Sunday, February 24, 2013

Council to Consider Environmental Protection Bylaw

At our Policies and Priorities meeting last week, Councillors reviewed an Environmental Protection Bylaw. The bylaw’s goal is to help protect important environmental and heritage features in the Town, to encourage the long-term conservation of productive agricultural lands, and to prevent the importation of waste and hazardous materials.

You may recall that in the spring of 2011 a rural resident made a presentation to Council about construction fill being dumped on a neighbouring property.  The material not only covered rich agricultural soil, the neighbour built a berm right up against the property line. The resident asked Council to consider developing a Site Alteration Bylaw to regulate this type of activity.

Many other municipalities have enacted this type of bylaw because it allows Towns to regulate activities with the potential for environmental degradation (dumping, erosion, sedimentation), and drainage problems (blockages, impact on neighbouring properties).

The Town convened a public information session in August 2011 to give people an opportunity to ask questions and provide written comment. Then Council convened a public meeting to receive feedback in September, 2011. Farmers, nursery operators, and sod growers asked to be exempt for "normal farm practices"; landscapers asked for exemptions for their business activities.  Some neighbours of existing “berms” implored Council to act and to stop the dumping of construction material on good farm land. Others asked Council to halt consideration of any "infringement of property rights".

Based on that feedback, staff presented a draft bylaw to Council in January 2012. At that time, Council discussed whether the bylaw should deal exclusively with berms or include additional elements raised during the public meeting. Council sent the bylaw back to staff to make further refinements.

At our August 2012 Committee meeting, Councillors received a new draft Site Alteration Bylaw and directed staff to make it available to residents for feedback.

Council reviewed the feedback at a November meeting, and used a creative problem solving process to focus the discussion and clarify issues. Then, during a December meeting, we directed staff to draft a bylaw that protects the environment and natural watercourses, exempts normal farm practices, and bans the importation of construction waste.

We received that draft last Tuesday, where it was noted that any enforcement would follow our recently approved courteous Enforcement Services Protocols. While pleased with the draft, Councillors directed staff to seek legal advice to clarify some wording in the definitions, and with one of the provisions.

A final draft, with any clarifications, will be included on our March 4 Council agenda for consideration and (hopefully) adoption.

UPDATE on 4 March 2013:
As stated above, Council asked for some clarifications at our February 19th Committee meeting regarding the draft Environmental Protection Bylaw.
And, given some feedback we also received from farmers and others (including from the Niagara South Federation of Agriculture), the bylaw was further changed to better meet the community’s and Council’s wish that it exempt “Normal Farm Practices.”
A new version was presented to Council on March 4th, and following Council's discussion and debate, the Bylaw was approved.