What Lake Simcoe Needs Now: Grow the Greenbelt Into Simcoe County

Part 6 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

58% of the Lake Simcoe watershed’s land is protected by the Greenbelt and its policies, and for this we are grateful. However, Lake Simcoe’s western shorelines in Simcoe County are not in the Greenbelt, nor is the rest of the County. This has contributed to leapfrog development over the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine and into Simcoe County, particularly in Barrie, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, and New Tecumseth.

For example, sprawl removed 37,000 acres of natural and semi-natural space in Barrie between 1971 and 2011. [32] Between 2006 and 2012, Simcoe County zoned over 32,000 acres of farmland and natural space to sprawl. [33] Without protective policies like the Greenbelt to keep farmland in production and greenspace preserved, our natural spaces will be under constant threat to urbanization. Case in point, during Simcoe County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review consultation, the County received 79 developer requests to sprawl outside existing boundaries for a potential loss of almost 16,000 acres. [34]

Moreover, Simcoe County is highly reliant on groundwater for both private and municipal wells. This abundance of water is made possible by our recharge areas, wetlands and aquifers that pepper the region. Unfortunately, these places are also prime areas for new development, aggregate activity, and infrastructure such as highways. In 2006, the Intergovernmental Action Report for Simcoe County saw the threat that rampant urbanization was going to have on Simcoe’s water supply stating, “A number of the municipalities in the study area rely on inland water systems which have been demonstrated to be under strain (for example, the Lake Simcoe watershed has known issues as a result of Phosphorus loadings). Without intervening action, these watersheds’ available potable water and aquaculture are threatened.” [35]

Despite 15 years of requests to add Simcoe County to the Greenbelt, this has not happened. Meanwhile, we lose and destroy land that purifies and stores our drinking water and prevents flooding.

Public support for the Greenbelt translated into a provincial promise to protect it, which the province has upheld so far. But it’s tenuous. There have been motions from the York Region Councils of Markham [36] and Vaughan [37] to either downgrade protections of Greenbelt land next to existing communities or to develop in the Greenbelt.

The province has put the 830-acre North Gwillimbury Forest into the hands of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, in the Greenbelt within the lake-side municipality of Georgina. [38] This is a welcome move, but it did not add any land to Southern Ontario’s protected areas. The forest was protected through a legal battle fought by resident and activist Jack Gibbons, who created the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance, and fundraised more than $500,000 to fight the Town of Georgina, the Region of York and the LSRCA until it was ultimately protected. The credit goes to Jack, generous donors, and the citizens who insisted that a Provincially Significant Wetland should be protected.

Finally, the province had some great ideas for Greenbelt expansion, which would have protected the Paris-Galt Moraine, a vulnerable aquifer in the Waterloo area, among other things. Unfortunately, the only idea they acted on was to extend the Greenbelt into already protected urban river valleys. Critics said in a media statement: “Proposed Provincial Greenbelt “expansion” does nothing for farmland and natural areas that need protection while new highways threaten the existing Greenbelt.” [39] It could be described as more of a re-branding of protected greenspace than meaningful policy change.

Footnotes:

[32] Barrie Advance. Thursday, April 7, 2016. Barrie has grown 540%, study finds. https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/6453587-barrie-has-grown-560-in-40-years-study-finds/

[33] Neptis. Implementing the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. October 2013. https://neptis.org/publications/implementing-growth-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[34] County of Simcoe staff report to Committee of the Whole. August 10, 2021. Report: CCW – 2021-265

[35] Intergovernmental Action Report for Simcoe County. (2006) Existing Capacities Assessment: Communities Report. https://www.simcoe.ca/dpt/pln/initiatives

[36] York Region staff memo: Considerations of motions, October 13, 2021. https://yorkpublishing.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=27156

[37] Zarzour, Kim. Toronto Star. October 15,l 2021. ‘Slippery slope’: Farmers, environmentalists decry move to open Greenbelt lands in Markham, Vaughan. (For clarity, neither municipality is in the Lake Simcoe watershed) https://www.thestar.com/local-newmarket/news/council/2021/10/15/slippery-slope-farmers-environmentalists-decry-move-to-open-greenbelt-lands-in-markham-vaughan.html

[38] Kelly, Deborah. Barrie Today. June 16, 2021. Province creates new 830-acre nature reserve in Georgina. https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/province-creates-new-830-acre-nature-reserve-in-georgina-3879316

[39] Ontario Greenbelt Alliance Steering Committee press release. March 24, 2022. Proposed Provincial Greenbelt “expansion” does nothing for farmland and natural areas that need protection while new highways threaten the existing Greenbelt. https://www.greenbeltalliance.ca/resources/media-statement-in-response-to-proposed-provincial-greenbelt-expansion-announcement?fbclid=IwAR1e-IG8lH2LoxYe6BPxAsMoxD8cORrWLQBN4tKIbuUbDq8kawbC_HpZjQo

What Lake Simcoe Needs Now: Keep the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan Strong

Part 5 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

Thanks to the Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008) and Plan (2009) the Lake Simcoe watershed is subject to some of Ontario’s strongest environmental policies, meant to protect its water for all its inhabitants, human and non, and the sensitive cold-water fishery, an economic driver in the area. All of the province’s 2018 – 2022 communications about Lake Simcoe have been rather rosy. [28] This is not unique to this government, but it is greenwashing, and it worries us.

Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review

The Lake Simcoe Protection Act requires the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks to review the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan every ten years to determine if its targets are being met, and whether its policies need to change.

Although it should have started in 2019, the province launched the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review in late December 2020 and had finished consultation by mid-2021. [29] Despite the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review being complete, the province has been silent on the results of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review for more than a year while it “sits on the Minister’s desk” for a decision.

Why not release its findings? We worry it is because the province plans to weaken protection in favour of development. In effect, by being silent on the coordination of sewage treatment plant allocations that would flow from the watershed’s population explosion outlined in A Place to Grow, 2020, that is what the province is already doing.

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition has been sounding the alarm about the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s 40% “High Quality Natural Cover” target, which is a target without any implementation policies.

In addition to years of letters, research, mapping, reporting, policy analysis and briefs, [30] the we suggested that the province could use the Municipal Comprehensive Review’s provincial Natural Heritage System mapping process to bring us closer to this target. [31] They said, no thanks, and cc’d the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on their reply to the Coalition.

Footnotes:

[28] Ontario, 2022. Connecting the GGH: A Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. https://www.ontario.ca/page/connecting-ggh-transportation-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[29] Ontario. Protecting Lake Simcoe. https://www.ontario.ca/page/protecting-lake-simcoe#section-5

[30] Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. Reports & resources page. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/resources/

[31] Malcolmson, Claire. December 10, 2021. Letter to Minister Piccini, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/letter-to-Province-re-P-reduction-and-NHS-w-SC-Submission-attached.pdf

Threats to Lake Simcoe: The approval of the risky and irreversible Upper York Sewage Solution would prioritize development ahead of lake health.

Part 4 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

With the Upper York Sewage Solution (UYSS), York Region Council is poised—dangerously—to encourage the development of a new sewage treatment plant (STP) in Northern York Region. The UYSS will add Phosphorus (P), a fertilizer and pollutant that will harm fisheries, to Lake Simcoe.

York Region recommends that the STP’s Phosphorus pollution be offset by projects that remove Phosphorus from the water, specifically agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. However, there is little evidence that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term P offsets. The reduction in family farms and the related increase in corporate-owned farms (mainly land speculators) also means there are fewer farmers who are land stewards and fewer farmers willing to undertake remediation on their farms at the scale required to offset the UYSS.

The problem started in the 1990’s, when development was approved in Northern York Region without water and wastewater servicing. The original plan to send it south to Lake Ontario at Durham region’s Duffins Creek wastewater plant was thwarted in 2010 when the provincial government of the day supported an examination of a Lake Simcoe “solution.” This was odd, given that the same government introduced the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in 2008, with a prohibition on new sewage treatment plants as a way to control the extent and impact of new development in the watershed.

It is possible that both Lake Simcoe and the Lake Ontario Duffins outlets are being considered to accommodate all the growth planned. It is impossible to know exactly what is happening since the province had the affected regions sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (never a good sign) regarding their conversations about the UYSS.

