August 21, 2006
New rules offer long-term environmental planning
Two new pieces of provincial legislation offer municipalities “not constraints, but tremendous opportunities,” a roomful of municipal councillors was told at last week’s annual meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
While Bill 43 (the Clean Water Act) and Bill 51 (the Planning Act) do impose responsibilities on municipal councils, they offer the opportunity for long-term planning of environmentally friendly communities.
The comments were made by Marvin Stemeroff, of Gartner Lee Limited, a consulting firm that develops environmental strategies and solutions. Based in Markham, it has offices across Canada and in the Middle East.
Stemeroff said both bills will be reflected in municipal official plans and zoning bylaws.
Bill 43 is not just a wellhead-protection plan, he said. Although the regulations have not been written yet, a section of it will focus on municipal water systems, and private systems can also be considered. But there are some things in the bill that still have people wondering.
For example, Stemeroff noted that efforts under Bill 43 will be led by a group of 19 conservation authorities covering more than 400 municipalities.
Those conservation authorities will actually be in charge, but what causes people to wonder how things will work is the fact that “conservation authorities have no authority over municipalities, or planning, or how growth is directed.”
Part of the process, he said, will be to establish committees to protect source water. These have not yet been formed, but will be made up of a broad cross-section of the community, “including, for example, aggregate producers.”
Construction and construction-related associations could, if they become involved early enough, also have representatives on the committees.
The ultimate objective is the development of a source-water protection plan.
The bill also includes provision of a five-year technical assessment of municipal water supplies which includes a number of distinct modules.
One covers municipal water supply strategy: “How will the municipalities within a watershed supply sufficient quality and quantity of water to meet future needs over 25 and 50 years?”
The requirement for such long-term planning is also written into Bill 51, which is virtually a complete re-vamping of the existing Planning Act.
Stemeroff said under the new bill, municipalities will, when drawing up their own planning documents, need to consider broader policies that emphasize sustainable development.
To do so, they will have the power to incorporate into new subdivisions such sustainable design elements as water-conserving landscape practices, the use of “green” energy, storm-water management, and preservation of natural vegetation or tree cover.
Some municipalities, he said, might consider Bill 43 as just a “glorified wellhead protection program” and Bill 51 as something imposed by the province.
Others might look at the bills as a 25- to 50-year exercise in sustainability planning during which they can outline their vision for their communities and set the direction it takes.
Such communities, said Stemeroff, “will benefit from having an environmental strategic plan.”
Developing such a plan need not be complicated, he said. After all, it is simply a document that defines the values important to the community and sets out a plan to protect them.
It spells out the vision for the community, laying the foundation for an official plan. It represents a “roadmap” showing how each municipality will achieve sustainable long-term growth.
But to get maximum value out of the two new bills, municipal councils should get involved now, learning of opportunities and responsibilities, naming representatives to a source-water protection committee, initiating discussions with other communities in the watershed. They should also get started on an environmental strategic plan, and consult closely with community members to understand what is important to them.
“If you get involved now,” he said, “you can have a much greater influence on the outcome of these bills than you realize.”
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