A few property owners in Merrickville-Wolford have been affected by a new Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) designation in the municipality. Both John Miner and Paul Matteau own property in the north east quadrant of the Village where the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has deemed over 600 acres as PSW. The problem is that both residents say there is no wetland on their properties.
Paul says his land has undergone significant changes over the years. According to aerial photos, the now-PSW was previously a hardwood forest. When he purchased the property in 1984 there was an active colony of beavers living on it, which had caused a lot of flooding, killing trees and making it look like a wetland. Paul hired trappers to get rid of the beavers and, since then, the property has dried up, except for the spring run off.
John has a similar concern, which he stated in a letter to Merrickville-Wolford council last week. “I have a seasonal Dale’s creek that passes through my property, but I do not have any wetland,” he wrote. “The creek normally is bone dry from June to September.”
Both residents are concerned that this new PSW designation will affect the value of their property and restrict anything they want to use it for going forward. Merrickville-Wolford Chief Building Official, Randy Wilkinson, confirmed that once land is deemed a PSW there are no uses allowed for the land save for existing ones. “If there is not a house already there, you cannot rezone or get an official plan amendment to allow a use such as a house on that property,” he says.
Paul says he was told by the MNRF that the designation was made based on aerial studies carried out by the Ministry in 2010 and that no site visit was carried out by their biologists. In a subsequent statement to the NG Times, MRNF Media Relations Officer, Jolanta Kowalski, said at least one site visit is required in order for a piece of land to be designated a PWS. That being said, the evaluator does not have to traverse the entire wetland, and existing information gathered by others about the area may also be used.
“Existing information, such as documented species observations, mapping, and aerial photography, allow the evaluator to utilize information collected about the site by others,” she wrote in an email. “Site visits allow the evaluator to verify whether existing information is accurate, to record new field observations, and to adjust preliminary mapped boundary.”
In order to have the PSW designation reversed, Paul has been told he must hire an independent certified evaluator to re-evaluate the land on his own dime, and submit a report to MNRF for review and decision. He has requested that the Municipality fund the hiring of this evaluator in the hopes of getting the designation reversed.
Merrickville-Wolford council received the request and both letters from the landowners at the council meeting last Monday night. They passed a resolution at the meeting to throw their support behind the two landowners and ask the MNRF for a detailed explanation as to why they have designated this area a PSW. “We are concerned that the designation of PSW has occurred throughout the province of Ontario without the provision of supporting evidence,” Mayor Doug Struthers said at the meeting.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cameron is also concerned that the MNRF is being given carte blanche to deem any land they want as a PSW without being held accountable. “That would concern me, as we are in the process of developing more residences,” he said at the meeting. “If we are getting more and more wetlands identified, that is going to affect our ability to move forward.”
Council passed a resolution to ask the MNRF to back up their decision for deeming this area in the Village as a PSW, and to re-evaluate their decision without delay. They are also sending a copy of the resolution to Premier Doug Ford, the MNRF, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, the Association of the Municipalities of Ontario, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, and all Ontario municipalities. “We know we have to accept under the Planning Act what is provided in terms of wetlands designations, but we are not happy with it, and we want a justification and a process to move forward to have that addressed,” Mayor Struthers said. “Specifically for our property owners, but more specifically for our complete municipality.”