It has been speculated that the province passed legislation to prohibit the approval of the UYSS to shield themselves from legal liability stemming from development hold-ups due to the lack of servicing.

Affected municipalities and developers are understandably tired of this game. We are concerned that the province will approve this at some point.

The one positive piece that came from this is that in response to public and municipal pressure, [25] the province agreed to pay the balance of the cost of a Phosphorus Recycling Facility on the Holland River, which could remove 2.5 tonnes of P per year from that river as it flows into Lake Simcoe. [26] This would be the single largest P reduction project completed at Lake Simcoe!

This Phosphorus Recycling Facility was first proposed as a P offset for the UYSS. The federal government promised $16 million toward the facility’s construction in 2020. [27] York Region wants the UYSS, and they want the Phosphorus Recycling Facility to be one of its offsets. Other Lake Simcoe municipalities want P reduction to come at this scale, regardless of the outcome of the UYSS. Indeed, their municipal motions requested that:

… York Region, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario work collaboratively to move the Holland Marsh Polder Phosphorous Recycling Facility forward notwithstanding the “paused” status of the broader Upper York Sewage Solutions Project, including proceeding to an Environmental Assessment for the Facility commencing in 2021…[28]

The provincial funding announcement did not include any reference to this facility’s connection to the UYSS. We hope that they will decide against the UYSS; but if they do approve it, the province and York Region must develop more enduring and measurable offsets like the Phosphorus Recycling Facility.

Footnotes:

[25] Broadley, Laura. YorkRegion.com. Sept 15, 2021. Phosphorus recycling facility for Lake Simcoe ‘overdue’: Bradford councillor. https://www.thestar.com/local-bradford/news/2021/09/15/phosphorus-recycling-facility-for-lake-simcoe-overdue-bradford-councillor.html

[26] Philpot, Natasha. Bradford Today. April 20, 2022. Province commits to $24M in funding for Holland Marsh Phosphorus Recycling Facility project https://www.bradfordtoday.ca/local-news/province-commits-to-24m-in-funding-for-holland-marsh-phosphorus-recycling-facility-project-5281398

[27] Georgina Post. November 13, 2020. Feds provide $16 million to build facility that reduces Phosphorus levels in Lake Simcoe. https://georginapost.com/2020/11/13/feds-provide-16-million-to-build-facility-that-reduces-Phosphorous-levels-in-lake-simcoe/

[28] Brock Council meeting Minutes September 27, 2021. https://pub-townshipofbrock.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=bef78e7b-6eb1-45f6-9ccd-f37352f67f82&Agenda=PostMinutes&lang=English&Item=29&Tab=attachments

Threats to Lake Simcoe: The Bradford Bypass will harm fish, wildlife, and a significant cultural site.

Part 3 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

The most significant development on the ‘highways in the Lake Simcoe watershed’ file is that on top of the Bradford Bypass, the province is planning another 54 km of highways on the southeast shore of Lake Simcoe. [14]

If building the Bradford Bypass worries you, it’s time to get completely freaked out. The map on the next page shows the locations of all of the province’s planned highways through the Greenbelt.

Map 1. Ontario’s planned highways through the Greenbelt

Exemption from the Environmental Assessment process

It’s been a busy year on the Bradford Bypass file, with disappointing results for Lake Simcoe. In the fall of 2021, the province passed an exemption from the Environmental Assessment Act for the Bradford Bypass, allowing the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to carve off a piece of the project and start building before all of the Environmental Assessment studies and (very scoped) consultation is complete. [15] Due to the exemption, the highway has received all environmental approvals, despite studies not being completed. Even the studies that will be done no longer require government approval, so it isn’t clear how they will affect construction decisions.

In the words of the former Environment Commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, “This is a violation of international standards. It’s widely recognized that when you’re doing an assessment of an initiative, you don’t start until you’ve at least measured all of the impacts to the best of your ability so you can make a rational decision. They are clearly violating that.” [16]

Fish habitat destruction and “early works” construction

The MTO’s construction timeline for the “early works” overpass just north of Bradford at Yonge St. was April/May 2022, but has now been pushed until the latter part of 2022. One of the explanations for this could be that they may require Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) permits to alter and potentially destroy fish habitat. Our team of community members at Stop The Bradford Bypass, and our pro-bono lawyer from Ecojustice, alerted the DFO of the risks of fish habitat destruction from the project.

We effectively encouraged the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to communicate the same to the MTO’s project team. We are happy that this is slowing the process down and are cautiously optimistic that this will improve things for the fish.

Costs and traffic impacts

Although the government has not confirmed the price of the highway, estimates show that Ontarians will be paying anywhere from $800 million to $2.2 billion for this 16 km, 400 series highway.

The commuter time-saving claims have been wildly overstated. The traffic studies that have been released showed that congestion on Highways 400 and 404 will be worse with the Bypass than without, and that those who live in East Gwillimbury or further east won’t see any time savings at all with the Bypass compared to using current roads. [17] MTO studies also demonstrate that the new highway will be congested by 2041, and therefore more lanes might need to be added.

When traffic alternatives were considered, the GO train did not go to Bradford, nor did it offer all-day, two-way service, which is planned for this line. [18]

A lot has changed since 1997; we believe that alternatives to this highway must be thoroughly examined using the current transit and population context.

Wildlife habitat and road salt impacts on Lake Simcoe

Environmentally, we have loads of concerns.

Primarily, it is a TERRIBLE place to put a highway while in a climate and biodiversity crisis. It is slated to cross the Holland Marsh Provincially Significant Wetland, farmland, and Greenbelt, in the “protected” Lake Simcoe watershed. It will cross 13 watercourses and affect bird, fish, and spawning habitats.

Lake Simcoe is on a trajectory to exceed the guideline level for chronic salinity in 37 years. This would change the entire ecosystem within the lake, and affect both its freshwater inhabitants and the seven municipalities that take drinking water from the lake. Highways create chloride hotspots in our rivers. It is virtually impossible to remediate chloride pollution. [19] [20]

The Bradford Bypass is proposed to cross the Holland River’s east and west branches that flow north into Lake Simcoe. The LSRCA measures salt concentrations at the Holland Landing (approximately where the highway would be built), where chloride concentrations exceeded the acute guideline 44 times in the winter of 2011/2012. This project would literally add salt to an open wound. [21]

Chart 1. Holland Landing Station – Daily Chloride Concentrations (July 2011-April 2012) [22]

The majority of the summer and autumn chloride concerntrations can be seen to exceed the chronic guidelines, while winter concentrations can be seen to be greatly elevated, exceeding the acute guidelines on 44 occasions at the Holland Landing station (downstream of Aurora and Newmarket.)

Public opinion turns against Bradford Bypass

In the year since we last reported on the Bypass in Lake Simcoe Under Pressure in 2021, eight Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities passed resolutions regarding the Bradford Bypass, expressing concern for Lake Simcoe and a desire for a more thorough Environmental Assessment process.

We got significant media attention due to our team’s tireless reporting on the results of our Freedom of Information requests and our many municipal delegations to Council.

By the end of that year, public opinion had shifted away from supporting the Bypass: 48% of 900 poll respondents in three Lake Simcoe ridings opposed the Bradford Bypass; 29% supported the Bypass, and 23% were unsure. [23]

Attempts to get a Federal Impact Assessment

Despite all sorts of evidence-based concerns that this would harm fish habitat, pollute Lake Simcoe, perpetuate car dependency, increase GHG emissions, and not address regional traffic congestion, the Federal government has refused to intervene.

Members of Stop the Bradford Bypass requested Federal intervention once in 2020 and were denied. The decision was made even though key ministries (Environment, Health, Fisheries) outlined that they did not have enough time or information to make an assessment on the project. It made us wonder whose professional opinion the government relied upon to deny federal review.

After a year of hard work and a huge shift in public and municipal support, three other local groups tried a second time for a Federal Impact Assessment, only to be turned down again. In February 2022, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada announced it would not revisit its decision to deny a federal impact assessment designation for the Bradford Bypass. Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition joined six other ENGOs in litigation against the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Steven Guilbeault. The lawsuit challenges the Minister’s failure to designate the Bradford Bypass highway project for a federal impact assessment, alleging that the Minister’s decision was not based on the criteria in the Impact Assessment Act.

