New revelations have emerged, pardoxically, from the campaign to save the 500 acres of largely old-growth Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and specifically out of the call for an audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
The revelations emerged during a St Catharines city council debate calling for an audit of the NPCA at its December 5, 2016, meeting. The council supported the audit, following a presentation by local wetland protection advocate Ed Smith and Ontario NDP MPP Cindy Forster.
Surprisingly, the relevations came not from the presentations of Smith and Forster, but instead from a critic of theirs, Niagara Regional Councillor Bruce Timms.
Part of Timms' criticism of Smith and Forster was the termination of 19 NPCA employees during a brief period when its staffing levels experienced a modest increase from 54 to 57 workers. The reason for these staffing changes were addressed to the St Catharines city council by Timms.
Timms stressed that recent changes in the NPCA staffing were a response to developments in 2010. This he explained was caused by a sense that the authority had become too biased towards the protection of the environment.
Timms' explanation of 2010 as a turning point was highly accurate. What he failed to share with the St Catharines city council, however, was the significant action which triggered outrage from developers. Namely, this was the decision by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to make 200 acres of the Thundering Waters Forest a provincially significant wetland. It had the effect of making the entire forest virtually impossible to develop.
Two years before the 2010 victory, I had secured an opportunity for MNR to gain access to the Thundering Waters Forest to do a wetland evaluation. This involved NPCA staff, who were subsequently fired.
While accurate in his explanation of the timing of the new direction of the NPCA, Timms in his presentation erred in describing the current nature of the Thundering Waters Forest planned development. He told the city council that only bicycle lanes are currently being proposed by the developer in the Thundering Waters Forest.
Timms' rosy view of the developer's proposal is countered by the reality that two roads are planned to cut up part of the protected wetland area. This reality was described in an August 16, 2016 letter from Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry expert Ian Thornton to Niagara Regional planner Marilyn Radman.
Thornton exposed how major arterial roads, not bicycle trails, are being planned. This will devastate the protected old growth forest wetlands of Thundering Waters. He notes how the developer's draft Environmental Impact Statement explains, “how the proposed development will result in the loss of 1.3 hectares, or two percent of the Niagara Falls Slough Forest Wetland Complex Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) on the subject property. “
I have walked in the areas being proposed for roads in the Thundering Waters Forest. They contain vernal pools, providing habitats for salamanders and frogs. One road would pass along side a pond, which gives refuge to a Species At Risk, the snapping turtle.
As the battle builds, more revelations will come out about the Thundering Waters Forest and developers' intriuges. Hopefully, these revelations will mobilize morepeople to save this sacred place. The firings of public servants that have taken place in defence of these sacred lands, subject to native claims going back to the Nafan Treaty of 1701, should make it the key place for an alliance between labour activisits, Natives and envirionmentalists.