Region staff unsure if Greenbelt expansion here is a good idea

·3 min read

WATERLOO REGION — Last week the provincial government announced a possible expansion of the Greenbelt to include a portion of Waterloo Region and Wellington County among other places.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is inviting comments on a proposal to expand the Greenbelt to include the Paris Galt Moraine, a ridge of gravel and geological debris left behind by the movement of glaciers. The proposed study area of this geological feature runs southwest from the town of Erin to Brantford and filters and replenishes surface and groundwater sources.

Waterloo Region, which depends mainly on groundwater for its drinking supply, has been here before.

The last time a provincial government proposed expanding the Greenbelt into Waterloo Region was in 2017. The then Liberal government proposed a large expansion of the Greenbelt to include an outer ring that stretched north of Barrie and south, enveloping most of Waterloo Region.

As with the last Greenbelt expansion proposal, region staff are unsure about the suitability of an expanded Greenbelt here.

“There is a really, really long-standing tradition about protecting our natural heritage resources and agricultural resources,” said Michelle Sergi, director of community planning for the region.

A portion of the province’s study area runs through the eastern sections of Waterloo Region and Wellington County from Rockwood down to Aberfoyle and toward Glen Morris.

Region staff are reviewing available information about the province’s proposal and plan to submit a comment, said Sergi.

She referenced the 2018 recommendation from regional staff about the last Greenbelt expansion proposal.

“We had actually indicated that we were opposed to it,” she said. “We were specifically concerned that the Greenbelt plan could impose a lower level of protection from what we currently have here in the region.”

The staff report indicates the region’s own policies in its Regional Official Plan were stronger particularly around aggregate removal and groundwater protection. As well, staff noted the Greenbelt plan did not appear to include the most up-to-date mapping and technical information that the region had provided when previously consulted on a possible expansion of the Greenbelt.

At the time, regional staff recommended that council oppose the extension of the Greenbelt into Waterloo Region unless the Greenbelt Plan was revised to meet the following criteria, among other requests:

Encourage municipalities to protect natural heritage and groundwater beyond the minimum requirements set by the Greenbelt.

Include language that ensures the highest level of protection between municipal and provincial policies in any circumstance.

Include policies that address groundwater specifically as it relates to municipal drinking water supply.

Allow municipalities to maintain policy stronger than the province’s regarding aggregate removal especially when it comes to below water table extraction near drinking water supply.

Regional staff are still reviewing the information available about the current Greenbelt expansion proposal and will be submitting comments, said Sergi.

How the province will negotiate with municipalities about the expansion in the case of disagreement or tension is also uncertain, she said.

“The Greenbelt Plan is a good planning document, and I’m not trying to say any different. It’s just that the polices of the Regional Official Plan are stronger.”

Sergi said that the fact the province has gone on record to indicate urban boundary expansion will not be allowed in the Greenbelt is a possible benefit from a community planning standpoint.

Public input on this proposal will be accepted until April 19 on the Environmental Registry of Ontario or emailed to greenbeltconsultation@ontario.ca.

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record