In a press release, the groups explain: “The purpose of the litigation is to hold the federal government accountable for the proper review of the impacts of the proposed highway, which is needed to understand the full impact of the proposed project on vital habitats, wildlife, and watersheds in the area. The case for building a highway is thin at best and we must better understand the impacts of the project on natural heritage, migratory birds, fisheries, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and First Nations cultural heritage.” [24]

We wonder, who will take care of Lake Simcoe?

Footnotes:

14] Ontario, 2022. Connecting the GGH: A Transportation Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe https://www.ontario.ca/page/connecting-ggh-transportation-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[15] ERO posting: Proposal to exempt various Ministry of Transportation projects from the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act. https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1883

[16] Quoted in a Just Recovery Simcoe webinar. January 27th, 2022.

[17] AECOM. BradfordBypass.ca project site. Public Information Centre #1: 5. CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE BRADFORD BYPASS PROJECT: Traffic. https://www.bradfordbypass.ca/2021/04/09/5-considerations-for-the-bradford-bypass-project/

[18] Metrolinks.com. Barrie GO expansion. https://www.metrolinx.com/en/greaterregion/projects/barrie-go-expansion.aspx

[19] Learn more about salt in Lake Simcoe at https://www.lsrca.on.ca/Pages/Sodium-Chloride.aspx

[20] Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Province of Ontario’s Lake Simcoe Science Event January 28th, 2021. Slide presented by Joelle Young, MOECP.

[21] Malcolmson, Claire. Toronto Star, Opinion. February 14, 2022. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2022/02/11/salt-contamination-of-lake-simcoe-a-frightening-warning-about-highway-expansion.html

[22] LSRCA’s Lake Simcoe Science: Sodium Chloride (Winter Salt) page. https://www.lsrca.on.ca/Pages/Sodium-Chloride.aspx

[23] Oraclepoll, commissioned by Lake Simcoe Watch. Nov. 2021. Pg. 5. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/LSW-survey-Bypass-Report-Nov-2021-2.pdf

[24] Press release: Groups launch lawsuit against federal environment minister over decision not to do an Impact Assessment on the Bradford Bypass: Dangerous precedent for federal decision-making at core of concerns. March 16, 2022. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/press-releases/

Threats to Lake Simcoe: Orbit MZO development approved without knowing impacts to Lake Simcoe.

Part 2 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

It’s full steam ahead in Innisfil, where a Transit Oriented Community is planned to be built around a GO train line and a proposed new GO station.

We are not opposed to Transit Oriented Communities. But developing this way does not improve existing low-density towns, nor does it help existing residents get out of their cars.

If Innisfil had opted for “missing middle” housing and intensification on its arterial and main roads, higher density in existing towns would contribute to achieving transit-supportive densities. This in turn would support financially feasible public transit systems.

One of the significant problems with the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) is that they do not follow the normal public input and consultation required in Ontario’s planning process. MZOs remove the public’s ability to appeal. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is no new publicly available information on this project. Innisfil’s public page about the Orbit [10] shows no consultation or movement on the file since the Ministry of Municiapl Affairs and Housing’s issuance of the MZO. Between October 14 and November 4, 2020, the Orbit plan came to Council and was approved, before the end of their public consultation period. Breakneck speed may be ok for a train, but not for the planning of 150,000 residents in a town of 37,000.

Rendering of proposed Go station.

Where is the promised GO station?

Innisfil Councilor Orsatti asked in the October 14th Council meeting: Does the developer have to build the GO station by a certain time? If not, what is the point of an MZO?

Answer from Chief Planner Tim Cane: We have always been talking with our partners about 2022 for the GO.

That is not much of a commitment. It is hardly surprising that it is 2022 and there is no GO station, since the MZO did not have a date associated with building the station. This public service has been left to the discretion of the developers. The location of the entire project, including the GO station, benefits the developers more than any other stakeholder. The GO station should have been in Alcona, one concession line north, where the majority of Innisfil’s population lives. This would have served the existing population and helped them get on transit.

The question of impacts on Lake Simcoe remains unanswered. Although staff assured the public that they had approvals for expansions to their sewage treatment plant that would enable them to service this massive plan, a Simcoe County Council meeting on April 12th, 2022, [11] revealed that Innisfil’s wastewater servicing could be limited. Said Chief Planner Stephen Westendorp, “Can we service the growth that’s coming [to the county]? I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that.” He anticipates wastewater servicing constraints in 20 to 30 years and named Innisfil specifically.

All the Lake Simcoe watershed municipalities growing now should consider that this could be their last phase of major revenue coming in from development charges and consider how they will maintain their infrastructure without future development charges. This is the Orbit’s advantage; although it converts farm fields into residential development, it will not be as expensive to service as new sprawling subdivisions.

The apparent lack of coordination for wastewater servicing in the Lake Simcoe watershed is entirely on the province. By all appearances, the coordination of wastewater servicing is an afterthought. This approach to planning could wipe out the hard-fought gains made in Phosphorus reduction in Lake Simcoe.

Williams Treaties First Nations (WTFN) agree that this approach to “planning” is not ok.

WTFN filed a court action in September 2021 over the Orbit, naming Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark.

As reported by Miriam King in Barrie Today:

“The court filing says “no analysis was done by the town, the Cortel Group or the minister on the potential impacts of the project on Lake Simcoe’s water quality, aquatic life and habitat.” The group says there’s no proof the project will not impact the lake or WTFN treaty rights.

“The importance of Lake Simcoe to the WTFN cannot be overstated,” states the court filing, while also explaining that First Nations rely on Lake Simcoe for their water and food resources, as well as for ceremonial purposes.” [12]

Stay tuned to find out how Innisfil manages this mess. Read more on the RLSC blog: Orbit or Obit for Innisfil? [13]

Footnotes:

[10] http://www.getinvolvedinnisfil.ca/go

[11] Simcoe County Council meeting April 12th, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZScWHUo3Gg

[12] King, Miriam. Barrie Today, September 30, 2021. First Nations group challenging MZO granted for massive Orbit proposal in Innisfil. https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/first-nations-group-challenging-mzo-granted-for-massive-orbit-proposal-in-innisfil-4472407

[13] Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. 2021. Orbit or Obit for Innisfil? Blog. https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/2021/12/03/orbit-or-obit-for-innisfil/

Threats to Lake Simcoe: Development planned for the Lake Simcoe area is unsustainable.

Part 1 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

Housing and development growth is at the top of the list because everything else flows from this.

In the year since our initial report, we are not aware of any public assessment regarding the sustainability of the planned development, and its sewage and stormwater requirements, in the Lake Simcoe watershed. This growth is anticipated to negatively affect both water quality and housing affordability.

How does growth affect Lake Simcoe?

One of Lake Simcoe’s biggest environmental issues is Phosphorus pollution. We are currently doubling the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s target maximum load of 44 tonnes per year.

Phosphorus is in fertilizer, poop, and dirt! Where does it come from? See green graphic.

The impacts of development are not limited to sewage. Any water that drains across the watershed’s land picks up Phosphorus and other pollutants. Untreated, it becomes part of the stormwater pollution that accounts for a stunning 31% of the estimated Phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe, the highest contributing source.

The stripping of land and development processes themselves contribute to Lake Simcoe’s pollution. Readers should note that advanced sewage treatment will not address all of the impacts of development.

The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) says the watershed is now home to 465,000 people, and, “based on the Province of Ontario’s Places to Grow Plan and municipal official plans, it’s projected that the urban area within our watershed will increase by approximately 50% by the year 2041 and the population will nearly double.” [1]

Extrapolating from government estimates for development planned from 2008 to 2031, [2] the development projected for the Lake Simcoe watershed will increase Phosphorus loads by at least 15 tonnes per year.

It is an exercise in futility to fight the population growth across the province, but we should be careful about where it will go, what form it will take, and how much land will be disturbed in the process. As explained above, sprawling development will eat up more farmland and contribute more Phosphorus to the lake. So we must consider the denser alternatives to new subdivisions of single-family homes in farm fields.

