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Province lags on moraine plan
Report card says more work needed
Municipal bylaws not all approved

by Laurie Monsebraaten
The Toronto Star
Jun. 15, 2006

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Four years after introducing a conservation plan for the Oak Ridges Moraine, the province has yet to approve zoning bylaws in most municipalities responsible for protecting this important source of the region's drinking water, an environmental watchdog group says.

Queen's Park has also been slow to release technical studies, definitions and maps that would help citizens and municipalities better understand what's happening on and beneath the sand and gravel moraine landscape, says the Monitoring the Moraine project in a report card to be released today.

"It's confusing for municipalities and very difficult for groups like ours to monitor what's happening if none of the municipal plans are in place yet," said Nathan Fahey, co-ordinator for the group. "Citizen volunteers are anxious to begin monitoring and it's difficult if they don't have the ecological or policy monitoring tools."

As of April 22, just four of Greater Toronto's 24 municipalities within the moraine — Vaughan, Markham, Port Hope and Hamilton — had zoning bylaws in force that reflect the policies of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, the report says. Aurora and Newmarket bylaws were approved last month.

This, along with the lack of a framework to determine how well municipalities are conforming, makes it difficult to evaluate the act's effectiveness in protecting the moraine's ecological and hydrological integrity, the report says.

The report calls for the province to assign more staff to approve municipal bylaws and to finalize technical studies.

Provincial officials acknowledge it has taken longer than anticipated to approve municipal zoning bylaws and to complete studies. But municipal affairs spokesman Victor Doyle said the extra care and collaboration taken in the process has led to a high level of accuracy and support among municipalities and affected landowners.

The province added the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan as a regulation to the Oak Ridges Moraine Act in April 2002. It calls for the protection of wooded areas and sources for municipal wells, watershed-based planning, groundwater studies and mapping of landforms and underwater streams.

The moraine plan along with the greenbelt and the Niagara Escarpment make up a comprehensive system of protected green space in one of North America's fastest growing urban areas.

While the Niagara Escarpment Plan is provincially funded and administered by the Niagara Escarpment Commission, no such provincial oversight exists for the moraine, Fahey said. Instead, municipalities are responsible for moraine and greenbelt policies through their official plans and zoning by-laws. The moraine monitoring project, which will rely heavily on citizen participation, is an attempt to ensure municipalities and landowners are interpreting the plans in a consistent and effective manner, Fahey said.

With the annual report card, the group will present their first annual "hero" awards tonight to recognize those who have advanced the cause, he said.

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Status Report on the Implementation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan:
Implications for the Greenbelt Plan

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Web-viewing version (Lower resolution) [537 KB]


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