Infrastructure: Carving up the Oak Ridges Moraine one road… one pipe… one project at a time.
The Oak Ridges Moraine is a landform unique to southern Ontario. One of the province’s largest Moraines, it is highly valued as wild habitat for many plants and animals, as a source of recreation for the community and for the integral role it plays in storing and purifying drinking water. The Moraine’s importance was legally recognized by moraine-specific legislation in 2001 followed by the release of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan in 2002. This legislation was intended to designate and protect the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Moraine.
The Oak Ridges Moraine, located as it is on the fringes of Toronto, is vulnerable to the long-term and cumulative impacts of infrastructure planning. The Moraine legislation has the mandate to control urban development that is processed under the Planning Act but not the ability to influence the proliferation of services demanded by a growing population – roads, water/waste water pipes, or electrical generation plants and facilitates. It is true that the Moraine legislation has gone further than most other land use plans by including a number of ‘tests’ that must be met in order for a project to be approved. However, these tests are project-specific and are limited in their ability to provide alternatives to the status quo. In most cases infrastructure development is just deemed necessary without alternatives and the project forges on, environmental consequences aside.
In other words, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan as it is currently structured will not stop the Moraine from being crisscrossed by 400 series highways, upgraded regional and local roads, major water and waste water systems or electrical generation systems – at best the Plan can protect a wetland or a forest from being destroyed or can direct projects away from natural core areas of the Moraine.
This is critical considering the provincial growth forecasts for areas north of the Moraine – the population of Simcoe County is projected to double over the next 20 years. So on top of the “need “to service existing urbanization there will be the “need” to service new development north of the Moraine. We need protection with teeth to stop the Moraine from becoming an infrastructure corridor.
Work done by the MTM (The Marl Tiny Matchedash Conservation Association) in 2007 confirmed that a considerable amount of land use change occurs on the ORM as a result of infrastructure expansions or improvements processed under the Environmental Assessment Act. Through their Monitoring the Moraine project they recorded 51 infrastructure projects since 2002 on the Moraine – most of them within York Region.
Although there are examples of situations where transportation, utility and other infrastructure agencies have made effective and sincere efforts to address the requirements of the ORMCP, there is no initiative in place that engages such agencies in understanding or embracing the requirements of the ORMCP. Stakeholder surveys have revealed a concern that the “need” and “reasonable alternative” tests of Section 41 of the ORMCP require clarification and are in danger of being misinterpreted or ignored by a number of transportation, utility or other infrastructure agencies. The MMAH and the MOE in particular could provide guidance or direction to help those involved in municipal undertakings under the Environmental Assessment Act to address the requirements of Section 41 of the ORMCP.