Hazard Mapping in Ottawa by Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

On April 5, 2019, the Ontario government posted a proposal on their Environmental Registry website called “Focusing conservation authority development permits on the protection of people and property”.  https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4992  The title was encouraging, and some might have been persuaded that Conservation Authorities would be returned to their original mandate of preventing flooding and erosion. Unfortunately, if anything, municipalities and conservation authorities have entered a period of further restricting development by introducing additional flood plain mapping around creeks and waterways.

According to their website, in 2012, the City of Ottawa partnered with the three Conservation Authorities having jurisdiction in the city, Mississippi Valley, Rideau Valley and South Nation Conservation Authorities, to update the flood plain mapping in the Zoning By-law. https://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-engagement/projects/flood-plain-mapping They are now in the third phase of mapping.

The usual process is being followed, at least in the case of Harwood Creek, one of the waterways being studied.  People affected by the mapping were invited to a public consultation meeting in the spring of 2019 to view the draft mapping. Only a few attended.

Despite the low turnout at the public meeting, the residents along Harwood Creek got together and challenged the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority’s assessment of the creek at the CA board meeting in May 2019. I attended this meeting as did OLA President Jeff Bogaerts to support the residents. I was pleasantly surprised to hear our Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, a board member, ask if the culverts along the creek could be looked at. Increasing the flow through the two culverts in the creek would be a way to prevent/mitigate a 100-year flood and avoid a 100-year flood plain designation.  This would also avoid a designation which would surely reduce the property value of the homes in the area and allow residents to build a shed, renovate a garage or add a deck, all development activities which would be prevented if the mapping was approved. A report on this possibility was scheduled for the July board meeting. This all sounded very encouraging.

Prior to the July meeting though, it seems that the board members were cautioned that their responsibility was not to their constituents but to act in the best interests of the conservation authority. (Most board members are elected municipal councillors.) Indeed, it appears that a lawyer was present at the meeting to explain this to the board members and the public. This clarification of the duties of CA board members comes straight out of the Ford government’s Modernizing conservation authority operations – Conservation Authorities Act, which proposed to “clarify that the duty of conservation authority board members is to act in the best interest of the conservation authority, similar to not-for profit organizations”.

Connecting the dots, it appears that this proposal was based on the findings from the September 2018 Auditor General of Ontario’s Special Audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority:

Municipal priorities sometimes conflict with conservation authorities’ interests. Conservation authorities are governed by boards of directors whose members are appointed by the municipalities that provide funding to conservation authorities. The Act authorizes board members to “vote and generally act on behalf of their respective municipalities.” This puts board members in a difficult position when municipal interests conflict with the interests and responsibilities of conservation authorities and their employ­ees. The conflict is especially problematic when board members are also elected officials (mayors and councillors), whose municipal priorities include facilitating economic development in their municipalities. In certain cases, allowing such development may not be in line with the provincial legislation and policies that con­servation authorities are mandated to imple­ment.

Again, loosely connecting the dots, I would guess that this is a commentary on the NPCA’s attempt to allow development on land known as the Thundering Waters. It was to be a candidate for bio-diversity offset, i.e., develop one sensitive area and make up the loss by designating another.

Is the Harwood Creek designation an unintended consequence of the proposal to ignore constituents’ comments? Perhaps. The residents presented many good reasons for the designation to be avoided, including pointing out that the MVCA’s engineer’s numbers used in the modelling were incorrect. However, at the July 17 board meeting, it appears that even though the numbers were wrong, the majority of the board felt that the designation should go ahead because it was the right thing to do.

The next step will be to rezone the affected properties.

It is interesting to note that the authority for such designations is the Provincial Policy Statement and that municipalities have received a letter from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs stating that:

(Minister Clark’s) intention is to bring forward legislation and concrete policies that would impact planning province-wide in the coming months. I encourage you (the municipality) to consider the context of this streamlining work and its focus on the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement, as it may help to inform your local actions. You may wish to consider an interim pause on some planning decisions or reviews of major planning documents such as official plans or comprehensive zoning bylaw updates until this work is completed.

Is the City of Ottawa in a race to complete as many flood plain designations as possible before a new set of rules come into effect that may not support the new zoning? Once designated, its awfully hard to get the zoning removed.