Municipalities challenge ministries on deer yards, private road restrictions

MANITOULIN—Last week representatives from the Manitoulin met with representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) at the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) meeting in Mindemoya to discuss concerns from the municipalities with the draft Official Plan (OP).

“MMA has expressed concern with the loss of consents on right of ways, the designation of Lake Manitou as at capacity and deer yard designation in the draft OP,” said MMA chair Ken Noland at the beginning of the meeting, “and we have asked the MNR and MMAH here tonight to address some of our concerns.”

Wayne Selinger from the MNR began the discussion by addressing the MMA’s concern with deer yard designations in the new OP.

“Deer are a significant economic driver on Manitoulin with a (deer) population that fluctuates between 12,000 to 20,000,” said Mr. Selinger. “The overall (deer) yarding area on Manitoulin is 82,588 hectares, with a core yarding area of 55,613 hectares. After the (Manitoulin Planning) board expressed concern with the designation we brought it (the yarding area) for the OP down to 36,636 hectares—that’s 44 percent from where we started. We’re doing our best to balance everyone’s needs and still maintain critical conifer coverage (cedar).”

Mr. Selinger stressed that the MNR wasn’t advocating for no development, but rather trying to work with landowners to sustain a healthy deer population.

“Some disturbance in yarding areas will benefit deer, however large scale loss of conifer cover will jeopardize the health of the Manitoulin deer population over time,” he added.

Tehkummah Reeve Gary Brown expressed concern over the yarding area identified in the draft OP, as it included most of Tehkummah.

“This is a major concern for my township as we would like to see development, which is going to be hard since the whole township is identified as a deer yard,” Reeve Brown said to the MNR. “You painted my town green, so to speak.”

Mr. Seligner explained to Reeve Brown that the MNR doesn’t want to stop development and that the major issues of concern would be large-scale development such as condos.

“I don’t want to see 100 environmental impact studies across my desk,” said Mr. Seligner. “We are working on wording the OP to weed out significant projects.”

Planning board secretary-treasurer Elva Carter explained that when any planning application comes to the board, it is screened for all things that it could affect in terms of the environment and natural resources.

“We are not worried about 100 acre lots being divided into two 50 acre lots, but more like 1,000 acre lots,” added Mr. Selinger.

“It needs to be clearly written into the policy what will trigger a (environmental) study to be required (as part of a planning application),” stated Mr. Noland.

The conversation prompted Billings Mayor Aus Hunt to question the MNR’s recent decision to not declare an emergency feeding program for Manitoulin deer due to extreme winter weather.

“There is new science coming out about deer feeding and risks,” explained Mr. Selinger, “such as the easiest way to spread disease is through feeding. As well, the deer population is never going to stop fluctuating.”

The second part of the MNR’s presentation was on Lake Manitou, with both the MNR and MMAH representative, Charlsey White, stressing that the lake would be designated as at capacity in the new OP to ensure the lake trout population is viable.

“Only one percent of the province’s lakes contain lake trout and we are responsible for 25 percent of the world’s lake trout population in general,” explained Mr. Selinger. “Lake trout need cold, clear, well oxygenated lakes and with Lake Manitou being the fourth largest in Northeastern Ontario it is quite significant.”

Mr. Selinger said that dissolved oxygen levels are impacted by shoreline development through phosphorus loading which stimulates algal growth causing subsequent oxygen decline.

He added that data taken over four years by the Ministry of Environment showed mean volume weighted hypolimnetic dissolved oxygen (MVWHDO) levels below the 7 mg/L provincial criterion for lake trout, explaining that the average for the lake’s eastern basin was 6.5 mg/L, while that for the western basin was 2.6 mg/L.

Mr. Seligner ended his presentation by stressing that best management actions could help improve the lake but that “development controls in the OP need to start now.”

Mike Meeker of Meeker’s Aquaculture rebutted the MNR’s justification for closing the lake to development, stating that phosphorous levels fluctuate over time in all lakes, regardless of development.

Ms. White told the meeting that based on the MOE and MNR’s findings, Lake Manitou would remain designated as at capacity for development in the new OP, but that the 150 current existing lots of record on the lake would still be eligible for development.

The final issue on the docket were the restrictions identified in the draft OP for development on right of ways.

“Our current position is that we would like to see no extension of private roads and we discourage new development on these roads,” said Ms. White. “New development should be in settlement areas.”

Prompted by questions about hunting properties, Ms. White replied that if someone came forward wanting to divide a lot for a hunt camp, it could be looked at, on a limited basis.

“We don’t want them (private roads) with further development,” continued Ms. White. “It’s just not good planning.”

“In the past, 70 percent of the planning board’s applications have been on private roads,” said Mr. Noland. “We feel that this change to the OP would be a detriment to our development.”

“If you are restricting development on our biggest lake, plus we can’t have septic systems 1,000 feet from shore and no development on an easement, you’re stopping all our development,” said Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin. “We’re not going to build and maintain a municipal road for three houses.”

Ms. White said that the MMAH did not have mapping on all the existing private roads on Manitoulin, to which Ms. Carter replied that the planning board was finishing up a map to this effect.

“This is how Manitoulin has been developed, but you want to take that away from us?” Mr. Noland questioned, explaining that he understands the MMAH’s concern, but that planning on Manitoulin is not the same as everywhere else in the province.

“We don’t have the information (on private roads),” said Bridget Schulte-Hostedde of the MMAH. “We need to see what it would look like on the ground and its implications.”

The MMAH ended the discussion by stating that they would consider some flexibility in terms of development on private roads, but that municipalities would have to come back to the ministry with more information regarding locations and the number of lots.

Robin Burridge