Idled committee gets new life

Although it hasn't been active for some time, C-K's Natural Heritage Committee of the Whole will endure.

Discussion about the committee's fate was raised at a recent council meeting following a motion by North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville to dissolve it.

However, following input from other councillors and administration, Jubenville withdrew the motion.

She said she brought the matter forward after constituents reached out to her to find out what the NHCOTW is for and what the body is actively doing, after seeing it on the municipality's website.

She said she learned from administration the committee was designed to develop a natural heritage strategy but that work is done and the committee is no longer needed at this time.

"I just felt that having it on the (municipal) website is disingenuous to our constituents thinking we have a committee we are actively working on, that we're not really working on," Jubenville said. "I thought we should remove it, and if the time comes to approach it again, that we can easily do so."

Other members of council disagreed.

West Kent Coun. Melissa Harrigan said environmental sustainability – specifically natural heritage – is one of council's "priority items" for 2022 to 2026.

"Perhaps it's better for us to hold a meeting to revisit it to identify council's priorities," Harrigan said, adding it's important the information be updated online to avoid confusion.

"I do not think that the NHCOTW should be dissolved at this time," Harrigan said.

East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault also chimed in, stating he felt the Natural Heritage Committee should stay in place.

"We should enhance it," Pinsonneault told council. "Granted it is a committee that's not used very often. It's been around since 2014 and I believe it has worked. It's easier to keep it in place right now, than it is to try and reinstate it later.”

Council heard that the committee had not met since prior to the last election in 2022.

Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall, NHCOTW chair, explained why the committee had been inactive.

"My intention was to wait until we approved our strategic plan to begin NHCOTW discussions again," Hall said, adding he had planned to touch base with staff to get the meetings restarted.

However, when council opted to repeal the temporary tree cutting bylaw in September in a narrow 9-8 vote, Hall said the decision "halted" the process.

The NHCOTW was formed in 2014, largely driven by the agricultural community in response to a proposed tree-cutting bylaw. The discussion led to wide-spread clearing of trees in Chatham-Kent, sparking an ongoing rift between rural property owners and those opposed to clearing forests within the municipality.

The now defunct temporary tree cutting bylaw was approved in April 2021, but had no end date.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Chatham Voice