Sunday, June 29, 2014

Springwater Council Advances Final Steps of Midhurst Secondary Plan

On June 25th of last week there were some special meetings held by the Planning Committee of Springwater Township. As many people know the committee is comprised of the elected officials.

The first meeting at 5:30 was a closed session to discuss the issues and conditions for the zoning of the first 5,000 homes of phase 1 of the Midhurst Secondary Plan.

The second session was an open house scheduled for 6:30 where the revised subdivision plans for the Midhurst Mega Development were presented. There were some minor revisions that had been requested by the township in April and the plans were revised accordingly. There was a minor reduction in the number of homes of about 5%.

A Special Planning Committee Meeting was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. but it was delayed by about 35 minutes as it took longer in the closed session than expected. I guess some councillors were not clicking their heels in tune with the mayor’s wishes. This public meeting, which has put a further spike in the coffin of Springwater’s enviable rural lifestyle, lasted about 20 minutes. There was no question period as is the normal case at Planning Meetings and we all know why. Four members of this council want this project to proceed and have ignored all pleas and reasoning by many in our community. The motion to accept the report was unanimous. Put in a nutshell the report says that the developers have satisfied the concerns of the Township and that they will support the OMB approving the zoning of the lands as applied for. Few people seemed to realize that this was more than receiving a report. It was a final stamp of approval by this council for the Mega Development to proceed. That in my estimation is a dark day for Springwater residents and will be one of the dates we refer back to in years to come where this council approved the destruction of the rural nature of Springwater.

Now for some reality checks. At the present time we have 5 ward councillors that, if evenly spread, represent about 3000 voters each. If Midhurst proceeds, as this council has approved, that will mean there will be about 4 more councillors representing the new population in Midhurst at the completion of the first phase. It could mean another 4 if phase 2 proceeds. Even if we keep the same number of councillors that would mean most councillors will be representing the Midhurst population. How successful will be the pleas be for improvements in the likes of Hillsdale, Elmvale, Minesing, Phelpston and Anten Mills. If you think you are being ignored now, just wait until this Midhurst development proceeds.

One of the last hopes for delaying or revisiting the entire negative environmental impacts of the Midhurst Mega Development I think got scuttled by the Board at a meeting on Friday at the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority. There was another long closed session meeting with some 26 items. A number of councillors, prior to approving the agenda to go into “closed session”, objected and said only 2 to 4 items would meet the requirements of the Municipal Act. But again the Board of the NVCA are the elected officials from the municipalities and many support these large plans. The NVCA had pleaded at the OMB prehearing for the Midhurst zoning that the hearings were premature and should be delayed. The outcome I expect after Friday’s NVCA will be a withdrawal of the objection and “voila”, the OMB will approve the zoning request.

Our elected officials are pawns in the big business of land development and speculators. As we have seen at the various OMB hearings on development issues the landowners and developers spend millions to get approval of “their” interpretation of the laws and policies. It is pretty easy when the local County and municipalities within it lack the experience or wherewithal to challenge these issues.

If you look around the County of Simcoe we see sprawl being permitted, which is contrary to the policies that govern it. And that is simply sad. What is sadder is that few of the elected officials have the courage to take a stand. It is like the school yard bully. Until someone stands up to him, everyone is in fear. But when one person says “enough is enough” the problem quickly resolves itself. We succeeded by challenging the bully responsible for the Site 41 mega-dump, so now we must do the same for Midhurst, Everett and Baxter.

We all need to decide what we want in our local municipalities and elect people that will stand up for the majority rather than the well-financed few.

It’s you choice!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It’s time to change the channel. Can you say Ecotourism?

By Gary Cerantola
Georgian Bay and area with its stunning natural scenery and its expanding network of hiking and biking trails and waterways is ripe for shaping an ecotourism economy that lends itself to sustainability and attracting investment while providing green jobs for Ontarians for generations to come. It’s time to consider both the private and social benefits of managing our natural heritage while creating a sustainable local economy based on ecotourism.

One of our biggest treasures is the Minesing Wetlands.
The Minesing Wetlands is internationally recognized as an area of unique biological diversity and ecological importance. This natural treasure is recognized under the Ramsar Convention which is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, recognizing the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value. It is also recognized as a Provincially Significant Wetland and a Provincially Significant Life Science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest in our province of Ontario.

