Sierra Club Helps Rescue Green Life Line
On March 23, 2015 the Vice-Chair of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), Susan de Aveller Schiller issued a historic ruling. By her denial of Amendment 106 of the Niagara Falls Official Plan, it rescued what the Sierra Club of Ontario has termed “the Green Life Line”. This is a narrow green corridor between the northern and southern parts of the eastern edge of the Niagara Escarpment.
There is only a thin green lifeline of farmland and forests between the Welland Canal and the Niagara River south of the Niagara Escarpment. This lifeline is only 1.7 kilometres in width. It stretches from the forested buffer of a landfill/quarry and the Queen Elizabeth Expressway. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), Natural Heritage Guidelines, this is the bare minimum for a wildlife corridor, using the findings of the respected ecologist Reid Noss.
Away from the green lifeline is an area of desolation south of the Escarpment. Dumps, quarries, the barren rocky debris of power generation and subdivisions that entombed streams in concrete provide a sterile wasteland. This narrow gap provides a corridor for the movement of deer, leading MNR to recognize the forested part of the 185 acre Amendment 106 lands as a deer wintering area. During the field meeting of experts for the OMB hearing, deer were sighted by expert ecologists of all parties.
The assault of Niagara Falls Official Plan Amendment 106 and the complimentary Regional Plan Amendment 196 was just the first stage of the planned liquidation of the green lifeline. Immediately to the east of these lands was another proposed urban expansion, Amendment 107 to the Niagara Falls Official Plan.
Amendment 107 would have cut up another 216 acres of the lifeline lands for another urban expansion. It has been defeated by Schiller’s ruling, since this area can only be serviced through the Amendment 106 expansion lands.
Niagara Falls had approved and the OMB effectively has struck down 391 acres of urban expansions. These expansions however, were only the then edge of the wedge. There are another 300 acres between the eastern edge of the 107 lands and the landfill buffer. This is too small to protected according for the need of large blocks of farmland to be protected under Ontario’s agricultural policy. What was rescued by Schiller’s ruling was 700 acres of farmlands and forests-the entire lifeline.
At the OMB hearing PALS and Jean Grandoni were represented by the environmental lawyer, David Donnelly. One of his victories at the hearing was to discredit in the eyes of the OMB an attempt to downgrade soils without and contrary to the protocols of the Canadian Land Inventory, a soils test.
Schiller was quite scornful of the attempt to downgrade the capability of the predominately Class One and Two agricultural lands. She ruled that, “The Board notes that the factual evidence before the Board is that these lands are among the lands in agricultural production. The suggestion that they are unsuitable for agricultural purposes is belied by the fact of the current agricultural use.”
In her decision Schiller noted the environmental studies that were supposed to examine such issues as encroachment on a wildlife corridor were outdated being conducted by field work carried out in 2005/06. She ruled that, “In the absence of a proper update that confirms the earlier work is still accurate for current conditions, the Board is not persuaded that the report should be relied upon reflecting current environmental conditions.”
Another of the environmental concerns addressed by Schiller in her ruling was “the loss of ecological function”, of the Ten Mile Creek and a 16 acre forest on the site. The Ten Mile Creek flows through the heart of the green lifeline. Its flow is linked to vernal pools which provide excellent breeding habitat for Wood Frog, Chorus Frog, Spring Peeper, and the American Toad. This was found during spring breeding times, when the explosion of the chorus of these creatures became a vivid contrast to the silence around buried streams.
Although bolstered by the OMB the battle to protect Niagara’s Green Lifeline is not over. The Solicitor for Niagara Falls, Ken Beaman has a recommendation to Niagara Falls Council that it obtain Leave to Appeal to Divisional Court, to appeal the ruling. This continuing drama is illustrative of the need to protect the Green Lifeline through its inclusion in Ontario’s Greenbelt.
Written by: John Bacher
Photo: Ten Mile Creek flowing south in a farm field near the QEW