Environmental Risks and the County

I apologize for the length of this note but it was where I spent the bulk of my time over the last 2 ½ years. I was lucky to work with an amazing group of people on the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) of Council. One of the first things we did was survey members for their thoughts on environmental risks we faced. What we found was a worrying circle of feedback loops!

For example an increasing incidence of flooding creates risk to our infrastructure, public health, our beaches and thus tourism. The other side of the coin – extreme drought – creates risk to our large agricultural sector, the risk of fires destroying our tree canopy. Heat waves means health risk and heats hits the older members of our community hardest. Similarly the livestock of our farming community is vulnerable to increasing heat while rising average temperatures allows new pests to appear which puts our crops at risk. And so on. Both flooding and drought will hit our local economy and our municipal pocketbook.

I firmly believe that we have to both Mitigate (make efforts to reduce green house gas emissions) and Adapt (to climate change). I view this as taking preventative medicine to hold off a far more expensive trip to the emergency ward later!

Ironically while the EAC mandate was to mitigate against climate change; the recent strategic plan of Council makes reference to adapting. (Once again my personal beef about a lack of joined-up thinking!)

I think Grey County has it right.
And like Grey County we should have a Climate Action Plan.

Since we don’t have the funds to do everything at once, we should focus on those areas where the circles overlap to get the biggest bang for our tax buck!

Another way to get the best value for our Environmental Dollar spent is to learn from the 350 communities who have spent up to 20 years as members of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Partners for Climate Protection, or PCP – places like Plessiville QC, Sackville NB or Campbell River BC. FCM research says that municipalities have direct or indirect control over 40% of green house gas emissions! For example, encouraging green building or grey water recycling.

The County has lofty goals, among them: Financial Sustainability, Maintain Rural and Historic Character, and a Stable and Diversified Economy. Climate Change threatens all of them.

Flooding costs to municipal property were $1.7 million in 2017 and 2019. Quinte Conservation Hydrogeologist Mark Boone, a technical advisor to the Environmental Advisory Committee for the County which I chaired, says we will see increasing incidence of such events, as we will see increased frequency of droughts. These will threaten our agricultural community which is 25% of our economy and our tourism industry (consider our beaches) Look at the ripple effect this will have into our economy, our municipal finances etc.

Trees – The Rodney Dangerfields of Climate Policy
They don’t get enough respect!

Our Tree Policy should become an enforceable Tree Bylaw with some teeth to it.

We establish environmental requirements for developments but neither the County nor Quinte Conservation has any resources to verify that promised protections are actually implemented.

This is a pantomime of protection.

Our Wetlands are Workhorses

We made headway on the 2021 Official Plan protecting Natural Core Areas and increasing the setback for provincially significant wetlands to 50 metres from 30. But we haven’t taken the steps to make Quinte Conservation employ that 50 metre setback in its review! Again fake protection. We need to start recognizing that our biodiversity and these protected areas are assets that support our environment, our economy and our community. Wetlands hold between 20 and 30% of the world’s carbon in soil.

A climate change lens should be applied to all policies, procedures and bylaws.

We joined the Partners for Climate Protection under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities but lodged responsibility with someone who is already overloaded with responsibility. We have made some good hires, our new Environmental Sustainability Supervisor, an Arborist (critical as Emerald Ash Borer wipes out our Ash trees which will cost us millions when we could have taken steps years ago to protect them, next up are Oak and Sugar Maples) and our new Director of Operations has been very supportive of our Natural Cover Group.

The decision to do nothing can be the more expensive decision. Kingston and Peterborough have set aside budgets of $6 million and $4.9 million respectively to deal with the loss of Ash Trees due to Emerald Ash Borer. Whose knows what the cost to the County will be?

We need a Site Alteration Bylaw to include limits on clearcutting and removal of natural habitats in the planning process.

We need to consolidate the Grass and Weeds property standards bylaw.

The Environmental Advisory Committee should work with the Agricultural Advisory Committee which has sought EAC help to work on undesirable invasive species and noxious weeds. We should stop promoting turf grass as the go to option for lawns given its intense water demands, run off from pesticides and fertilizer and gas and electric mower requirements which add to Green House Gas Emissions. Turf lawns discourages plant diversity which in turn supports other diversity and our agricultural sector.

We need to “Green” our Planning Process
Encourage green building techniques (and support training in these through Loyalist College for our graduating students) and grey water recycling. Our new Manager of Planning has been engaged with the Environmental Advisory Committee but we can’t ask Planning Staff to be biologists in assessing Environmental Impact Studies – and Quinte Conservation (which we fund with our municipal tax dollars) should not be going through up to four rounds of Environmental Impact Studies with development proposals – what a waste of EVERYONE’s limited resources.

We need a Planning Bylaw on what constitutes a Complete Planning Application with a checklist to put all applicants on the same footing, have first round consultations on larger scale developments to get all the issues on the table up front and avoid the planning round robin which now occurs – and delays are costly for all involved.Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) are dysfunctional and often incomplete – and staff lack expertise to assess them. And Quinte Conservation (who we fund through our municipal tax dollars) should not be going through up to four rounds of EIS for a single development proposal. We should put a biologist on retainer for larger development proposals.

We need templates for EIS and Hydrogeological studies. Current studies are often inconsistent and full of gaps, which we particularly can’t afford with our vulnerable water aquifers.

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