Proposed curb on Lake Manitou development delays new Official Plan

Municipalities, planning board seek answers from MNR, MOE on alternatives to ending development

MANITOULIN—The new Official Plan (OP) for Manitoulin is on hold while the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB) waits to have questions answered concerning the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) designation of Lake Manitou ‘as at capacity for development.’

“There has been a tentative date (Wednesday, January 22) set for a meeting of the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA), the MPB and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) to discuss issues with the OP, specifically the designation of Lake Manitou as ‘at capacity’,” explained MPB secretary/treasurer Elva Carter. “We are hopeful that the MMAH will have more information for us from the MNR, but that will remain to be seen.”

The most recent draft of the OP has been sent to all MPB members and the Island’s municipalities for review, but originally the draft OP was to be approved by the MPB and sent to the MMAH for review before the New Year. Due to the issue of Lake Manitou, the process has been halted until the MPB can get answers from the MNR and/or the MMAH.

In September, the MPB sent a motion to the MNR requesting further information on why the ministry felt the lake should be considered ‘at capacity’ for development in the new OP.

“While understanding the importance of this lake, the MPB feels it is negligent to just let the lake further deteriorate and want to be informed of what actions are being taken to rectify the water quality,” states the letter to the MNR from the MPB.

The motion from the board included in the letter reads, “That the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment be requested to follow up on their findings and take appropriate measures to protect this lake other than just terminating development.”

In addition to the MPB, municipalities have independently come forward expressing that they don’t want Lake Manitou designated as at capacity without further discussion.

The council of the Township of Billings carried a resolution supporting the MPB resolution at its October 1 meeting, requesting that its resolution be forwarded to the MNR and MOE.

The Northeast Town held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue in the fall, in addition to other potential problems with the OP, stressing the economic ramifications that a “blanket designation” on Lake Manitou could have on the future of Manitoulin’s economic development.

The topic has also been widely discussed around the Assiginack Township council table, most recently regarding the difference of opinions among Lake Manitoulin Area Association (LMAA) members, prompted by a letter to council from the organization asking for support in the lake being designated at capacity and ongoing letters to the editor in The Expositor.

“There are certainly different opinions here,” said Reeve Brad Ham regarding the letter to council from the LMAA.

“I won’t speak in favour of this because I don’t believe there is enough science behind it,” said Councillor Paul Moffat, who is also the vice president of the LMAA. “The MNR hasn’t done enough work, they’re simply saying it’s ‘at risk’.”

He commended Perry Anglin for his November 27 letter to the editor in this newspaper, speaking out against the LMAA’s previous letter, which was in favour of deeming the lake ‘at risk’ and ‘at capacity’ and questioning the science behind it.

“I think there should be more studies—I’m not a scientist, but that’s my personal opinion,” the councillor added.

“The LMAA strongly supports provisions in the draft OP, especially ‘D.1.1 Sensitive or At-Capacity Lakes,’ which would help present further negative impact on Lake Manitou and urges all concerned to retain those provision in the final OP, ” states the letter from LMAA President Mike Costigan, dated November 25 and sent to the Northeast Town, Assiginack Township, Billings Township and Central Manitoulin (the municipalities which border Lake Manitou). “The MNR has designated Lake Manitou as being ‘at capacity,’ with respect to further lakeshore alternation involving multiple lot developments. It is vitally important that this be recognized and supported by incorporating the necessary development constraints in the OP.”

“It’s not just us, other municipalities are not in agreement with this,” said Northeast Town Councillor Paul Skippen in response to the letter at the December 3 council meeting.

“We have previously stated that we are against this,” added Mayor Al MacNevin, noting that they sent letters expressing their disagreement with Lake Manitou being designated as ‘at capacity’ to both the MPB and MMAH.

The Expositor spoke with the MNR last week, asking for clarification on its reasons for designating Lake Manitou as ‘at capacity.’

“The MNR considers Lake Manitou as a provincially significant lake trout lake,” responded MNR senior media relations officer Jolanta Kowalski. “To protect habitat for adult and juvenile lake trout, the MNR has adopted a dissolved oxygen standard of 7 milligrams per litre for the deepest and coldest portion of the lake where these fish live.”

“Lakeshore septic systems are a major source of phosphorus for lakes,” continued Ms. Kowalski. “Phosphorus acts as a fertilizer for plants on land and in water. Phosphorus from lakeshore septic systems travels by gravity through the soil to the lake where it causes an increase in plant life, notably the microscopic algae. The algae and other organisms die and fall to the lake bottom. As the organic matter decomposes, the deep-water oxygen needed by lake trout is used up. Too much decomposing organic matter can cause dissolved oxygen levels to go so low that the fish cannot survive or reproduce.”

Ms. Kowalski explained that the MNR and MOE have collaborated on dissolved oxygen research for Lake Manitou resulting in four years of “reliable data that has been reviewed by three expert investigators.”

“The relevant water quality data indicates a dissolved oxygen concentration below 7 milligrams per litre for the lake,” concluded Ms. Kowalski. “It is subsequently concluded that the minimum 7 milligrams per litre dissolved oxygen standard is no longer being met and that Lake Manitou is now at its maximum allowable development capacity.”

As the MPB awaits further information and clarification from the MNR and the confirmation of the meeting date to discuss the OP with the MMA and MAAH, members of the LMAA continue to debate its opinion on Lake Manitou through letters to the editor in this paper. See page 5 of this week’s Expositor for the most recent letter on this topic.

Robin Burridge