The Escarpment Corridor Alliance Looks Ahead To Year Two

Two critical events occurred in November 2022 that make the Escarpment Corridor Alliance’s work and plans for 2023/2024 so essential for the future of Ontario’s environment.

First, Conservative Premier Doug Ford announced the removal of 7,400 acres from Ontario’s Greenbelt. This announcement led to an immediate and immense public outcry from just about every stakeholder group, save the developers who stand to benefit.

Second, and with almost no fanfare, the Auditor General of Ontario released her “Value for Money Audit: Conserving the Niagara Escarpment.” It is a scathing indictment of neglect and lack of oversight of one of our provincial treasures and a globally significant UNESCO World Biosphere.

The connection is very important. Many people do not realize that the Niagara Escarpment formed the original part of the Ontario Greenbelt and, to this day, makes up 25% of the total Greenbelt area. In fact, Castle Glen (the proposed site of a Blue Mountains mega-development) was listed as one of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance’s Top 10 Hotspots in its 2005 report card – FYI, it scored an ‘F’. The other common link is that The Greenbelt Act (2005) and the Niagara Escarpment Planning & Development Act (1973) are just that … Acts. They are pieces of paper and, as we have seen, subject to arbitrary change at the drop of a hat.

So, on to the year ahead.

Events & Awareness – Ed Burtynsky Partnership

An explicit goal for the ECA in the coming year is to make sure everyone who treasures the Niagara Escarpment explicitly understands that we can no longer count on the protection of an Act or the Niagara Escarpment Commission to keep our escarpment green and intact for future generations. Proposed developments threaten to behead the escarpment in two of its most iconic and sensitive locations – Castle Glen in The Blue Mountains and Talisman in the Beaver Valley. To protect these areas, these stories need to be told across the province.

To help build that awareness, the ECA is excited to announce that world renowned landscape photographer and filmmaker, Edward Burtunsky, (www.edwardburtynsky.com) is partnering with the ECA on a weekend of environmental leadership, arts, and educational events in Collingwood (Sept. 22nd/23rd). I will write more about this in an upcoming blog, but we look forward to using this partnership to raise the ECA’s profile and our fundraising reach across the province.

Data Driven Dialogue

The ECA recently engaged RCMG Inc., a top regional survey firm, to conduct a widespread analysis of how residents and visitors work, live, and play across the escarpment of Southern Georgian Bay as well as examine their attitudes towards specific proposed developments like Castle Glen, Talisman, and Silver Creek Wetlands. We are pleased to report that this survey generated over 3,000 responses following promotion by radio, direct mail, a poster campaign, social media, and other channels. This response rate far exceeds other surveys that have been done at the municipal and/or organizational level in our region and gives the ECA the data required to engage our local, regional, and provincial governments and agencies with an even stronger, and more legitimate, voice. Expect the data to be released in early May.

Political Collaboration

Working across multiple local and regional governments is critical if we want our environment to be protected – and it can be very complex and challenging. In my last blog, I discussed a motion recently passed unanimously by The Blue Mountains council that called for the protection of greenspace and the creation of natural corridors in Southern Georgian Bay. We are delighted to see the second half of this motion begin to take shape starting in May when the Chief Administrative Officers from adjoining municipalities will meet with the ECA and other stakeholders in order to determine how we can extend this vision for protected natural corridors across Southern Georgian Bay.

Environmental, Legal, Planning, and Economic Work

The ECA is embarking on significant projects with multiple professionals in 2023 as we build the case for land conservation, not just in our hotspots, but also across our broader region. At the scientific level, wetland and watershed evaluations, species at risk analysis, GIS and constraints mapping, and much more work is underway or being initiated to support our advocacy with governments. Legal and planning projects continue to focus on understanding how today’s legislation is best applied to overturn 50-year-old legacy planning mistakes that almost nobody believes serve the public interest nor our environment. Finally, we have several projects focused on building the case for a Conservation Economy approach to how we manage and profit from our natural assets for generations to come.

