Category:Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act

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The Oak Ridges Moraine is a unique ecological and hydrogeological feature that spans more than 160 km in southern Ontario. Its diverse natural habitats are home to a wide range of plant and animal species, including many species at risk. The Moraine also supports substantial surface water resources and holds significant groundwater resources. By 2000, the Oak Ridges Moraine faced enormous development pressures that threatened to further fragment and degrade it. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act was the culmination of a long process of public advocacy to protect the moraine.

In March 2000, members of the public submitted EBR applications requesting long-term protection for the Oak Ridges Moraine. The applicants were concerned that existing land-use planning laws and policies were not adequate to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine. In response, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing denied this request on the grounds that existing land use planning guidelines, policy and legislation already provided the needed protection.

The ECO concluded that the ministry’s reasons for denying the applications were inappropriate because compelling evidence had been presented that: existing land use policies were not adequately protecting the moraine; new scientific and technical information was available; and development pressure was harming the environment. In that report, the ECO recommended that MMAH, in consultation with other ministries and the public, develop a comprehensive long-term protection strategy for the Oak Ridges Moraine.

Despite denying the EBR applications, the Ontario government passed the ORMCA approximately 18 months later in order to better protect the Oak Ridges Moraine. The Act provided authority to establish the ORMCP by regulation. The Plan was finalized in April 2002.

The ORMCA requires that decisions relating to the Oak Ridges Moraine that are made under the Planning Act or the Condominium Act, 1998 by municipal councils, local boards, municipal planning authorities, provincial Ministers, provincial government and agency officials, and the OMB must conform with the ORMCP. Municipal official plans must be brought into conformity with the ORMCP. The Plan will prevail if it conflicts with an official plan, zoning by-law or the Provincial Policy Statement.

The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan

The ORMCP is intended to protect the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine area, and ensure that only land and resource uses that maintain, improve or restore the ecological and hydrological functions region are permitted. It provides land use and resource management planning direction that goes beyond the general directions found in the PPS.

The Plan sets out four land use designations and the permitted uses for each: Natural Core Areas to protect areas with a high concentration of key natural heritage and hydrologically sensitive features; Natural Linkage Areas to protect linkages between the Natural Core Areas and along rivers and streams; Countryside Areas to provide an agricultural and rural buffer; and Settlement Areas to focus and contain growth. The ORMCP provides the public with recreational access to a trail running the length of the Plan area, and a public park.

Municipalities are encouraged to enact more restrictive policies than those in the plan, except regarding agricultural uses or pits or quarries. New pits and quarries are permitted in all designations other than Natural Core Areas, although applications for pits and quarries must meet ORMCP criteria as well as the requirements of the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). The implementation document attached to the ORMCP states that future review of the plan may consider whether to change the provisions of the plan to permit establishing new mineral aggregate operations and wayside pits, and expanding existing ones, in Natural Core Areas. Members of the public and the ECO are concerned that this is not ecologically justifiable.

While golf courses, serviced playing fields, serviced campgrounds and ski hills are allowed in Countryside Areas, applications must demonstrate that water use and application of fertilizers and pesticides will be kept to a minimum. Transportation, infrastructure and utilities are permitted throughout the plan area, including public highways, transit lines, railways, gas and oil pipelines, sewage and water service systems, and power transmission and telecommunications lines. The ECO observed that allowing transportation and utilities in the entire Plan Area, including Natural Core Areas and where there are natural heritage or hydrologically sensitive features, seems contrary to the objectives of the plan.

Review, Public Participation and Implementation

A review of the ORMCP must be carried out every 10 years to determine whether it should be revised, but such a review is prohibited from considering removing land from the Natural Core Areas or Natural Linkage Areas. In addition, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing may make amendments to the Plan, but they must conform to the objectives of the plan.

The ORMCA requires public participation for any decisions made under the Act. In the 10-year review of the Plan, the minister must consult with affected ministries and public bodies and with the council of each municipality or municipal planning authority with jurisdiction in the Moraine area, and ensure that the public is given an opportunity to participate in the review. A more limited consultation requirement applies to proposed amendments to the plan. In addition, the public has the right under the EBR to receive notice and the opportunity to comment on changes to the ORMCA, and on regulations, policies and certain instruments under it. Members of the public also may make applications for review in relation to the ORMCA and related policies, regulations and instruments.

The implementation document released with the ORMCP in 2002 stated that the provincial government would develop technical guidelines to help users of the plan understand, interpret and implement the provisions of the plan. Working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment, MMAH has prepared a series of 17 technical papers that represent the Ontario government’s approach to implementation of plan policies. They are intended to assist approval authorities, applicants, landowners, interested stakeholder groups and others in implementing policies and applying technical requirements found in the ORMCP.

The technical papers address: identification of key natural heritage features; significant wildlife habitat; supporting connectivity; landform conservation; identification and protection of vegetation protection zones for Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest; identification of significant portions of habitat for species at risk; identification and protection of significant woodlands; preparation of natural heritage evaluations; developing watershed plans; preparing water budgets; water conservation plans; hydrological evaluations for hydrologically sensitive features; sub-watersheds; wellhead protection; recreation plans; sewage and water system plans; and, stormwater management plans.

The Ministry of Transportation has developed a guidance document entitled Environmental Protection Requirements for Transportation Planning and Highway Design, Construction, Operation and Maintenance – Oak Ridges Moraine Component. It provides MTO’s interpretation of how the ORMCA applies to provincial highway projects, including new and modified highways and related structures such as interchanges, bridges, access roads, and drainage works. Although allowing transportation and utilities in the entire plan area seems contrary to its objectives, this guidance document does a reasonable job of incorporating most of the requirements of the ORMCP into its Environmental Protection Requirements.