Editorial: OMB Hearing Delays GPO e-Newsletter – Sort Of

 

May 18, 2006

 

By Bruce Rhodes, Editor

 

It has been three months since you received a GPO e-Newsletter. If there is to be blame laid at anyone’s feet for this, such feet belong to me. Since the last issue in February, I have been occupied by two big activities, each of which being both fascinating and a little depressing all at once.

 

First, my family spent two weeks in March travelling from Los Angeles to Grand Canyon to Phoenix. I admit it: we drove; mind you, it wasn’t worth checking out Amtrak for a rail alternative.

 

On the positive side, the rural scenery was spectacular. We enjoyed the rugged beauty of the Navajo Nation lands in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

 

However, the cities, and the highways that join them, were often stressful places to be. Los Angeles was usually a traffic-choked snarl. One local said he often allows 90 minutes for a 12 mile journey.

 

We drove at 60 mph to Grand Canyon (I’d have preferred 55); most drivers passed us, often with big mileage-crushing trailers in tow. So much for the credibility of those who gripe that gasoline is too costly.

 

We arrived in water-deprived Phoenix on the first day of rain after a 143-day drought. I did not observe any homes or buildings with rain barrels. However, it is apparent that per capita ownership of swimming pools is among the highest of any city in the world.

 

It was timely that I recently read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by UCLA professor Jared Diamond. This LA resident devotes a chapter to the lost society of Anasazi First Nations peoples in the parts of Arizona we visited, and another chapter to the current sorry state, from ecological and lifestyle perspectives, of his home city.

 

The second and bigger reason for my delay in issuing this e-newsletter is that I have spent most weekdays since February attending the OMB hearing in Richmond Hill whose purpose is to rule on the fate of the environmentally sensitive area known as the North Leslie Lands. The land, which is just south of the Oak Ridges Moraine, and includes natural heritage features protected by the Greenbelt Plan, is a little larger than two square concessions in area, and is the last big greenfield in our town.

 

A huge aquifer flows under much of this land. In some cases, the safe excavation depth is just one or two metres. There are three major tributaries of the Rouge River in this area, along with a couple of minor tributaries.

 

Developers want to construct 7,800 homes on North Leslie. The Town and the Region of York want the eastern third of the land to instead be allocated to employment lands such as warehouses and distribution centres. NGO Save the Rouge Valley System (SRVS) wants no development at all.

 

The lawyer for SRVS, working usually pro bono, was on hand for the environmental phase of the hearing. Phase 2, for land use and planning, on break until June 5, has featured lawyers for the Town and Region on the one hand, and for the developers and landowners on the other hand, bringing forward their own expert witnesses to support their respective interests.

 

This is the first OMB hearing that I have observed. It has been fascinating to learn about both the generic hearing process (direct examination of witnesses, followed by cross-examination by the opposing lawyers, followed by reply questioning) as well as the specific content pertaining to the lands in question. For me it has been akin to attending a free university course with curriculum covering biology, ecology, hydrology, hydrogeology, engineering, demography, planning, and economics.

 

The hearing process has almost always been civil between the parties, and understandable to me. All sides use intelligent, hard-working people to promote their case. I have nodded off only a couple of times. More often, there is tension in the room that gives the hearing the feel of a soap opera. I’ve taken lots of notes, and I do plan to go over them. Some have said, “You could write a book about all this”. Interesting idea… I may just do that.

 

If an OMB hearing comes to your part of Ontario, try to attend, even once, for an hour.

 

The depressing aspect, for me, of this hearing is that the ability of SRVS to cover the considerable legal fees for a full and proper presentation of its case is almost nothing compared to the other parties. Perhaps this is why some call for OMB reform.

 

I bet we’re about to have 7,800 new families in town. The question is, how many of their homes will get basements?

 

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Copyright © 2006 Bruce Rhodes. All rights reserved.