Changes to law good news for watersheds says Conservation Sudbury

Conservation Authorities in Ontario will soon have a little more power to bring people who damage wetlands and floodplains to court.

With amendments to Conservation Act, local authorities gain more power for enforcement

Conservation Sudbury is one of the province's 36 conservation authorities that maintain and manage wetlands and floodplains. (www.nickeldistrict.ca)

Conservation Authorities in Ontario will soon have a bit more power to bring people who threaten wetlands and floodplains to court.

One of the strongest amendments under Bill 139, which received royal assent this month, gives the province's 36 stewards the authority to issue stop work orders if a person or business is found in contravention of the Conservation Act.

Carl Jorgensen, general manager of Conservation Sudbury, which maintains and manages the region's 7,576 square kilometers of wetlands, said all the groups in Ontario were pushing the government for stronger language in the act, and stronger laws.

"Right now, if we encounter some activity on land or water contrary to regulations we could ask the person to stop, but we couldn't direct them to stop," Jorgensen said.

The Conservation Authority could issue a violation notice and send the proper papers to court, but the entire process is time consuming, he said.

"A lot of damage can happen to a floodplain or wetland or a stream in that time where things are going back and forth between legal teams and in the courts."

"[The amendments to the act] allow us to actually serve the person with papers that commands them to stop."

Carl Jorgensen with Conservation Sudbury says amendments made to the Conservation Act will give his group a bit more power in dealing with people or businesses who threaten the watershed. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Jorgensen said one of the most common complaints was people adding fill to their properties without proper permits.

"Adding fill to a wetland over a short amount of time or over the course of years removes the capacity of that wetland to act as it should."

"And sometimes we encounter a landowner straightening a water course or changing the flow pattern of a stream that might run across their land, and that can be problematic."

The maximum fines also increase for offences. In an explanatory note about the bill, the province said: "Offences for contraventions of the Act, the regulations, permit conditions and stop orders...are increased from $10,000 to $50,000 in the case of an individual and to $1,000,000 in the case of a corporation."

It goes on to say that an additional fine of $10,000 a day for individuals, and $200,000 a day for corporations may be imposed for each day the offence continues after the conviction.

With files from Casey Stranges

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