A lot of folks out there may not realize all the different roles and responsibilities we have here at the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority.
One of the more significant aspects of our work is assisting landowners who want to do work along lakes, rivers, streams or near wetlands to make sure they are doing so in compliance with provincial standards and requirements. Typically, the CRCA reviews applications that can range from someone looking to undertake a small project on their shoreline to large scale developments such as a subdivision.
My name is Andrew Schmidt, and as the CRCA’s Development Review Manager I oversee a staff of five talented and hard-working individuals. One of the advantages of the CRCA is that I am also able to tap into the knowledge and experience of other professional staff on our larger watershed management team for support when we are reviewing planning and permit applications.
Typically I am dealing with landowners and developers while also liaising with municipal planners and building officials. In all cases I advise people to contact us in the very early stages if they are considering some sort of development on a lakefront or riverfront property.
People can also visit our website or their local municipal offices and look at what we call a screening map, zoom in on their property and see if it falls within an area of interest to us.
In terms of getting involved in the process, we rely heavily on municipal building department staff, Public Health officials, contractors, septic system installers, and builders to get in touch with us – all of whom we deal with on a regular basis. This is because they generally know where the regulations apply and when approvals are required and they should be apprising their clients about that.
The CRCA provides plan review services for applications under the Planning Act which comes under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. We have service agreements with the 11 municipalities under the jurisdiction of the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority so that we can provide valuable input with respect to natural hazards (i.e. flooding and erosion), natural heritage features such as woodlands, wetlands and water quality and quantity. CRCA comments are made in consideration of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), local municipal Official Plans and Zoning By-laws, the CRCA’s own Planning Policy, as well as other pieces of provincial legislation that are applicable.
For regulatory issues, the primary source for our authority is Regulation 148/06: Development, Interference with Wetlands & Alterations to Shorelines and Watercourses regulation made under Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act. On the development side it means we deal with projects that are adjacent to watercourses, bodies of water and wetlands to make sure they are protected from flooding and erosion, for example, and that these projects won’t have a negative impact on any wetlands.
Then there is the alteration to waterways part of it; if someone is doing shoreline work like putting in a shore wall, for example, we want to make sure that it’s being done in an environmentally-friendly way so that it’s not going to negatively impact on the floodplain or neighbouring properties.
It sounds complicated, but essentially the reason for these regulations is a simple one – they are there to protect life and property from the risks of natural hazards such as flooding and erosions. It’s also one of the main reasons Conservation Authorities such as the CRCA were created more than 50 years ago.
For flooding, the threshold we use is this part of the province is known as the 1 in 100-year storm principle, or sometimes the one-per cent rule. It is based upon a storm event that has a one per cent chance of occurring in a year.
We spend much of our time dealing with developments adjacent to water courses and shorelines, and actual shoreline and in-water work. We do about 350 permits a year for these projects and about 100 of them are for shoreline alterations.
Unfortunately there are also a number of infractions that we have to deal with every year – somewhere between 20 and 30. We get more complaints from the public, but some of them are deemed to be frivolous, although we do investigate them all.
One recent example was a severance to a property that was not circulated to the Conservation Authority by the municipality. There was a wetland on the property and they severed the only piece of land that allowed access to the retained part. Then they put a road too close to the wetland to access the piece of property that was in behind the severed portion.
If that had been circulated by the municipality, we would have been afforded the opportunity to comment on this aspect and said, “wait a minute, how are you going to access the retained portion? You can’t put your road there because it’s against our regulation guidelines.” They would have had to adjust the lot lines for the severed lot. Instead, the individual wound up having to move the road, which he is not happy about.
People hear about these instances and they read about rules and regulations, permits and comments and think we’re all about throwing up roadblocks and red tape just for the heck of it.
It is important for the public to recognize that our regulation is permissive in nature. It means we can ‘permit’ things. We are not here to simply say no. We are here to work with people to permit them to do what they want to do, but in an environmentally friendly way and in a safe way for themselves and their properties.
It’s the same motivation that municipal bylaw officers have when enforcing building codes and fire officials when enforcing fire codes. It’s not just us picking on people. It’s for their own benefit and the greater good.
Some people question why the job that we do isn’t just wrapped up with the responsibilities of municipal building and planning officials. The reason is because it’s a very specialized area and one where you need a variety of technical experts – watershed experts, geologists, hydrologists, biologists for example. This way, our member municipalities can pool their resources and enjoy the benefits of having these professionals working on their behalf without each having to hire their own team of watershed specialists. Just think what that would cost the taxpayer.
Here at the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority, we have all of those experts right in our office.
In future blogs I’ll be looking at more specific cases and help you understand the important role that my department – and the CRCA in general – plays in preserving and enhancing the natural environment.