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First step for avoiding an ethanol repeat

City looking to feds to give municipalities more power over how land is used within its borders

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

With the threat of an ethanol plant vanquished for good, councillors and the City of Oshawa are doing all they can to ensure that what happened in 2012 does not happen again.

For that reason, the city has submitted a series of requests and suggestions to a federal government panel tasked with reviewing the Environmental Assessment Act.

The act, which lays the framework and monitors development to ensure adequate preventative and mitigation measures are put in place to avoid harm to the environment, has not been updated since 2012.

In response to a delegation from Hugh Peacock, an environmental activist and past president of the Friends of Second Marsh, the city drafted a motion that looks to provide more weight to municipal policies for land use, more funding to assist municipalities and stakeholders to conduct peer review of supporting documents for any proposed developments, and any new federal policy should be in line with the current provincial regulations enforced by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

“One standard policy to make it easier to do business here in Ontario would be a wonderful thought,” says Mayor John Henry.

The city’s submission to the expert panel also includes suggestions to allow municipal staff and their consultants to access the sites of any proposed developments to do their own walkthroughs and to have developers provide relevant documents and information as it relates to similar projects in other jurisdictions

“It certainly points in the right direction,” says Peacock of the city’s recommendations. “We certainly welcome this preparation being so timely and so focused on what is needed.”

Also in attendance at the development services committee where the motion was carried unanimously was Brian Brasier, the current president of the Friends of Second Marsh, who noted this is only a first step to ensuring the continued health of the marsh, a provincially significant coastal wetland.

“This land is still zoned industrial by the Port Authority and the Port Authority is on public record….that if it wasn’t ethanol this time, it would be something like it next time,” Brasier said of the lands immediately adjacent to the marsh.

The land previously slated for the ethanol facility, known as Gifford Hill, is currently owned by the federal government. It was suggested in the meeting that the city should be looking into how they can have the land transferred away from the Port Authority.

That very suggestion was made in a 2008 report from David Crombie, who made several recommendations about how to solve the ongoing disputes at the Oshawa harbour. The report was endorsed by councillors at the time, but the transfer of Gifford Hill out of federal hands was rejected.

For Oshawa’s mayor, the future success of the area and the health of the marsh are dependent, as he’s stated previously, on communication between the city and the port.

“We can do that if we talk to each other,” Henry says. “We’ll get to the answer, but only if both people are at the table.”

He notes that there has been dialogue between the two organizations, but no meetings have been finalized to date.

The expert panel tasked with reviewing the act are slated to have a final report with recommendations to the Minister of the Environment by the end of January 2017.