The way the Municipal Comprehensive Reviews (part of the Official Plan review process) are rolling out, it appears that the initial allocation of land for new development will occur before climate change and water/wastewater capacity analyses are complete, thereby repeating the mistakes that put us in a situation of having development approvals without sewage treatment plant approvals. More on this in the Upper York Sewage Solution section.

But it gets worse. The province has called for an even higher population for the watershed while weakening the Environmental Assessment process for building new highways and sewage treatment plants. Conservation Authorities’ and municipalities’ ability to spend time getting excellent, environmentally-friendly development proposals has been curtailed. The province has also limited the time allowed for proposal review. [3] Municipalities that exceed the shorter review period will face new financial penalties, and the independence of Conservation Authorities’ decisions on some land use matters has been

undermined with new laws allowing ministers to override Conservation Authority requirements. That is a non-exhaustive list of how Ontario laws have changed since 2018 to limit environmental protections and facilitate development.

Sprawl is also bad for residents’ and municipalities’ finances. An exacerbating factor for both environmental and housing affordability concerns is the province’s entrenchment in “market-based” analysis to determine the correct mix of housing in the future. This approach uses old market preferences favouring single-family home development over more compact and affordable housing options. In today’s housing market, this is a missed opportunity to build what mid- and lower-income Ontarians can afford. Research from York Region shows that it is increasingly difficult to buy a home for the average York Region resident. [4] Smaller, more affordable, and family-friendly units are urgently needed.

Chart 1. York Region Affordable Housing Threshold and Average Cost of New Homes (2019) [4]

Sprawling neighbourhoods rely on sprawling infrastructure for water, wastewater, and hydro. Ottawa analyzed the impacts of sprawl vs. infill development scenarios. Their consultant, Hemson, “found it now costs the City of Ottawa $465 per person each year to serve new low-density homes built on undeveloped land, over and above what it receives from property taxes and water bills….On the other hand, high-density infill development, such as apartment buildings, pays for itself and leaves the city with an extra $606 per capita each year.” [5] This leaves sprawling municipalities with fewer dollars to spend on services that make people’s lives better as they try to cover the long-term maintenance costs of sprawling infrastructure that are not covered by development charges.

Although there is absolutely a way forward that would create complete communities, increase affordability, and reduce environmental impacts of new development, the government is passing on the options that would build “the missing middle,” typified by 3 – 6 story, small buildings of condos, apartments and/or townhouses. This is the way we used to build our communities before we succumbed to the sprawl experiment. In Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act [6] which received Royal Assent on April 14th, 2022, the province did not take important steps recommended by experts, academics, and housing advocates to allow more gentle density to existing neighbourhoods. [7]

Strangely, the province is pushing sprawl and massive density at the same time. The province is forcing massively dense tower projects such as those at Yonge St. and Hwy 407 in Richmond Hill, using Enhanced Minister’s Zoning Orders to permit what would be the highest density development in the western hemisphere. [8]

When it comes to the long-term protection of farmland, water quality, and housing affordability, there is a lot to criticize in the province’s frequent changes to the Planning Act. Development lobby groups love it. [9] So far, it’s hard to tell who else does.

Footnotes:

[1] Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, 2021. Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Approved Budget, 2021. p. 5.

[2] Re development to 2031: “Under the Plan all new developments are required to have enhanced stormwater management controls in place, subject to limited exceptions. Accounting for these controls, analysis indicates the Phosphorus load from these new developments would be 15.3 T/yr. Additional analysis indicates that combining “Enhanced” stormwater management controls with LID practices would reduce the Phosphorus load from new development to 9.2 T/yr. While the Strategy and the Plan strongly encourage that effective measures are taken to mitigate and reduce Phosphorus contributions from new development wherever possible, significant Phosphorus loadings from development will occur and should be offset in some way.” (Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, p. 30)

[3] This change was made on April 14, 2022, in the More Homes for Everyone Act.

[4] York Region Staff Report: Regional Official Plan Update: Housing Challenges and Opportunities. January 14, 2021. https://yorkpublishing.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=18865

[5] Porter, Kate. Sept 9, 2021. Suburban expansion costs increase to $465 per person per year in Ottawa. CBC news.

[6] Proposed Planning Act changes (the proposed More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022) https://www.ontariocanada.com/registry/view.do?postingId=41487&language=en

[7] Xing, Lisa. March 31, 2022. Ford government left key strategies out of housing legislation, critics say. CBC news. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/housing-crisis-doug-ford-municipalities-1.6403221?fbclid=IwAR0SktZPpUpfXlwj5paX_XXXhZhU9kGr-jLLmqYPejJ0FwKXRV_BUJDovCs

[8] MZOs issued April 14, 2021, for massive density in York Region: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r22345 & https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r22344

[9] BILD influencing policy development, politics and voters: https://bildgta.ca/voteforhousing

Orbit or Obit for Innisfil?

The Orbit is a massive development planned for the location of a GO train stop, the 6th line, between the 20th sideroad and Lake Simcoe. This is a new city in greenfields, which is the opposite of Smart Growth.

A new GO train station, with lots of people living in a variety of high-density housing surrounding it, sounds good – right? But after you scratch the surface of a recent decision by the provincial government for Innisfil, you’ll see it’s far from good.

The Innisfil “Orbit” development is centred on a proposed new station to be built on the existing Barrie GO train line and is located between two small towns, Lefroy and Alcona, which are both shoreline communities of Lake Simcoe.

WHAT IS THE ORBIT?

So what is the Orbit?

If you believe the pictures, it’s an idealized round garden-city style community in which everyone has a cool job, with tasty micro-brew available downstairs, and where plants grow lushly off buildings. The trains must be silent in this fantasy. 

Here’s what I think it actually is: a brilliantly executed land grab, led by well-connected developers, whereby they get to build a new town, and put themselves in prime position to add lands to Innisfil’s already oversized employment area and also get a new interchange at Hwy 400 and Innisfil 6th line – all in exchange for building a GO station at some unspecified time.

MZO TIME

The Orbit project is being pitched to the people of Simcoe and Ontario as a high-density, environmentally friendly, transit-oriented community. But, having some experience with Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) I was wary of these claims. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition labelled the Orbit as greenwashed sprawl in a March 2021 report, “Lake Simcoe Under Pressure”, because it opens up agricultural land for new and expensive development. 

The final and unappealable  MZO was issued on August 6th, 2021. Now, as municipal planning for growth up to 2051 is underway across the GTHA, Innisfil Council and residents are trying to figure out how an MZO that authorizes new houses for up to 150,000 “over a lifetime” fits with the other growth plan requirements, which would double the size of the Town. 

The use of an MZO for a project of this scale offends planners and urban sustainability experts. It also offends residents who made comments about it to the Town of Innisfil. Sixty of the sixty-one comments posted on the Town’s “Get Involved” website are against the Orbit or the use of an MZO. [1] But it seems the Town and the Minister care little about what citizens think. When the Minister of Municipal Affairs uses an MZO there is no requirement for public consultation or public support. So it’s a perfect fit for an unpopular project.

MIXING GOVERNMENT WITH PRIVATE BUSINESS

But that’s not all. The developer gets to have a Town employee, Chief Planner Tim Cane, (whose title is now Orbit Director for the Town of Innisfil) act like his sales guy, who pitches the development while the Town advocates for a new 400 interchange at the 6th line [2] and the rezoning of farmland for more unjustified employment lands all along the 400, all of which could benefit the Orbit developer. All of this became apparent in the Oct 14, 2020, Innisfil Council meeting: [3]

Counc. Bill VanBerkel: “What is missing from the staff report is a description of need from a financial point of view, and how this MZO is connected to and serves other infrastructure plans such as the 400 / 6th line interchange and Innservices.”

Answer from CAO Jason Reynar: (paraphrase) Developer is front-ending costs of infrastructure to finance the Orbit’s needs and to service future development including getting to the (proposed) 400 / 6th line interchange which the Town is lobbying at AMO and the province to have approved. 

