Natural Heritage System is about big players, not landowners

by Gretta Bradley

I think there is one thing on which we can all agree: the rules and regulations around making changes to your property can be annoyingly tiresome.


But with or without the Natural Heritage System, nothing changes.  All those rules about the septic system, the retaining wall, the balcony or the house you would like to build on your property do not change. The rules will still apply. The Natural Heritage System is not about the landowner or the farmer or the rural property owner or the woodlot owner or even urban property owners.

It’s about the big players — the developers, construction companies, or big public institutions like the government. Organizations with very deep pockets.

How does a municipality make good decisions about the appropriateness of a large-scale development on a particular piece of property? They need the data provided by an Environmental Impact Study.

You can still sell your property for a large sum of money to one of these corporations. You can take that big cheque and live out your days in the sunshine if you wish. You will not need to spend a single red cent on an environmental assessment. You are not changing the use of your property. They are. They will need to do an Environmental Impact Study.

If you live upwind, or downwind, or downhill, or downstream, or up the road, or down the road from one of these facilities, it is going to have a major impact on the environment and on your quality of life.  The kind of facility I am talking about is an asphalt plant, cement plant, a quarry, a garbage dump, a wind farm or a large solar facility. The kind of development that runs into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Without the kind of information an environmental impact study provides, our government cannot protect us from unforeseen consequences. Rural properties are particularly vulnerable to these types of developments. Lower land costs and isolated locations make them prime targets for the kind of projects that companies would like to hide away.

The Fire Research Facility on the 8th Line near Carleton Place is a cautionary tale. The chemicals being tested there found their way into the groundwater and now the adjacent landowner’s wells have been contaminated. They were required to drink bottled water. Maybe they still are. Landowners have been left to wonder about the impact of those chemicals on themselves and their children. They may wonder about the impact that this facility will have on their ability to sell their land and raise the required money for their retirement. Perhaps if a rigorous hydrology study had been done as part of a larger Environmental Impact Study, that property would have been deemed unsuitable for this type of development or at the very least provided the information that could have led to an engineering solution.

The Natural Heritage System identifies and puts on a map all of our natural features. Mississippi Mills and Lanark are blessed with large tracts of land that still function as an ecosystem. The forests, wetlands, rivers. etc. in large parts of Mississippi Mills and Lanark work together to perform all those services on which we rely for healthy air, land and water.  Wetlands store water during times of drought and filter out runoff from agriculture, preventing those large algae blooms and contamination of our drinking water. Our forests prevent erosion protecting our water table and filter our air – just to touch the tip of the iceberg. The purpose of the map is to assist those agencies making decisions about large-scale development about the suitability of a location for a particular kind of project.

The map also identifies  (those red lines) wildlife linkages. These strips of land may connect areas that have become fragmented by settlement over the years. They offer an opportunity for the municipality to work with landowners to improve habitat in these areas so that there is connectivity for plants and animals from one area to another. The intention was never to force landowners to improve the plant cover in these areas, but to work with them.

As much as I wish that these large-scale developments did not have to exist, I do need what they provide. Modern life requires compromises. This map, along with others, is a planning tool that could help prevent the costly mistakes that have happened in the past. Mistakes that have affected our health, our peace of mind and the very quality of our lives.