Activists set up camp to protect Thundering Waters Forest in southern Ontario

Photo by Owen Bjorgan

The Council of Canadians South Niagara chapter supports the activists camping in the Thundering Waters Forest this week.

CBC reports, "Activists in Niagara Falls are camping this week, sharing a habitat with the blue spotted salamanders and black gum trees that they say are threatened by a proposed $1 billion-plus development called 'Paradise'. They're in the Thundering Waters Forest to protest a controversial planned housing, retail and entertainment development, backed partly by Chinese investors, on 484 acres near Marineland. The land has a mix of habitats and landscapes, including Carolinian forest, swamplands, a grassland or savannah section and 95 hectares of provincially significant wetlands."

The article adds, "The development still has months of reports and approvals to obtain before it can move forward, but the protestors want to send a message to politicians and bureaucrats who are currently meeting with developers. ...The developer is expected to file paperwork for an official plan amendment in the next few weeks. Niagara Falls city planners expect it will take about six months after that to bring a plan to council for a vote."

In early April 2016, the South Niagara chapter began opposing a plan by GR Investment Group to secure approval to destroy 13 acres of provincially-significant wetland to accommodate a $1 billion 'Paradise' development project, which includes a hotel, entertainment facilities, apartment housing, and a private school. GR had argued that this loss of wetland could be 'offset' by reproducing it in another area. By late April, after several community protests, the developers backed away from the idea of 'biodiversity offsetting'. But the Thundering Waters Forest is still slated for destruction.

Oneida Nation member Karl Dockstader has written, "GR (Can) Investment Co. is still intending to destroy 200+ acres of Carolinian forest, protective thickets, and other delicate spaces adjacent to 200+ acres of protected Wetlands and no government entity or authority has expressed any opposition to or advocated for protection of this proposed destruction. ...The size of the Thundering Waters Forest is one of the largest remaining continuous forests in the region of Niagara and the protected parts of the slough forest wetland complex are interconnected with the unprotected parts"

Dockstader has also previously noted, "This deforestation is in conflict with the spirit of Treaty law and is an affront to traditional Indigenous leadership. ...None of the established Niagara leadership has sought out input from traditional Anishinaabe or Haudenosaunee leadership about this forest."

Yesterday, chapter activist Fiona McMurran noted, "The proposed Paradise/Thundering Waters development has made headlines in Niagara for the past eighteen months. It’s a fascinating and multi-layered story about the close alliance between developers and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, a Mayor who works with the premier but behind the backs of his own councillors, and the desire of the Ontario and Canadian governments for Chinese investment. At stake is the last continuous Carolinian forest/swamp wetland complex in this part of Ontario…versus big development."

McMurran adds, "The complicating factor seems to be the fact that 'somebody told Chinese state-owned enterprise GR (CAN) Group that little details like provincial environmental legislation could be easily shoved aside in the interest of big international investment. The scientists at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests didn’t agree. So now everything’s on hold until…what? A new more developer-friendly provincial government? A lawsuit under the Canada-China FIPA? Or is it possible that Owen Bjorgan and his friends [who are camping in the forest this week] can draw enough public attention to the issue to make two upper levels of government agree to a plan to preserve the Thundering Waters slough/forest wetland in perpetuity? After all, Canada is far from meeting its goals for the Decade of Biodiversity."