Handy, right!? What a team! That may be because Innisfil is broke and can’t build the station it has been promising people is coming for the past 10-15 years. Innisfil, and I am afraid other small towns with big ambitions and low coffers, come hat in hand to a developer and they work something out that is mutually beneficial. This offends me because I am clear that business is not government. Only governments are responsible for delivering public services and environmental protection. The core business of business is to make money. Period. I am very uncomfortable with the blurred line, and even more uncomfortable with members of the public embracing this approach. 

USING MZOs IS AN ABUSE OF POWER

Further, this MZO (like most) is a massive abuse of power led by the province who by all appearances have decided that “the people” they are working for are mostly developers. While claiming that water will be protected in the 2018 Made in Ontario Environment Plan, with commitments to: “Build on previous successes and continue to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to protect and restore important natural areas and features of the lake…” [4], the province has changed a dizzying number of rules to let MZOs like the Orbit happen outside of a typical planning process:

  • We know the Ontario government loves issuing MZO’s, having now issued at least 60 of them.They have been mapped here. MZOs have been widely criticized for not following planning laws, not being appealable, and lacking the transparency we have come to expect in our democracy. 
  • The province gutted the Conservation Authorities Act and can now order a Conservation Authority to issue a permit for the destruction of a natural feature that the province used to protect. (With laws and all that pesky paperwork.) Before the MZO for the Orbit was even issued, we noticed a regulation requiring the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to do just this. But the details are still missing almost five months later, and no decision has been made on the regulation, so we don’t even know what flood-prone or natural areas in this “green” development are slated for destruction. [5]
  • The Province allowed private money to be used to build GO stations, while guaranteeing “air rights” over the stations and extra density to say ‘thanks for building what taxpayers have always paid for.’ I am not aware that there were problems with the public sector building GO stations so it just looks like another way to have private business make more money at the expense of transparency. 
  • Until recently, the province has been getting away with these legislative changes. The Ontario Divisional Court ruled in September 2021 that the government of Ontario broke the law by using “COVID recovery” rationale to fast track the passage of a bill (197) with significant environmental ramifications, while not posting the proposed changes on the Environmental Registry of Ontario. [6]

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH A PROMISED GO STATION?

Image from http://www.innisfil.ca/orbit.

But it’s not just about policy. The locations of GO stations matter to residents and home buyers. Many homes have been sold based on the promise of a GO station located near new subdivisions in Lefroy. [7] As recently as 2011, Innisfil’s Official Plan said the GO station would be built at the 5th line, Belle Aire Beach Rd at the north end of Lefroy. [8] [9] But something changed. The developer advocated for the 6th line, which is in neither Alcona nor Lefroy, and lo and behold it’s on the 6th line. This change occurred under the former Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope. I tried to find information about the decisions that led to the selection of the 6th line location, which we understand were considered in an Environmental Assessment by Metrolinx, and by the province in an appeal of the draft secondary plan for the area where the Orbit would be situated today. 

In any case, that is where the station will be and the reason Innisfil NEEDED to use an MZO was to expedite the building of the station, to guarantee that it would be built in 2022. Only… there may not be anything compelling the developer to build the station that fast. There is no timeline in the MZO. There is no mention of a GO station either. On October 14th, 2020, a week after the idea of the MZO was brought to Council, this conversation happened at the Council meeting: [10]

Counc. Orsatti: Does the developer have to build the GO station by a certain time? If not, what is the point of an MZO? 

Answer from Chief Planner Tim Cane: We have always been talking with our partners about 2022 for the GO. 

I gather this is not the robust response some Councillors had hoped for. 

WILL ORBIT REALLY HAPPEN?

The Orbit story in fact goes way back, before the use of MZOs was widespread. The impact today is that people expecting a GO station still don’t have one, and there is no public commitment to a timeline for its construction. What Innisfil also has is an absurd amount of growth allowed in a built form that doesn’t fit with the look and feel of the Town. But because it came in using an MZO, the Town does not have control over the project and will have a huge challenge making this project fit with other Town aspirations and commitments to sustainability. 

The Orbit is such a crazy plan that I don’t think will work. Is there a market for condos in a farm field on a train line? Hm. And if this doesn’t work, what’s plan B? You can bet that the developer has one. 

References:

  1. https://www.getinvolvedinnisfil.ca/go/forum_topics/staff-report-discussion
  2. Identified as “Future Recommended County Road” in the Simcoe County Transportation Master Plan, Public Consultation Phase 1,  March 2021. Pg 15. And https://innisfil.ca/6th-line-interchange-ea/
  3. Youtube Innisfil Council meeting, Oct 14, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCkx_rsynyQ&t=7569s
  4. Made in Ontario Environment Plan, https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan p. 13
  5. Regulation – Time to Grant Permission and Enter into a Compensation Agreement on Lands Subject to Zoning Order O.Reg. 568/21 https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-4097
  6. https://www.lawtimesnews.com/practice-areas/environmental/ontario-government-broke-the-law-in-failing-to-comply-with-the-environmental-bill-of-rights-court/359987
  7. https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/2001696-planned-station-not-going-anywhere/
  8. Innisfil Official Plan, 2011 says: “8.3.1 The preferred GO Rail Station location is delineated on Schedule C at the Belle Aire Beach Road. It was selected by GO Rail in their Environmental Assessment study.” https://innisfil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Innisfil_OP_April_8_2011_Text.pdf
  9. https://www.metrolinxengage.com/en/content/innisfil
  10. Youtube Innisfil Council meeting, Oct 14, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCkx_rsynyQ&t=7569s

Take Action To Protect Our Forests and Natural Spaces!

**Updated November 25, 2021**

Please provide your feedback to Simcoe County by December 3rd about the changes proposed to the province’s Natural Heritage System (NHS). We’ve created this guide to help you.

WHY? In 2008 all parties unanimously supported the passage of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. It is now in effect but more needs to be done to achieve its objectives. For instance, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan identifies that 40% “high quality natural cover” (HQNC)  is needed to protect and restore the watershed’s ecological health. A low estimate is that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent identifying and mapping these areas. We want them protected, not just studied!

Putting these features in the province’s new Natural Heritage System will give some green spaces MORE policy protection than they now receive. But Simcoe County has recommended more areas get removed from the province’s Natural Heritage System map than we think the province’s criteria and laws recommend. For example, they have taken out registered plans of subdivision from the NHS. But some of those won’t get developed for 30+ years, if ever. We think those should remain as the province mapped them, IN the Natural Heritage System. 

CLICK ON A HOTSPOT BELOW TO SEE DETAILED MAPS AND BRIEF CONCERNS.

Green indicates the province mapped it as part of the Natural Heritage System. Red means it is proposed to be taken out. Blue means additions to the NHS.

Right-click on the small maps that pop up above to zoom in, or download this map and find the tile for your location.

WRITING YOUR SUBMISSION: WHAT TO SAY & HOW TO SAY IT

Use the County’s form, and don’t give up! Despite appearances, it is not just for developers to use. Tips for specific questions are below.

**Please only submit one form.

Or email kristin.pechkovsky@simcoe.ca.

***Comments must be received by 4:30 pm on December 03, 2021

Question 3. Subject Lands (ARN) Area Roll Number (optional). Find them here.

If you don’t have the roll number or locates exactly, provide an address for the property you are referring to, or many addresses, or road intersection, or the tile number from the 87-page map below. Tile numbers are listed below for each area of concern.

Question 9. Which criteria for refinement applies to your property? Check all that apply.

Do not be deterred – this is not just about your property.  None of the options really apply. Instead, fill out the field –  Other – and say “Mapped areas of high quality natural cover should be included in the NHS” or something similar. 

Question 10. Describe the area or natural feature on your property which you would like refined and provide the reason(s) for the refinement.

Insert all or part of the following text depending on your area of concern.

Big Bay Point: Tiles 28 & 29 

Most of Big Bay Point was mapped and identified as “High Quality Natural Cover” by the province of Ontario in 2011; the province found that the BBP area was worthy of inclusion in the NHS. Any components of the Point that are not approved plans of subdivision must be included in the Natural Heritage System. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS. 

