by Philip Fry
We should, I think, be content with the patchwork landscape we have inherited and how it is being currently governed at both the regional and municipal levels. Compared with other localities, we are spoiled with three substantial public forests in which numerous trails wind through varying natural and planted woodlands, hiking trails that connect various parts of the township, plentiful access to waterways for recreation and contemplation, numerous wetlands that conserve water and support wildlife, and vistas that combine productive agricultural fields with blocks of remnant or new growth forests.
Our municipality also has an Official Plan that not only recognizes the diversity of human and natural values inherent in our landscape, but also sets out clear and deliberate measures to protect and manage them for the future. Given the environmental crisis, I am mostly concerned with those elements of the planning framework set out in the May 2018 Plan (available on the Municipality’s web site) which touches upon natural heritage features. It is my hope that the new Plan will improve upon the positive aspects set out in 2018.
Under the heading of “Environmental Planning” (Section 2.6), the current Plan makes a strong and encouraging commitment to “protect and enhance the natural heritage features for the benefit of present and future generations in North Grenville.” The goals set out are excellent, as far as they go, but are, unfortunately, consistently bound up with human endeavours: there is no recognition of the intrinsic value of the natural components of the environment. This is worrisome, as much in principle as in its practical effects.
Those who think my apprehension is unfounded can point to the admirable text introducing Section 22.214.171.124, “Natural Heritage,” where we read that “The Municipality will promote an ecosystem approach to environmental planning”, and which provides an accompanying definition of ecosystems. The definition is followed by a list of eight points, including the encouragement of a “net gain” in environmental quality, the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems, collaboration with various agencies, and, notably, “public education and awareness initiatives for the protection, rehabilitation, and enhancement of the Natural Heritage features”. The rub comes in Section 6, “Land Use Policies – Natural Heritage.” Despite the claim that “All other goals of this Plan shall attempt to satisfy the environmental goal,” we find numerous “notwithstanding” clauses and “restrictions” which betray an anthropocentric bias. Human enterprise is still framed as external to ecosystem dynamics, rather than one of its constitutive components. The meaning and interpretation of value-laden terms such as “important” and “significant features” are open to wildly differing interpretations. And that has an impact on the Plan’s every day, practical application in the management of the Township.
A good example of this over-riding ambiguity is the recent infrastructure “improvement” of an outcrop of rock on Townline Road. Of apparently (I’m not a geologist) Precambrian origin, the low, massive hill of grey, flint-like stone rises up from our normally Ordovician limestone bedrock, and is only one of two such outcrops I have found in the Municipality. Over the years, I have walked both outcrops, examining the variety of mosses and ground cover nestled in crevasses, sometimes wondering at the persistence of trees in periods of drought. This was certainly a place of “significant” geological, biological, and aesthetic interest, a rare and fascinating natural site. But the road skirted the outcrop tightly, creating a blind-spot that drivers had to negotiate with care and, after decades of use, it seems that the curve was thought to be an obstacle to the proper flow of traffic. Instead of widening the curve around the outcrop, the “improvement” consisted of blasting the roadway through it. The site was irremediably damaged. I wonder if the people involved in the final decision knew the names of even ten of the plants blown away by this “infrastructure improvement.”
The present municipal Council can remove ambiguities in the 2018 Plan by placing key elements of the environmental crisis at the centre of its concerns, namely carbon sequestration and biodiversity. We will also need a peer review system for all infrastructure and development projects. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.