 Official Plan.
Mr. Lauer appears to be satisfied that the “buffers to protect Silver Creek” approved by staff are adequate. I encourage people to request the research used to come to the decision that a 7.5m stream buffer is adequate to maintain water temperature, prevent erosion, filter sediments, nutrients and chemicals from the surface water, and provide habitat for the diverse species in the area.
To suggest that over 32 species of birds, two species of endangered bats, one deep-wood bird of special concern, at least nine other mammal species and several species of amphibians will be suitably housed in 15 metres intersected by a three- to five-lane road and surrounded on all sides by residential and industrial development is ludicrous.
Despite a bridge over the North Tributary being identified as the best option for wildlife movement, the ‘preferred option’ identified in the traffic study is a culvert. Overall, there appears to have been minimal consideration for the long-term impact of the overall proposed development on the species that are supposed to be protected under federal and provincial legislation, let alone the other species in the area. How is habitat destruction during the migration and hibernation periods protection?
It is hard to reconcile the plans for the arterial road and surrounding development with the Official Plan (2010), which speaks of prioritizing maintenance of natural heritage features, including the minimization of fragmentation and loss of ecological functions. The alignment with the Municipal Strategic Plan (2019) that pledges a commitment to environmental stewardship is also unclear.
We need elected officials who are more than “regretful” about the clear cutting of over 2,000 trees and infilling of a wetland on a Significant Groundwater Recharge Area that is habitat to a wide range of species. We need elected officials who understand that “promoting canopy preservation” is not the same as preserving it, and that planting a few trees on suburban turf, around parking lots, and on an industrial site does not replace the ecological functions of mixed wood forest, wetland and meadows.
Historical land use designations that are inconsistent with current scientific knowledge regarding land use and the climate crisis should not be used as an excuse to continue to make the mistakes of the past.
Experts have identified wetland and woodland protection and restoration as among the most important measures in climate change response strategy due to their cost-effectiveness and efficiency.
The City of Orillia has a declared desire to be a leading municipality in addressing climate change (Strategic Plan, 2019). There is an opportunity for the City of Orillia to get this right and to be the leader they want to be, but that won’t happen if they continue to use the past to determine the present and future.