Additional details on BBP locations of concern:

  • Two areas north shore of BBP, on the edge of Barrie: Both areas are mapped as Significant Woodlands in Innisfil Natural Heritage Discussion paper Final, pg. 14. North South Environmental. These are in the High Quality Natural Cover map from the province. Indicated as “shoreline residential” with Natural Heritage overlay on Innisfil OP 2017 Land Use Schedule. Not in a settlement area. 
    • Area 1 – west side – 3655 20 Sideroad, Innisfil;  3699 20 Sideroad, Innisfil, 3718 Fairway Road, Innisfil,  1344 Robinson Place, Innisfil, over to roll # 431601005411070, All of Longwood road, down to Big Bay Point rd. 3710 Strathallan Woods Lane South, Innisfil, lands southwest of Longwood, to Stathallen woods. As a whole these are all large enough to keep in the NHS. 
    • Area 2 – east side – the area between the Silverbirch and Whitecap Dr subdivision, and the next NHS area. Roughly from 1215 Shoreview Drive, Innisfil on the west end of this section, to along Shoreview Dr., to Guest Rd – hard to believe these are less than 50% forested. These should remain in the NHS. 
  • Friday Harbour Golf Course – put it back IN the NHS since it is large, not a subdivision, has some natural cover and could have more, and is part of a “high quality natural cover” area
  • Church compound –  3857 30 Sideroad, Innisfil. Currently a collection of cabins, but is not a subdivision. Would like as much as possible to remain in the NHS.
  • Crescent Harbour, South corner – landowner starting to alter landscape, may be looking to build. Crescent Harbour Rd (titled Block Plan-area and shoreline highlighted) and also Plans 675 from 1923 and Plan 1016 from 1951 that confirm the designation as a subdivision. It has not been developed.
  • Leonard’s beach wetland- make sure this remains IN the NHS

Gilford: Tile 22 

  • 1284 Shore Acres Drive, Innisfil. Roll # 431601000400200 Large “unevaluated” wetland proposed to be removed – this must be protected in the NHS. It borders a large privately held conservation area at DeGrassi Point, and abuts the historic Walker Farm, a heritage site, and helps to reduce flooding in Gilford which is already a problem. It “…has been a draft plan of subdivision for executive estates since around 1986” according to the local Councillor. It is included as “estate residential” in Innisfil OP 2005 Land Use Schedule. In the 2017 OP it is not in the Gilford settlement area boundary. 

Oro-Medonte:  Tiles 36, 37 & 48

Almost the entire Oro Medonte shoreline is identified by the province as High Quality Natural Cover. 8 Mile Point has a conservation area that should be included in the NHS. Only remove the built-up areas that are approved plans of subdivision. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS. 

Additional details on Oro-Medonte locations of concern: 

Tile 48

  • 8 Mile Point 
  • Has a conservation area that should be included in the NHS. They did not request that this conservation area be removed from the NHS. 
  • Just north of 2880 Lakeshore Rd E is the Carthew Bay Wetland. Roll #434603 001 206 500. Take care not to remove this from the NHS, and only take out the housing on Lakeshore.
  • 2553, 2501, 2461 Lakeshore Rd E – these are large woodlands and should not be removed from the NHS. 
  • 820 Memorial Ave. Subdivision between Woodland Dr and Memorial Ace on outskirts of Orillia. Shoreline wetland must be protected. 

Tile 47

  • Roll # 434603001213860 – shoreline habitat with no road access. Keep in NHS. Just west of Line 15 S. 
  • Just north of 538 Line 12 South, Oro-Medonte, NHS wooded area should remain in NHS. Roll # 434 60106 1044300
  • 16 Taras Boulevard. Held by “Ukrainian Park”. Appear to be looking for Zoning change, from EP2 to EP1 for seasonal trailer and or cabins. ZBA 10 – but no application – This is currently forested, should remain so, is in the HQNC area mapped by the province. Does not appear to be “community area” in the Simcoe County GIS. 

Tile 36 

UCCI / Greenwood Forest Road – Registered Plan 51M-187, Block 43

– Residents are opposing the development; it’s a significant woodland connected to the NHS; it is mapped by the province as an area of High Quality Natural Cover; it should not be removed from the NHS

– Not proposed as a subdivision, but it meets the criteria of a subdivision. Therefore there is no registered plan of subdivision.

– The proposed 10 proposed UCCI development lots would have these approximate addresses:  

– proposed lot 9 lots on Greenwood Forest Road attached would be approximately 30 Greenwood Forest Rd (lot 9 attached) thru to lot 2 attached would be approximately 60 Greenwood Forest Road

– the one lot on Windfields (lot 1) that are situated directly beside the cold water creek would be approximately  23 or 25 Windfield Dr West

– the developer UCCI has submitted to Township of Oro Medonte in June 2020 this request:

– Applications 2020-B-04 to 2020-B-12 and Notice of Public Meeting Zoning By-law Amendment (“ZBA”) Application 2020-ZBA-05, for the lands described as Registered Plan 51M-187, Block 43, in the Township of Oro-Medonte, County of Simcoe.

– it is under consideration and not yet approved.

– 691 LINE 9 SOUTH, should remain in NHS, not developed. May be part of the same proposal.

– Assessment # 434601000830000, just east of line 5, also unsubdivided, forested, should remain in NHS. 21 Windfields Dr. 

  • Near Lakeshore E and Orillia St, West of Line 7, just east of where line 8 would be. Roll # 434601000955002, 434601000955001, 434601000955000, 434601000954904, 434601000954911, 434601000954912 undeveloped subdivision contiguous with NHS, keep in NHS. 
  • Red removal outline on water – is this to remove water rights? Close to Line 7, 131 Lakeshore Rd. E. 
  • Roll # 434601000935500 and 118 Lakeshore Road West, Oro-Medonte – super rare undeveloped shoreline lots – this must not be removed from the NHS. This is a common Beach property for community park! This is connected to the north to the NHS and HQNC. 
  • Line 2 area – Roll # 434601000711100 “Shanty Bay Church Woods”. Seriously people. This was saved BY THE COMMUNITY, BY RESCUE LAKE SIMCOE COALITION DIRECTOR TIM CROOKS. RIP. This must stay. It is protected by a covenant with the Couchiching Conservancy. 

Ramara: Tile 50

There should be a buffer on the north side of the Canal Lake along the Trent-Severn Waterway abutting the Greenbelt. Ensure that all of the province’s High Quality Natural Cover is included in the province’s NHS. Only remove the built-up areas that are approved plans of subdivision. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS.  

GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT SIMCOE COUNTY’S NATURAL HERITAGE SYSTEM MAPPING

  • There is a challenge acknowledged, and identified in the province’s NHS technical guidance, around the protection of NH in a highly fragmented landscape. That defines the Lake Simcoe watershed and Innisfil in particular. This guidance recommends the protection of smaller patches in fragmented landscapes. Thus I am asking that North South Environmental, then Simcoe County and finally the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks ensure that no small patches of natural cover that are close to areas of “high quality natural cover” are removed from the NHS. 
  • Refinements of NHS mapping must aim for a net increase in protected NHS lands and must capture the entirety of all local PSWs and locally significant wetlands as this natural infrastructure is integral to climate adaptation and mitigation. These are also goals of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.  More specifically I recommend these targets: 
    • Forest cover: 50% forest cover or more of the watershed is likely to support most potential species,and healthy aquatic systems. Simcoe County has 22%, but is losing forest cover.
    • Wetlands: The greater of (a) 10% of each major watershed and 6% of each subwatershed, or (b) 40% of the historic watershed wetland coverage, should be protected and restored, and no net loss of wetlands. Simcoe County has 14% wetland cover based on our analysis, and approximately half of its historic wetland cover. Simcoe County is losing wetlands. 
    • Achieve the LSPP’s 40% High Quality Natural Cover target: The NHS refinement opportunity must result in the protection of all mapped High Quality Natural Cover in the Simcoe County portion of  Lake Simcoe watershed. The maps have been available on LIO since 2011, and can also be found here along with the technical guidance for identifying these features.
  • I support the inclusion of the LSRCA’s Natural Heritage System Restoration Strategy recommended areas for an NHS, and the inclusion of the LSRCA’s recommended areas for restoration in the SC NHS. 
  • Registered plans of subdivision  that were not brought into the settlement area boundary by July 1, 2017 or that are not going to be developed with the 2022 MCR updates to 2051 should remain in the provincial NHS. As per the Growth Plan policies, if they are not contiguous with existing settlement area boundaries there is no justification at this time for their removal from the NHS as they should not be approved for development. See Growth Plan policy 5.2.8.4. and 4.2.2.5
  • The MNRF has mapped all Lake Simcoe watershed wetlands. It is up to the County to now apply appropriate protection through this process. SC mapping does not include all mapped wetlands. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Consultants and County planners review public comments, and propose a final NHS map.

