By Chris Simon
The draft version of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan will not cover existing and mostly approved developments — including Big Bay Point Resort — something that is drawing criticism from local conservation advocates.
The provincial government released a draft version of the protection plan last week. The plan sets targets for improving the health of the lake, including the limiting of phosphorus levels to 44 tons per year. There are also plans for the protection and rehabilitation of fish habitat, wetlands, woodlands and vegetation that buffers the lake, and watershed rivers and streams.
“The approach we are taking is intended to ensure the long-term health of the lake and its watershed ecosystem,” said Environment Minister John Gerretsen. “We need everyone from around the lake to participate in this process and make this plan work so that future generations can continue to enjoy this wonderful resource.”
However, the proposed plan fails to include existing developments, or proposals that have already obtained significant approvals, said Environmental Defence executive director Rick Smith.
“The double-standard and dangerous precedent that this draft Plan proposes cannot be allowed to stand,” he said. “We know from past experiences, that where transition regulations for development are ambiguous, the environment loses.”
Smith says the plan’s targets take far too long to implement, and many of the policies do not require mandatory compliance.
If approved as presented, the draft plan would also provide guidelines for the monitoring of climate change and invasive species impacts. Municipalities would also be required to prepare master plans for controlling stormwater runoff, ban the import of live bait, and restrict development and site alterations in important natural heritage and hydrologic areas.
The plan would also establish protection zones, which would run 100 metres from undeveloped shoreline, 30 to 120 metres in built-up areas and 30 metres in settlements, where feasible.
Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority chair Virginia Hackson says the plan is progressive, and was developed after consultation with various environmental groups.
“There are many citizens and groups with a deep concern for the long-term health of the lake,” she said. “The plan drafted by the province follows a good deal of consultation around the watershed. We look forward to studying it and adding our comments to those of others who love the lake and want to restore its health and beauty.”
However, others say the policies are vague, and could lead to Ontario Municipal Board hearings and lawsuits.
“We will be letting the government know that this draft plan raises more questions than it answers,” said Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature. “The lake has been degraded by allowing one project after another to slip past rigorous and consistent assessment. This game has to stop.”
Residents can provide comment on the draft plan until March 16. For more information, including a copy of the plan, visit www.ontario.ca.