Intervenor: Vol 23. No 2 April - June 1998

STORM Urges Long-Term Strategy for Oak Ridges Moraine

CELA and STORM have worked closely together since STORM was founded. As clients, STORM sought CELA's advice on legal issues that arose during STORM's involvement on the Technical Working Committee (TWC) and related exercises; in particular, by participating in a public forum on property rights and land use regulation. CELA lawyer Rick Lindgren and then articling student Karen Clark provided the legal arguments to debunk the myth of "expropriation without compensation" (CELA Brief no.234).

CELA also made its own submissions on the development of the Oak Ridges Moraine Strategy. CELA and STORM contributed to the running of the Land Use Caucus of the Ontario Environment Network and to the position papers developed by member groups. Close collaboration also occurred with the development of a response to the recent changes to the Aggregate Resources Act and related regulations as well as in responding to proposals for a development permit system under the Planning Act.

The Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) is a well-defined landform, 200 km long, with gentle rolling hills, wooded valleys, kettle lakes, rivers, and expansive vistas. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Moraine extends from the eastern boundary of the Municipality of Clarington to the slopes of the Niagara Escarpment in the Town of Caledon in the west.

However, the proximity of the Moraine to large urban areas and its attributes make the Moraine a prime candidate for intensive development pressures. These pressures were brought to the attention of the provincial Liberal Government in 1990 by strong lobbying efforts from citizens' groups such as the Save The Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) Coalition and Save the Ganaraska Again (SAGA). Through strategic fora and other means, these groups articulated clearly that the Moraine faced danger and possibly irreversible damage due to indiscriminate land use changes and development practices. The efforts of the citizens' groups were instrumental in focusing government attention on the Oak Ridges Moraine in government reports issued in 1990 and this led to an expression of "provincial interest" as a measure of providing interim protection of the Moraine.

The Ontario Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee's (EAAC) Report No. 38, Ron Kanter's "Space for All: Options for a Greater Toronto Area Greenlands Strategy" and "Watershed", the interim report of the Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront all echoed a common theme: immediate action must be taken by the Province as there are no comprehensive planning mechanisms in place at the local levels to protect this 200-kilometre headwaters landform. It was acknowledged that the Moraine, as a provincially significant landform feature, was larger than its attendant jurisdictions (three Regions and five Counties); that the existing land use planning and approval processes were inadequate to protect the Moraine in the face of development pressures; that "integration of protective strategies for the ORM into municipal planning documents should be mandatory."(From: Watershed Interim Report August 1990, Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront.)

A year later the NDP government strengthened this position of interest by initiating a three-year Planning Study of the ORM within the Greater Toronto Area. The Ministry of Natural Resources produced interim guidelines - interim in that they were to be in effect only until such time as a long-term strategy was developed.

In August, 1991, the ORM Technical Working Committee (TWC), a multi-stakeholder task force was formed with representation from aggregate producers and urban developers as well as environmentalists, was formed. With a budget close to $2 million, the TWC established a vision for the ORM, commissioned 15 background studies to provide a baseline of existing data, recommended three implementation options and delivered a recommended action plan, a Draft Strategy, to the Province. In 1993 a Citizens' Advisory Committee (CAC) was formed to provide liaison with the public and to assist the TWC in their work. Extensive public consultation and feedback into the Draft Strategy was conducted. General public opinion of both the Draft Strategy and the basic principles of long-term protection and management of the Moraine was very positive.

In December of 1994, the TWC and CAC presented its final report, The Oak Ridges Moraine Strategy for the Greater Toronto Area; An Ecosystem Approach for Long-term Protection and Management to Howard Hampton, Minister of Natural Resources. The Strategy was before Cabinet at the time of the 1995 provincial election. That is the last the public has heard of it.

It is 1998, eight years after the Liberals first expressed a provincial interest. Today, the interim guidelines are the only expression of any provincial interest in the Oak Ridges Moraine. They have been useful for guiding municipalities in reviewing their official plans during the appeals process; however, they are by nature too general and arbitrary for site specific protection. Also, with legislative changes and budget and staff cuts it is difficult to know if the guidelines are being adhered to, for let us not forget what they are - guidelines with no legal force.

The biggest failing of the current planning environment on the Moraine is the lack of a mechanism to understand and monitor cumulative impacts of land use changes. Development applications are at a record high, particularly for golf courses, retirement communities, aggregate operations and pushing out the edges of urban sprawl. The Planning Study commissioned two background reports dealing with cumulative effects assessment and long term monitoring, recognizing, among other things, that municipalities would need assistance in setting clear targets for maintaining and enhancing the ecosystem in a manner that is consistent across the many political jursidictions. Again, it is difficult to know whether this has been done at the municipal level and if so, whether there is any commonality to the various mapping systems.

If one makes the argument that the 15 background studies that comprise the technical backbone of the Strategy constitute a large-scale "state of the environment" report, the danger is that this information will soon become outdated. There has been no coordinated monitoring system to track development and the impacts they have had on the natural and water-based heritage of the Moraine.

The ground water resources of the Moraine, without a doubt its single most significant contribution to the ecological and sustainable health of the Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe ecosystems, are in the early stages of being mapped and understood. Under the leadership of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), a regional-scale hydrogeological and geological database has been created. It is, however, by no means complete. Neither are its links to municipal land-use planning strategies and public works initiatives. Water servicing and growth management strategies are being implemented by municipalities such as the Regions of Peel and York in isolation and in ignorance of this database. We are also in danger of losing the GSC as lead partner in continuing this work because there has been no provincial interest in championing the Moraine and its water.

It's time for the Province to get back into the game of planning on the Moraine. Its time for them to bring the Strategy back onto the table and formally endorse the work of the TWC. Otherwise, the ship is heading into the unknown and nobody's at the helm.

Debbe Crandall is a non-practising hydrogeologist currently living in Caledon. She has been involved with Oak Ridges Moraine issues since 1990 when she first joined Save the Oak Ridges Moraine. Anna Tilman is a professor at Seneca College and Senior Fellow with the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. She lives in Aurora, on the Moraine as well.

For a widely accessible reference on the Moraine, with many maps and photographs, see the STORM Coalition's Oak Ridges Moraine, published by Boston Mills Press, and available through most bookstores.