Municipalities have until January 12, 2022 to provide comments and feedback to the County. A report will go to County Council for approval likely in Jan or Feb. Then to the Province for approval. We have been told that public comments will all in be included in the public report. We have also been told that questions will be answered at one time, and that time is not now.

WATCH FOR THIS
Here are some recommendations or statements from North South Environmental’s Review and Refinements to the Growth Plan’s NHS that we will expect to see in Simcoe County’s OP, as they support the County’s decision to remove registered plans of subdivision from the NHS: 

“It is anticipated that the County Official Plan will require that all draft approvals have lapsing dates and will include policies that indicate that when determining whether a draft approval should be extended for lapsing draft plans of subdivision, the policies of the Growth Plan must be considered in the development review process.” (p 12)

“…municipalities may refine the NHS for the Growth plan at the time of initial implementation in their official plans.”  (p 8) so there could be opportunities for improvements and removals later on in your municipality.

“In some cases, portions of registered Plans of Subdivision remain undeveloped and there are portions of key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features located within these subdivisions; these key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features are currently protected by in-effect zoning and Official Plan designations and relevant policies. It is anticipated that the County Official Plan will include policies that direct the local municipalities to establish appropriate policies in their Official Plans that control how development and redevelopment occurs in these subdivisions.” (p 11)

Simcoe County is recommending removing 7000 sites from the NHS where there are “minor discrepancies” in mapping of areas less than 1 hectare. Rationale is ease of administration. We need to respond to this approach. I think we should use the province’s Lake Simcoe High Quality Natural Cover map as the rationale for keeping some in the NHS mapping. (p. 21)

LEARN MORE 

A Place to Grow Act 2020

“Other implementation” policy 5.2.8.4

If a plan of subdivision or part thereof has been registered for eight years or more and does not meet the growth management objectives of this Plan, municipalities are encouraged to use their authority under subsection 50(4) of the Planning Act to deem it not to be a registered plan of subdivision and, where appropriate, amend site-specific designations and zoning accordingly.

How the Greenbelt supports a cleaner Lake Simcoe

Claire Malcolmson

Until April 19th the Province of Ontario is listening to ideas about growing the Greenbelt, and I want to encourage people to share at least some basic thoughts about it with the government. Did you know that the campaign that resulted in getting the Lake Simcoe Protection Act started with an unsuccessful bid to have Simcoe County included in the Greenbelt? Way back in 2005 we were worried about the impacts of heavy development pressures on Simcoe County, and that has not changed. How can Greenbelt policy help alleviate some of those impacts?

The Greenbelt covers 58% of the Lake Simcoe watershed. 
Source: Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, 2009.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, and Plan apply to the watershed area, outlined in the map above. Within that area, where the Greenbelt applies today in York and Durham Regions, the “countryside” is protected. In Simcoe County, where there is no Greenbelt, not so much. These farm land areas are facing intense development pressure. 

Simcoe County must plan for a population of 555,000 and 198,000 jobs by 2051 up from a population of 307,050 today. Despite there being a projected oversupply of 75,000 homes permitted to be built in Simcoe County to 2031, planning and permitting will go on because that’s what the province has ordered. The problem is that both construction and development negatively affect Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus loads, which in turn worsens water quality. In it’s  2010 Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, the province analyzed the impacts of development on phosphorus loads, and concluded that there would be additional phosphorus loads, even with the development impact mitigation policies of the LSPP. This is a problem since we are supposed to be cutting phosphorus loads in half to protect Lake Simcoe and its ecosystem.

Municipalities may be welcoming policy alignment between provincial plans, as they have expressed in their comments to the province about the LSPP review. (See my blog on this topic here.) The Greenbelt expansion exercise and the LSPP review, which are happening simultaneously, are both good opportunities for the province to investigate and analyze the effect of some of possible policy choices. They will need to address the issue of having no plan to achieve the LSPP’s 40% “high quality natural cover” target. 

The ideal solution could be applying the Greenbelt to the whole watershed, maintaining the LSPP’s shoreline policies, and adding a new designation for the watershed’s “high quality natural cover”. For a more fulsome overview of the “high quality natural cover issue see our report here and the map below. 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s intern and planner Mallory Nievas analyzed the strength of policies of the Greenbelt, Growth Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine, Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and found that the policies of the LSPP are the strongest of the bunch at protecting the shoreline. The policies of the LSPP, Greenbelt and ORMCP are similar when it comes to natural feature protection (forests, wetlands). 

Where the Greenbelt differs in a way that would help Simcoe County and Lake Simcoe, is its unique “Protected Countryside” designation, which is meant to protect agricultural land. Non-agricultural uses of land in the Greenbelt’s “Protected Countryside” are allowed “to support a range of recreation and tourism uses such as trails, parks, golf courses, bed and breakfasts and other tourism-based accommodation, serviced playing fields and campgrounds, ski hills and resorts.” Within the Protected Countryside, Town and City boundaries are firm, which reduces the tendency towards expensive to service, low-density, land gobbling, lake polluting, suburban urban form, and promotes denser community building. 

Based on analyses outlined above, it’s expected that the watershed’s population will more than double and likely add 20 tonnes of phosphorus to the lake by 2051. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan target is to lower phosphorus loads from an average of 90 tonnes to 44 tonnes per year by 2045. We are concerned that the province is approving development without any public discussion or consideration of the long term damage it causes to Lake Simcoe. That should concern everyone.

The public has until April 19th to contact the province and encourage them to expand the Greenbelt to Simcoe County. 

Visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca for tools and tips.

Ontario’s comment portal on Greenbelt expansion is at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-3136 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition’s full comments and submission to the province on Greenbelt expansion can be found here for people’s use in their own submissions.

Our two coalition’s new report, Lake Simcoe Under Pressure can be found at www.RescueLakeSimcoe.org 

Image 1: This map indicates the extent to which land features are protected by environmental policy in Simcoe County. There is plenty of potential to increase the size and the level of protection afforded to Simcoe County’s Natural Heritage System. The full report is available at https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/about-us/accomplishments/lake-simcoe-greenlands-project/
Legend below.
Legend LabelSmall legend textDefinitionExamples of permitted activities
1. BEST POLICY PROTECT- IONThese features are subject to policies that prevent or tightly restrict development or other land cover change on them. Permitted activities include aggregate extraction, infrastructure development, and stewardship related work.These features are subject to policies that prevent or tightly restrict development or other land cover change on them. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required to demonstrate environmental impacts of permitted activities are minimal and can be mitigated. Level 1 includes mostly features protected by provincial policies: – significant woodlands; – significant valleylands; – Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs); – Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI’s); – Lake Simcoe shoreline; – natural areas abutting Lake Simcoe; – Significant Wildlife Habitat; – Provincial Parks – Natural Areas (Niagara Escarpment Plan); – Core Areas (Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan).– new aggregate operations, with restoration and environmental impact requirements, low footprint infrastructure that has been proven to have no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, retrofits to stormwater facilities.
2. MODERATE POLICY PROTECT- IONThese features are subject to policies that allow some site alterations or land cover change, having met criteria and conditions. Permitted activities include aggregate extraction, infrastructure development, and stewardship related work. Development and site alteration may be allowed, having met criteria and conditions.These features are subject to policies that allow some site alterations or land cover change, having met criteria and conditions. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required to demonstrate that environmental impacts are minimal and can be mitigated. Level 2 includes: Setbacks and vegetation protection zones around protected features such as ANSIs, PSWs, permanent and intermittent streams and lakes; – significant groundwater recharge areas and highly vulnerable aquifers; – linkage areas (Oak Ridges Moraine); – Simcoe County Greenlands linkage areas; – features adjacent to level 1 features.– new aggregate operations, with restoration and environmental impact requirements. – Having met criteria to demonstrate limited environmental impact: development and site alteration, wind power facilities. – No Environmental Impact Assessment required for: Low footprint infrastructure that has been proven to have no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, retrofits to stormwater facilities.
3. NOT PROTECT- ED BY ENVIRON- MENTAL POLICYThese areas are already developed and / or are not subject to environmental protections.These areas do not contain features that are protected. Level 3 includes: farmland; roads; settlement areas and built up areas. The Greenbelt Protected Countryside designation is included because it does not protect Natural Heritage Features. It does, however, restrict settlement boundary expansions.N/A

