OMB Decision Saves Blanding’s Turtle Habitat on Stoney Lake

Two Provincially Significant Wetlands and 6.2 km Undeveloped Shoreline Protected

Peterborough—The last significant undeveloped shoreline in the Kawarthas has been saved from a 58-unit housing development on Stoney Lake, immediately adjacent to Burleigh Falls.

The Vancouver-based developer Burleigh Bay Corporation (“BBC”) had planned to build the community, plus 72-slip marina, fitness facility, clubhouse, guest cottages, swimming pool, parking lots and internal roadway system in two provincially significant wetlands (“PSWs”), containing the habitat of the “Threatened” Blanding’s turtle and muskellunge.

“We’re elated. This gives the Kawarthas a breathtaking opportunity to preserve an extraordinary natural setting that can’t be replaced,” said Heather Brooks-Hill, a third-generation Stoney Lake resident and Director of the Friends of Fraser Wetlands (“FFW”).

The Board cited the location of the development in and around the PSWs as one of the most “compelling” reasons for denying approval. The Decision endorses the testimony of FFW expert Mr. Gord Miller, former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, who testified that wetland complexes must be afforded a higher degree of protection and cannot be isolated. The Board held, “As Mr. Miller stated, ‘the stakes are high’ given the significance of endangered species, a complex ecological system of entwined elements and functions and highly sensitive wetlands” on the site.
The site is believed to contain over 450 different species, a number of which are endangered or threatened. The Board also accepted FFW’s expert Mr. D. Janus’ opinion that 95% of the site is habitat for the Blanding’s turtle, a threatened species.

The developer’s expert, “without basis upon any ecological or scientific fact, arbitrarily ‘guesstimated’ wildlife movements,” and critically failed to mitigate negative impacts.

“Our Elders asked us to save this wilderness and all the species in it, to respect the ancestors and the land they frequented many years ago. These historic reminders were told at Council and at the hearing, and evidence is still in abundance all along the north shore of Stoney Lake,” said Chief Phyllis Williams of Curve Lake First Nation, a party to the 19-day hearing, supported by the Alderville, Hiawatha and Scugog First Nations. The hearing took place partly on the Reserve, a first for the OMB.

The development was proposed on 273 ha (675-acres) of mostly forest and wetlands, in Peterborough County. The site is believed by local First Nations to be connected to the Lovesick Lake fishing weirs, local rock cairns and the Petroyglyphs, known as the Teaching Rocks.

Dr. Ken Howard, dubbed the “Wayne Gretzky” of hydrogeology, testified for FFW at the hearing that the aquifer is far too weak to sustain the domestic water needs of the proposed development and that water taking could interfere with local wetlands (PSWs) and wells. He estimated the aquifer’s safe yield will only service 4 residents, not the hundreds expected on peak, summer weekends. Mr. B. Parsons testified to serious concerns remaining with sewage disposal and stormwater management.

“This is a spectacular result for residents, First Nations’ rights, their relationship to the land, and the environment, on par with great place-names of Ontario environmental victories like Temagami and the Oak Ridges Moraine,” said David Donnelly, counsel to FFW and Curve Lake First Nation.

“The decision is a new roadmap for land-use protection for Provincially Significant Wetlands and Blanding’s Turtle habitat,” Donnelly added. “Given that the Township produced no environmental evidence and there is no Conservation Authority in the area, the decision vividly underscores the necessity and value of citizen group participation in protecting the planet,” Donnelly added.