It is currently threatened by overdevelopment in the form of urban sprawl, and flooding exacerbated by global warming effects. It has suffered degradation from logging, land recovery, farming and drainage practices that date back to the 1800s and is a product of the management systems that have been put in place to protect it over the last few decades. The Minesing Wetlands boasts the largest and most diverse wetland complexes in Southern Ontario and is known in some circles as the Costa Rica of Ontario for its bio-diversity. It provides habitat for several significant species, including at-risk turtles and eastern prairie white-fringed orchid. The Minesing Wetlands has long been known to contain one of the oldest and largest heronry areas in southern Ontario and provides expansive breeding opportunities for marsh birds. Its extensive marshes provide significant stopover habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. The Minesing Wetlands also supports one of the largest deeryards within the Nottawasaga River watershed.

Located in the heart of the Nottawasaga River watershed in Simcoe County, the wetlands include swamp marsh and fen communities. The Nottawasaga River is part of the Great Lakes Basin, and is a tributary of Lake Huron. Its main branch is 120 kilometers long and empties in to Georgian Bay at Wasaga Beach. The Nottawasaga River system is one of the largest producers of Rainbow Trout and Chinook Salmon in the Georgian Bay/Lake Huron basin. The river also supports critical spawning and nursery habitat for Lake Sturgeon.

Paving Paradise and Putting up a Parking Lot
Since 1833 European settlers began settling, farming and logging the Minesing Wetlands. We have been treating our natural heritage as if it was a business in need of liquidation. Currently there is a Midhurst secondary plan in the Township of Springwater in play that has earmarked a development expansion that will potentially accommodate 30,000 residents on the edge of the Nottawasaga River watershed. This development will result in storm drains and sewer treatment effluent that will make their way to the wetlands and challenge the carrying capacity of this eco-system.

This is a perfect example of traditional economic drivers at play. Without awareness, education and citizen engagement we will never succeed in creating a sustainable future for our grandchildren and generations to come.

Let`s Change the Channel
We have an opportunity to develop new business models to create a sustainable portion of our economy through ecotourism. If we can spawn ecotourism economic drivers in Ontario we have a chance to diminish traditional incentives to build developments on sensitive lands.
Given the rich natural capital bounded by the Minesing Wetlands we will be able to harness the bounties of ecotourism and motivate efforts to preserve it, while sharing these resources with visitors around the world. This new industry would create an emphasis on enriching personal experiences and environmental awareness through interpretation while creating a greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society, and culture.

The benefits of ecotourism will drive the desire to manage the ecological resilience of the Minesing Wetlands in terms of protecting what we have with better monitoring, stewardship and management practices and restoring conditions such that we will maintain these natural treasures for future generations.

Ontario's young workers have largely been affected by a national economic shift away from the manufacturing sector towards resource extraction and Ontario government austerity measures over the last few years. With Ontario youth unemployment rates trending higher than the national average would it not make sense to create employment incentives associated with ecotourism to develop a burgeoning ecotourism industry dealing with employment and conservation issues in a combined strategic effort? Ontario’s younger working cohort segment have the right value set and the energy and enthusiasm to make the most impact in terms of creating a best-in-class ecotourism business model for Ontario.

Aligning the Forces in Our Society to Preserve Our Heritage
We can align drivers to consider both private and social benefits and manage our natural heritage. As a society we are finally recognizing that, the challenge of sustainability rests almost entirely in getting the economy right. We acknowledge that climate change and ecological degradation threaten our future prosperity. Ecotourism as part of the green economy can be driven equally by opportunity and conservation, as green economy options open up new possibilities for jobs and growth. As a recent report from the U.N. put it, “the greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth but rather a new engine of growth…a net generator of decent jobs…”

So the next time you recognize a part of our beautiful world undergoing change that has the potential to short change our future generations, be a good ancestor and voice your concerns. Chances are an ecotourism opportunity can be explored that will solve this problem and simultaneously grow green jobs in Ontario and create a positive impact on our economy.
Pictures courtesy of Jim Samis, Free Spirit Tours,

Gary Cerantola, Hon BSc. Chemistry, P.Eng., MBA is a resident of Wasaga Beach and currently a candidate in the Wasaga Beach Municipal 2014 election for Deputy Mayor.