Maitland Conservation board returns to admin building, introduces new staff members

WROXETER – Maitland Conservation (MC) board members returned to the administration building in Wroxeter for the first time since moving to the Wroxeter Community Hall in 2020 due to the social-distancing mandate during the pandemic.

In attendance were three of the newest employees who joined MC recently or during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Alaina Lennox is a new administrative assistant originally from Alberta, she told board members during her introduction speech.

Lennox said she initially worked in Alberta’s environment and forestry industry before moving to Ontario.

“I actually have an environmental and forestry background. I’m a forest technologist from out there. I worked for the government for a few years and did logging, planting, fire and tree health,” she said.

With her bookkeeping skills and administrative experience gained while working for Beef Farmers Ontario in their co-op program, Lennox feels she has the right stuff to fit right in at the conservation authority.

“I feel it’s very important to me to be working together as a team,” said Lennox, “to help our environment out especially with the farmers and all the different hands that go into making sure that we have a healthy watershed.”

Sarah Gunneweik began working as a watershed monitoring assistant at MC in June 2020. Now, she is the water resources engineer with the flood forecasting department.

“I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s of Engineering at the University of Guelph, and currently about halfway done my PhD in water resources engineering as well,” Gunneweik said.

Laura Hopkins began working at MC in September as a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist. She is currently helping to update the natural heritage mapping.

“I’m doing that with 2020 imagery,” she said, “and then I get to compare and see the amount of forest loss that’s happened since the last time we did this data in 2015.”

Hopkins described her background in the industry, which saw her work on hydrologic modeling projects at the University of Guelph, obtaining a Bachelor’s in bioresource management and a Master of Science and Geography.

“For my master’s thesis, I evaluated the cost effectiveness of wetland restoration scenarios that involve some hydrologic modeling as well as economic modeling and lots of GIS analysis as well.”

Hopkins loves working at MC, she said, “because I get to work on a variety of really interesting projects, such as floodplain mapping, bird surveys, mapping, analyzing riparian buffers with GIS, and creating trail maps, just to name a few of the cool projects I get to work on.”

Some other new staff members could not attend the meeting to be introduced and will get together with the board members later.

Board members were also updated on several ongoing items during their Oct. 19 regular meeting.

Meeting with Perth-Wellington MPP Matthew Rae

They discussed the Conservation Authority Partnership with the provincial government and the need for better support from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to help with the aging infrastructure, noting that all of their 27-year-old infrastructures were built with a provincial investment. However, there was limited support from MNRF to help maintain, replace or decommission any of it.

The report, prepared by Board Chair Matt Duncan, Vice-chair Ed McGugan, and General Manager/Secretary-Treasurer Phil Beard, told Rae that MC had just returned to the same level of staffing they had in 1995.

Other items of business discussed with Rae included the proposed addition of an agricultural representative to MC.

“We explained that MC already has members who have agricultural experience and expertise,” the report said. “The funding that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has included in its budget for paying agricultural representatives would be better spent by increasing transfer payments to conservation authority programming.

“Mr. Rae indicated that he did not see the need for an agricultural representative on MVCA’s members. He promised to take this matter up with the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and advise us of his response.”

The report indicated that Rae expressed his support for similar collaboratives to the Healthy Lake Huron initiative, which provides a forum for all levels of government to work together to improve water quality and the health of the watersheds that drain into Lake Huron.

“We encouraged Mr. Rae to talk to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to ask both ministers to consider establishing similar collaboratives for the other Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.”

2023-2025 Draft Work Plan

The MC board received the draft three-year work plan to outline the significant activities and authority-funded projects that need to be undertaken.

According to the report, MC reviews and updates the three-year work plan and financial forecast annually. In addition, the three-year work plan has been updated to incorporate the regulatory requirements outlined in Phase 1 and Phase 2 Regulations.

The work plan focuses on the following objectives:

to help member municipalities reduce the potential for loss of life, property damage, and social disruption in flood and erosion-prone areas;

to help member municipalities and landowners develop and implement soil and water conservation systems that will help keep soil and nutrients on the land and out of watercourses and Lake Huron;

ensure that management of conservation areas sets high standards of conservation practices and are safe for the public to use; and develop a stable financial base for the MC to help our member municipalities to develop a healthy, resilient, and prosperous watershed.

MC’s three-year work plan has been updated for each of MC’s five service areas.

Drinking Water Source Protection has been included in the work plan as a separate service area.

It will become a mandatory service starting in 2024.

“We continue to look forward and base our work plan on being proactive and finding solutions, testing them and refining,” Beard said. “Since 2010, we’ve had the following vision statement, working for a healthy environment.

“Our mission is to provide leadership to protect water, forests, and soil, those are the main resources that we are focused on in the watershed.”

Department heads updated the board members with specifics, and board members approved the draft work plan for “planning purposes.” Public consultation meetings will be announced when they happen. The full report can be seen at https://www.mvca.on.ca/.

Draft Fees Policy

The draft fee policy is posted on MC’s website for review and comment by the public. The members will review any comments received at the Nov. 16 meeting.

“The draft fees policy has been developed based upon guidance provided by Conservation Ontario,” the report said. “Staff has included the 2022 user fees in the appendix of the draft policy. The 2022 fees will be reviewed, and any proposed changes will be presented to the members at the Nov. 16 meeting.”

The full report can be seen at https://www.mvca.on.ca/.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times