From Grassroots to Professional Organization

From the onset, our Board of Directors have been fully aligned to our mission of keeping the escarpment across Southern Georgian Bay green and free of inappropriate and unnecessary development. We were also in agreement that, to do so, we would need to supplement our cherished grassroots approach. We would need professional elements in our organization who will make sure the volunteers, who will continue to be the lifeblood of the ECA, are more effective.

The person who will help the ECA to move to the next level is Jarvis Strong, who we are delighted to have hired as our first Executive Director. Jarvis will initially be working on a part-time basis out of our new HQ at The Foundry in Collingwood. His background as an accomplished ED along with his fundraising experience, energy, and passion for outdoor education make him a perfect fit for the ECA. Under Jarvis, the ECA will build out the systems and governance required to achieve maximum impact across our community.

Our escarpment, the Giant’s Rib, that stretches across our regional landscape represents something essential, something that we passionately believe is worth fighting for. We hope that you feel the same and that we can count on you for your support in the year ahead.

Bruce Harbinson

President, ECA

The Escarpment Corridor Alliance Celebrates it’s First Year Anniversary!

On March 1st, 2022, the Escarpment Corridor Alliance made its public debut over a Zoom meeting. It’s hard to believe all that has transpired over the past year and how far the ECA has come. With this post, we would like to reflect on all that has been accomplished over the past year. And, in our next post, we will share a preview of the very exciting year ahead.

 

Making Our Mission Public

From that first Zoom call, attended by nearly 150 people, the awareness and support of the ECA has skyrocketed. Concerned supporters – residents and visitors – of our beautiful Southern Georgian Bay area have resoundingly connected with our mission for broad corridors that protect our natural heritage and biodiversity, and offer unique recreational opportunities to all. And, while the ECA is absolutely fighting against mega-developments like Castle Glen and Talisman, our supporters clearly recognize that we are fighting for something bigger … a green escarpment for generations to come. “Think global; act (BIG) local” is our mantra!

 

Groundswell of Support

One year in and we now have almost 22,000 supporters who have signed our petition to keep the escarpment free of mega developments. Thousands more supporters are reading our newsletters and actively engaging with us on social media.

 

Our Donor Base

Battling large land developers and creating a professional not-for-profit organization is expensive. Period. We are so grateful to the hundreds of individuals, families, and foundations that have made such generous donations that allowed us to accelerate past the grassroots phase and professionalize the organization. Your support has helped us build our team of scientific, planning and legal experts as well as expand our marketing reach.

 

Media Coverage

With a mission that resonates and a highly engaged board of directors reaching out far and wide across the escarpment, the media have taken notice. The ECA has had coverage in countless newspaper articles, magazine features, social media and on CBC Radio (click HERE to listen).

 

Partnerships

The word Alliance in the ECA name is not an accident. In a single year we have partnered with over a dozen local and regional environmental, recreational, and social organizations often becoming a conduit for their voices to be amplified, all while building our base of support. Working in collaboration with organizations like the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust, Protect Talisman Lands Association, Friends of Silver Creek, and others we have significantly elevated our collective impact.

 

Political Action

Throughout 2022 ECA Directors and volunteers made our case through presentations, deputations, written submissions, and townhalls to our elected officials. Moreover, we worked tirelessly to determine which candidates, provincially and locally, shared our vision for a green escarpment. Our impact on elections across the four municipalities we touch was profound. Nowhere was this evidenced more clearly than in The Blue Mountains where the new council recently voted, and unanimously passed, a motion that called for the protection of greenspace and the creation of natural corridors in Southern Georgian Bay. Critically, the motion spoke to increasing collaboration across municipalities, precisely what we, at the ECA, are aiming to achieve. We could not have written it better ourselves!

 

Now, thanks to the ECA and the incredible work of all our directors, volunteers, and supporters, our vision is well recognized across local municipal governments. This sets the stage for other municipalities to follow suit and sends a clear message to the provincial and federal governments.

 

Nobody said it would be easy, but nothing worth fighting for is!

 

Thanks to all of you for your support in getting us off the ground. Let’s build on this remarkable start and make our second year even better.

