CONSERVATION: Group says organization should be disbanded
Calling it a wasteful level of bureaucracy, the mayor of Essa Township says the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority (ORCA) needs to be dismantled.
Mayor David Guergis spoke to the Peterborough County Landowners Association at their annual general meeting at Kenner Collegiate on Saturday.
Right now in Ontario, he said, there are three levels of bureaucracy overseeing environmental conservation -- the regional government, the municipal government and the conservation authority.
"It's very costly to have three levels of government," he said. "I propose that we streamline the process. We should use the funds we save to put back into the environment.
"Let's get out and start fixing and repairing our environment. Let's clean the waters. Let's plant trees."
Once dissolved, Guergis said, the province's conservation authorities should be re-formed into an "environmental repair" organization instead.
The "planning side" of the work done by conservation authorities needs to be shifted to a higher tier of government, he said.
"We pay for flood forecasting and flood warning, but I want to hear flood prevention," he said. "I want to hear that my money is being spent to fix the environment."
ORCA should be out planting trees, cleaning the riverbanks and protecting the waters for fish populations, he said.
"But that's only a very small part of what they do," Guergis said.
Any money saved by eliminating one level of bureaucracy should be reinvested into environmental repair, he said.
"This is not about reducing taxes," he said. "This is about better use of the taxpayer's dollar."
Guergis said he's getting great response from other provincial communities.
"I'm calling on all mayors, deputy mayors and councillors to take a look at this," he said. "Let's review it. Can we provide the services better? Could we use the financial resources in a better way by going out and fixing the environment?
"At the end of the day, this is what we need in Ontario to fix the problems of the past."
Garry Otten, spokesman for the Peterborough County Landowners Association, said the landowners completely support dismantling ORCA.
"Are we really getting environmental protection? No. The people are being fed an environmental illusion," Otten said. "(ORCA) is a rden on the taxpayer."
Otten said Guergis' proposal to form an environmental repair organization in place of conservation authorities needs to be looked at closer.
"We'd have to look at what the burden of expense would be on the municipal government and municipal taxpayers," he said. "Also, how encroaching will it be on private property rights?"
"If they're prepared to work with the people instead of dictating to the people, I don't know a landowner out there who isn't willing to accept and open his arms to some environmental morality. We all have to work together on this."
ORCA chairman Terry Low, also deputy Reeve of Asphodel-Norwood, could not be reached for comment by The Examiner on Saturday.
On March 25, Asphodel-Norwood Township council called for ORCA to be shut down, with Reeve Doug Pearcy citing rising costs as his primary concern.
Peterborough County Landowners Association told township council that ORCA's municipal funding increased to $894,710 this year from $448,560 in 2003.
The member municipalities of the conservation authority are the City of Peterborough, Asphodel-Norwood, Cavan Monaghan, Douro-Dummer, Otonabee- South Monaghan, Smith-Ennismore- Lakefield, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Trent Hills.
Conservation authorities provide watershed management services, enforce floodplain regulations and help educate the public about environmental issues.
Susan Antler, a resident of the hamlet of Utopia in Essa Township, who called The Examiner upon hearing of Guergis's campaign, said her community is very happy with the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority.
"They serve a very valuable role in our community," she said.
"And it comes as a great shock that our mayor is moving this issue forward beyond our community when his proposal has no support here."
Antler, an environmental activist in Essa Township, said there's no need to dismantle Ontario's conservation authorities.
"Conservation authorities do protect the environment, educate the community, clean and protect the waters. That is their mandate," she said. "Quite honestly, I think they're doing a fabulous job.
"Why would you want to reinvent the wheel when most of us don't think it's broke? Things can certainly be improved. It makes more sense to work within the existing infrastructure."
Posted By ANDREA HOUSTON EXAMINER STAFF WRITER
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