NPCA defends stance on wetlands

By Allan Benner, The Standard

Niagara regional councillor Sandy Annunziata.
(Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review/Postmedia Network)

Niagara regional councillor Sandy Annunziata. (Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review/Postmedia Network)

From Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s perspective, there’s no confusion about development on provincially significant wetlands. 

It’s prohibited — period.


But in light of concerns that a $1.5-billion development proposed for Niagara Falls could be in jeopardy, the organization’s chairman Sandy Annunziata posted a statement on the NPCA website on Monday, clarifying the role the organization plays regarding the development of provincially significant wetlands.


“The Provincial Policy Statement is unequivocal in its interpretation, ‘development and site alteration shall not be permitted in significant wetlands,’” Annunziata wrote in the statement. “On behalf of our mandate to further conservation, restoration, development and management of the watershed, we will not compromise our efforts to comply with current policies and legislation.” 


In an interview Tuesday, Annunziata said he felt it was necessary to post the statement after Regional Chairman Alan Caslin sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne advocating on behalf of a development proposed by Chinese firm GR Investments. 


The developer is planning a mixture of residential, commercial, retail and entertainment uses on about 193.6 hectares of property, west of Marineland and adjacent to Thundering Waters Golf Club. 


The project could be in jeopardy because a provincially significant wetland covers about 95.5 hectares of that property.


Caslin said the intent of his Jan. 20 letter was to ask that the provincial government fix “the conflicts in their own policies — nothing more, nothing less.”


He was referring to conflicts between the province’s pro-development initiatives such as the Gateway Economic Zone designation for Niagara, and legislation regarding provincially significant wetlands that can hinder development.


Annunziata said Caslin was doing his job by sending that letter.


“It’s his job to advocate in his best capacity on behalf of residents,” as well as small business, developers, investors and lower-tier municipalities.


“There are a lot of voices that need his advocacy, and I don’t have a problem with Alan doing what he has been entrusted to do, which is basically to echo the concerns of our lower-tier municipalities,” Annunziata said.


“But people tend to conflate a lot of these issues, and that’s why I thought it was important to come out with a clear statement about what the NPCA is about, what we do and what we’re going to continue to do. That is not an indictment at all of what (Caslin) has to do in his capacity, but we have to make that distinction that we’re going to follow provincial policy.”


He said Caslin “rightly put the question to where it belongs” by sending the letter directly to Wynne, rather than to NPCA.


“The province crafts policy. The province is responsible for the legislation, we as an agency of the province at the NPCA, simply follow that.” 


Caslin said he has recently discussed the issues with Annunziata, and he’s “totally on-board with Sandy in that the wetlands do need to be protected.”


“I’m an environmentalist myself,” he said, referring to past environment-related projects he has been involved with. “This is something that’s consistent with what I’m doing in Niagara, as well. I know developers do need to work with the provincial act and make sure they’re compliant.”


Annunziata said his statement on the NPCA website was also an effort to address “misconceptions in the community that the NPCA board can somehow steer the process, or make it up as they go along.” 


“That’s not the case,” he said.


Caslin said he hopes that by the time regional council considers the developer’s proposal “there are no roadblocks and that we have clear direction from the province as to what we need to do.”


“The province has to go through their process to make sure that any conflicts that do exist are eradicated, so that developers when they’re coming with $1.5 billion in their hand that they comply with the processes, and in no respect would I ever promote that anybody go around the existing act or any of the processes the province has in place,” he said.


Caslin said Wynne has shown support for the development in the past, including a trip to China to promote it.


“I like her approach, and I’d love to rally behind her but in terms of their own policies I need them straight first so that I can make sure I’m supporting the project in the right manner,” he said.