North Bay city council asks province to ease environmental restrictions on development
Some citizens fear new casino will be built over habitat for threatened Blanding's turtles
North Bay city council is asking the province to loosen environmental laws it believes is keeping the city from growing.
Council voted Tuesday night to ask the Ontario government to make the urban area of North Bay exempt from the Endangered Species Act.
It also voted to request that provincially significant wetlands be opened up to development, as long as it can be shown that there would be no environmental impact.
North Bay city councillor Mac Bain, who tabled the two motions, said if the province grants the requests, council would still have the authority to review projects and stop development if there were local environmental concerns.
"That's going to come back to the council and the council will make the determination what happens," Bain said.
"It's not going to be automatically a parking lot everywhere in northern Ontario."
He said that endangered species laws have had a "negative impact" on development in North Bay with costly studies and bureaucratic delays prompting entrepreneurs to walk away.
On the wetlands, Bain pointed to an industrial park off Booth Road in North Bay that was built and serviced using city taxdollars, but has sat empty ever since nearby marshes were provincially designated.
"We talk about growth, but I think what this council is trying to do is responsible growth and it's not just saying just point blank that we're going to rip through everything and kill every hog-nosed snake and Blanding's turtle that we see," said councillor Tanya Vrebosch.
Both motions passed by a vote of 8-2.
Mark King voted no to both and then tabled a motion of reconsideration, meaning city council will consider these issues again at its next meeting.
"I almost feel like this council has gone from zero to 100 in a second," he told council Tuesday night.
North Bay city councillor Chris Mayne voted in favour of the endangered species exemption, but voted against allowing more wetland development.
He said he feared for the marsh areas in the south end of the city, near where a new casino is to be built, and that he would prefer if North Bay grew to the north towards the airport.
The casino came up at the start of Tuesday's council meeting as well, with a presentation from Greg Gray, expressing concern that the Pinewood Park Drive property where the casino complex is to be built is home to the threatened Blanding's turtle for centuries.
"I think the turtle has paid his taxes. Please stay off his habitat," Gray told council.
He was followed at the microphone by environmental activist Yan Roberts, who called the proposal to loosen environmental regulations "shocking" and "shameful."
"Attempting to bypass the endangered species legislation so that some can bulldoze critical habitat is as crass as a civilization can get," Roberts told council.