What Municipal comments about the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan reveal

Early in 2021 the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) consulted on the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) and made some presentations to municipal Councils. The Ministry will either make, or not make, amendments to the LSPP by this summer. 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC) analysed the five staff reports on the LSPP from York Region, Durham Region, and the lower tier municipalities of Innisfil, Georgina, and King. In three cases, the RLSC wrote to the municipality and Council and made a delegation to request clarification and/or to suggest changes on some staff reports. Both the municipal staff reports on the LSPP and the RLSC comments submitted to municipalities can be accessed here

Some key themes emerge from our study of the publicly available municipal comments regarding the review of the LSPP:

  1. There is strong municipal support for protecting Lake Simcoe, and for strengthening policies of the LSPP by reflecting on what has been learned in the first 12 years implementation.
  2. The province did not provide adequate information and analysis of the effectiveness of LSPP policies for the policy review. Most municipalities emphasize that the province must continue monitoring and tracking the effectiveness of various remediation actions, and report on the lake’s health against the LSPP’s targets and objectives.
  3. Accommodating the watershed population ordered by the province’s Growth Plan (projected to at least double by 2051) while meeting the phosphorus (P) reduction target of the LSPP (which is to cut phosphorus loads in half by 2045) is a massive challenge.
  4. Municipal responses vary greatly when it comes to accommodating growth. At one end is the Town of Georgina standing strong with Georgina Island First Nation opposing the Upper York Sewage System, and at the other end, Innisfil’s staff report obliquely suggesting that some places be allowed to increase P loads to accommodate growth. 

While most municipal responses highlight the importance of reducing phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe by revising the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, they also discuss the merits of various ways to reduce P loads. Should we continue to focus on P reductions from sewage treatment plants, or from other remedial actions that reduce erosion and runoff? 

Sewage Treatment Plants and phosphorus offsets: 

Most municipalities recognize that reducing phosphorus from sewage treatment plants (STPs) is effective but expensive. They suggest how the province can reduce phosphorus loads from other more “cost-effective” sources. The question is, if STP’s P load caps are eased, will the other P reduction techniques adequately mitigate the harm caused by urban growth?

The RLSC has concerns about the feasibility and timing of the offset approaches suggested. First, the Precautionary Principle is a “guiding principle” of the LSPP, and it would be fitting therefore to not assume that agricultural and landowner remediation and Best Management Practices will be successful at the scale required to bring down P loads without substantive evidence. If the province wants to reduce P loads in a cost-effective way, more research and monitoring is needed to demonstrate that other offsets will work over time and not degrade, fail, and add more phosphorus to the lake than presumed. Until such real-world evidence is provided, other sectors should not be allowed to increase their P loads.

Durham Region supports a future focus “…on more significant sources of phosphorus such as, stormwater and agricultural/rural runoff and invasive species, and that the existing phosphorus loading caps for water pollution control plants be maintained.” The RLSC is in support of this kind of approach.

York Region recommends that P offsets should be used to accommodate new P loads from STPs, and recommends focusing on agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. There is little evidence, however, that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term P offsets. And the reduction in family farms, and the related increase in corporate owned farms (mainly land speculators) also means that there are fewer farmers who are land stewards, and fewer farmers willing to undertake remediation on their farms at the scale required to offset the Upper York Sewage System (UYSS), a new STP. If the UYSS discharges into Lake Simcoe, more reliable and enduring offsets will be needed, namely the proposed Government of Canada and York Region – funded stormwater treatment / phosphorus reclamation centre on the East Holland River, which could remove 7 tonnes of P per year.

Although their submissions do not mention the UYSS discharging into Lake Simcoe, York and Durham Regions are advocating for it. York Region supports the UYSS, while Georgina, their lower tier municipality on the lake, opposes it, in harmony with Georgina Island First Nation.

Managing Growth 

Almost all of the staff reports refer in some way to the challenges of accommodating the province’s growth plan population minimums while meeting the requirements of the LSPP. 

York Region asks point blank, “Clarify how municipalities can comply with both legislated growth targets and wastewater servicing restrictions under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.”

Georgina’s report says, “Increased pressure on the watershed ecosystem will materialize given the anticipated, significant future growth in the watershed planned in the next 30 years…. Despite the best of intentions and practices, phosphorus loading targets in the lake have not been met since the adoption of the LSPP in 2009. Clearly, better efforts and measures are required to address this condition in the face of increased population growth in the watershed.”

Innisfil advocates for the LSPP to accommodate growth: “phosphorus targets for Lake Simcoe may not be sufficiently in step with other recently updated Provincial policies. Changes to broader the provincial policy landscape, particularly changes to the growth forecasts and policies of A Place to Grow (“Growth Plan”) to be implemented through the County of Simcoe Municipal Comprehensive Review (“MCR”) process, need to be viewed and considered comprehensively with the LSPP…. The MECP’s 10-year review provides an opportunity to examine the growth pressures in the Lake Simcoe watershed and ensure that provincial plans offer a parallel consideration for sufficient servicing capacity to support growth forecasts.”

Innisfil went on to suggest sub-regional targets, presumably to accommodate local growth impacts. It is no secret that Innisfil and landowners and developers operating there have massive growth ambitions. They suggest that the province consider the following: “Could a sub-regionalized approach to the LSPP better achieve Provincial planning goals? …. The Town welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the MECP the introduction of sub-regionally focused amendments following the MECP’s 10-year review, where they are supported by data and provide specific controls related to the environmental threats, growth pressures, and presence of natural heritage resources within each sub-watershed area. The approach may resemble sub-regional policy variations introduced to the Growth Plan and could be informed by the MCR process.” This approach suggests that one part of the lake can pollute more than others. This is not going to work. Clean streams in Oro-Medonte will not make Innisfil’s frequently closed beaches any cleaner. 

Ultimately, the province will have to decide if their growth agenda is more important than Lake Simcoe. We do not have the systems in place to accommodate a doubling of the watershed’s population by 2051. We may never have it all figured out. Until we do, the rate of growth is simply unsustainable, and it seems that Lake Simcoe municipalities are saying that, without saying that exactly.

Harmonizing provincial plans

Three of the five staff reports recommend policy harmonization with other provincial plans, referring to an opportunity to use the Greenbelt (GB) or Oak Ridges Moraine Plan’s (ORMCP) natural heritage feature definitions in the LSPP as one example. This suggestion is appealing for a number of reasons. One, planners and developers would find it easier to implement and to understand the applicable policies if they were the same across the ORMCP, GB and LSPP. Two, if this change could go some way towards achieving the LSPP’s “40% high quality natural cover” target, which so far has been a target without implementing policy. 

But staff comments on policy harmonization also point out some of the gaps and mistakes made by the province in their haste to dismantle environmental policy. Municipalities question whether water, wastewater and stormwater policies are meant to accommodate growth, or to protect the quality and quantity of affected waters. Indeed, the Growth Plan says one thing on this topic and the Provincial Policy Statement says another. One assumes that the province will clarify the intent. We sure hope they come down on the side of water protection. If not, their Made in Ontario Environment Plan promises will have been as empty as Dear Henry’s bucket. 

The province’s public consultation on the LSPP review has ended, but there are still many concerns and questions they will need to address before landing on solutions that will keep Lake Simcoe healthy. For this to happen, the province must accept that their Covid recovery plan (build build build) will have negative impacts on the places that Ontarians love, and change course. 

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Both the municipal staff reports on the LSPP and the RLSC comments submitted to municipalities can be accessed here