Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation makes application to the Environmental Commissioner under the Environmental Bill of Rights for review of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Plan

October 3rd, 2011 by Paula Boutis

In 2001, the Ontario government passed legislation protecting approximately 190,000 hectares of land known as the Oak Ridges Moraine.  The Moraine is estimated to provide approximately 250,000 people with clean drinking water.  It forms the headwaters of 65 streams flowing south the Lake Ontario and north to Lake Simcoe, Lake Scugog, Rice Lake and Georgian Bay.1

In September of this year, the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation (ORMF) released eight Measuring Success on the Oak Ridges Moraine reports.  Flowing from that, the ORMF made an application (pdf) under the Environmental Bill of Rights to seek a review of that legislation and related legislation and policies to address “serious policy, legislative, regulatory and technical support deficiencies that currently limit the ability of the agencies responsible for the implementation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan to achieve the stated objectives of the [plan].”

A key concern that emerged shortly after the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act was enacted and implementation of the Plan began relates to infrastructure projects on the Moraine, and the serious threat these projects pose to the ecological integrity, watershed protection functions and the long term viability of the Moraine’s natural areas. The ORMF’s application requests that the current implementation process should be adjusted to provide specific instruction to municipal and government agencies to properly implement the requirements of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan for infrastructure, and to amend the relevant Ontario Environmental Assessment procedures to require that the Moraine Plan be considered as part of that process.  Importantly, they also recommend that there should be a description of the kinds of large‑scale projects that will not be permitted on the Moraine at all.

The Moraine Can’t Wait Coalition, made up of Ontario Nature, the STORM Coalition, and Earthroots, notes in one of its fact sheets that the Moraine Plan “as it’s currently structured will not stop the Moraine from being crisscrossed by 400 series highways, upgraded regional and local roads, major water and waste water systems or electrical generation systems.  At best it can protect a wetland or a forest from being destroyed or can direct projects away from natural core areas of the Moraine.”

Given current growth plans, the Coalition argues “we need protection with teeth to stop the Moraine from becoming an infrastructure corridor.”  Since 2002, 51 infrastructure projects have been allowed, most of them in York Region, its most famous being the “Big Pipe”.

Large infrastructure projects to support unsustainable growth off the Moraine occur, with impacts to the Moraine, while at the same time, those living on the lands are subjected to severe restrictions related to residential accessory uses, like decks; and amenities to support recreational and tourism opportunities are not permitted in 62% of the Moraine.2

There are many in the environmental community who feel until the infrastructure problem is properly addressed, protection of the Moraine, and all who rely on it for the long‑term, remains more of a hope than a certainty.  In the meantime, we await the results of the requested review.

Paula Boutis practices in a wide variety of areas at Iler Campbell LLP, including public interest environmental law.

Filed in: Environment, Municipal/Planning Law