Talisman Update Part II: Beaver Valley Development Group Presents to Council

Westway, working under the new name, Beaver Valley Development Group (BVDG) presented to Grey Highlands Council on August 3 – watch from the 1:08 mark. While short on substance the presentation was long on buzzwords such as sustainable, wellness, collaboration, listening and ecotourismWhile nothing specific was shared it is very clear that they are intent on moving forward with significant development on farmland and Beaver River watershed lands at the Talisman site.

While BVDG continues to perpetuate the myth, started by Grey Highlands staff and Council, that they will “revitalize” the old Talisman resort, this is puzzling as they do not own that property, but bought the pristine farmland and watershed/floodplain properties that sandwich the Talisman resort and old ski hill. In response to a question, BVDG indicated they were attempting to reach an agreement with the owners of the resort property. We don’t know the nature of this agreement.

The presenters were very careful to say that they have “no vision and no plan” but yet have been meeting with the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, and the Bruce Trail ConservancyThe developers also thanked Grey Highlands staff for their guidance and support. If there is “no vision and no plan”, which they say is to be developed in consultation with the community, what have they have been discussing with our representatives and officials tasked with protecting the Escarpment?

Apparently, community consultation to inform the vision and plan is tentatively scheduled to begin in September. It is important that the community continues to be deeply and actively engaged to promote a green Beaver Valley and Escarpment, and to protect our environment, farmlands, rivers and watersheds.

Many questions remain:

  • What will be developed and where will it be built?
  • How will this development affect the existing redevelopment plans for the original Talisman resort?
  • How will development affect local neighbours in Amik, Kimberley and at the top of the hill?
  • What will be the costs to taxpayers to develop the access roads and bridges along 7A so they can handle years of construction equipment and hundreds of more cars?
  • How will sewage and water capacity be expanded to handle the development and at what cost?
  • How will development on farmland at the top of hill, which is on Karst, affect the municipal water treatment plant which draws from this area to supply Amik?
  • Will the developer be required to fund a substantive new flood plain study as the 1995 study for the site is outdated, and does not incorporate climate change or Eugenia Dam releases? See Kate Lazier’s excellent presentation on this subject to GSCA here.

–This is the second blog in our update on the sale of the Talisman Public Lands. Once again, we were fortunate to receive this update from our friends at the Protect Talisman Lands Association. The PTLA and ECA are aligned in our fight to keep the Escarpment green by stopping inappropriate developments, such as the one proposed on the Talisman Public Lands.

The PTLA thanks you all for your continued engagement and donations.  All help of time and money is extremely appreciated and is tax deductible through our Small Change Fund project. Donate here to support the PTLA’s fight to protect the Talisman Public Lands.

A Story of Hope – How a Community Fought a Proposed Large Development and Created the Herman McConnell Memorial Forest in Beaver Valley

Our battle is an old battle. And it’s a battle that can be won.

Many of us fighting to protect the Escarpment look for inspiration to the fight to protect Beaver Valley. It gives us hope to fight on – and we hope it’ll do the same for you.

The President of the Niagara Escarpment Foundation, Rob Leverty penned a summary of the battle fought over nearly three decades to defeat plans for a large development in Beaver Valley. They won. And now we have the Herman McConnell Memorial Forest.

Rob himself has been fighting to protect the Beaver Valley for over 40 years. And it’s thanks to his efforts and those of many others, Beaver Valley has been saved from large-scale developments inappropriate for our communities. If not for their work, Beaver Valley’s natural beauty and breathtaking views would have been lost. Forever.

We want to leave that same legacy for future generations to enjoy the beauty of the Escarpment. And we hope you’ll join me. In 40 years, we want people to be reading about our successes and thanking us for the legacy we aim to leave behind.

In summarizing his report, Rob wrote: “My goal again was to give hope, and the message is our work is too important – never give up!” It gives us at the ECA hope and inspires us to fight on.

Let’s carry on the legacy of many before us. Join us in our fight to preserve the Escarpment and save it from inappropriate development.

To read the full report from our Resources page click HERE.