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WIN! Developer drops ‘biodiversity offsetting’ proposal

The Council of Canadians South Niagara chapter and allies protest the biodiversity offsetting plan in front of Niagara Falls City Hall, April 12, 2016.

The Council of Canadians South Niagara chapter has been opposing the loss of provincially significant wetlands in their community and protesting against a concept called biodiversity offsetting.

The concern has been that Niagara regional council would permit 13 acres of provincially-significant wetland in the city of Niagara Falls to be destroyed to accommodate a $1 billion “Paradise” development project, which includes a hotel, entertainment facilities, apartment housing, and a private school.

In a media release, the chapter stated, “The Regional Council wants to push approval for this $1 billion project without considering the long-term effects ‘biodiversity offsetting’ has on both the environment and Niagara’s local economy. Biodiversity offsetting involves destroying one wetland and attempting to reproduce it in a different area. We, the community members of the Niagara region, know that the precious concentration of biodiversity located in the wetlands cannot be replaced.”

The chapter organized protests against this plan on April 7, April 12 and April 28.

Now, Niagara This Week reports, “Developers behind the $1-billion Paradise development have backed away from the controversial idea of biodiversity offsetting, previously proposed for 13 acres of provincially significant wetlands. The change was first announced during a city council meeting on April 26, when councillors were considering the Thundering Waters Secondary Plan, which includes the site of the Paradise development being put forward by GR Investment Group. Niagara Falls’ director of planning Alex Herlovitch noted the plan ‘does not include any element of biodiversity offsetting’.”

While this is great news, there is still a potential future threat to the wetlands.

The article adds, “Currently, the concept [of biodiversity offsetting] is not approved under the provincial policy statement. However, the province is set to review and update that policy statement and biodiversity offsetting … could be included in the future. Should that be the case, Herlovitch said the developers aren’t precluded from coming back in the future to make changes in the planning documents. Speaking through an interpreter, Helen Chang, board chair for GR Investments [which is leading the development plan], said they would only develop lands they were allowed to.”

On April 28, Niagara regional council decided to defer the issue indefinitely until Niagara Falls city council or the provincial government asks them to consider it again.

The concern here is that Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne was on a trade mission in China when the “Paradise” development was announced in November 2015. At that time, the premier stated the development would “be the first real-estate investment outside of China for CITIC [formerly known as the China International Trust and Investment Corporation], which represents a great vision for the future of Ontario.” That same year, the provincial government also released a discussion paper which introduced the potential policy direction of biodiversity offsetting.

While the chapter celebrates this win at the local level, it recognizes the need to expand this campaign now at the provincial level.