Part of Windsor wetland now potentially open to development

While the mayor thanks the province for removing the designation, which opens the land to potential development, some Windsorites are angry.

Mayor Drew Dilkens thanks ministry officials and the premier for removing provincially significant designation

Parts of the South Cameron woodlot will no longer have a provincially significant wetland designation after review by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. (Google Maps)

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has retracted a provincially significant wetland (PSW) designation for around 20 hectares (50 acres) of the South Cameron woodlot.

Previously, the designation would have meant that no residential development could take place, Mayor Drew Dilkens wrote on Facebook.

Dilkens thanked the premier and ministers for "taking this issue seriously," and explained that the designation had been made "unilaterally" by "a bureaucrat."

"This decision was made at a desk in Aylmer, Ontario without any provincial staff ever coming to Windsor to understand the impact of what they were doing," he wrote.

According to Tim Byrne, director of watershed management services at the Essex Region Conservation Authority, this doesn't mean developers can bulldoze the area tomorrow.

The PSW designation was first made by interpreting aerial photos, Byrne said. The conservation authority had been working with the ministry for months reviewing those designations, which involved ministry staff visiting the woodlot to study it.

"I and others here have firmly believed we need to maintain natural heritage and natural heritage values throughout this region," he said.

"But you also have to be careful that you don't inappropriately label something that it's not, because then you cheapen that process."

The image Dilkens shared on Facebook shows almost the entirety of South Cameron woodlot as being designated a PSW in Jan. 31, 2019, compared to Feb. 28, 2019 when the designation was removed from part of the green space. (Mayor Drew Dilkens/Facebook)

Even though parts of it are no longer provincially significant, Byrne said it may be found locally significant, or perhaps there may be discoveries of rare species that could protect the space from development.

Anybody who desires to develop the area still needs to jump through the regular hoops, including an environmental assessment of what the impact would be if it were developed, he said.

Disappearing wetlands

Some Windsorites are reacting strongly to the mayor's comments.

Shawn Moir commented on Dilkens' Facebook post saying he has never heard of a worse decision for the city.

"The amount of wildlife alone in this area is reason to keep it," said Moir.

Sarah Mushtaq, who tweeted she's a resident close to the woodlot, points to the neighbourhood having flooded twice in recent years.

"We should focus on existing brown fields and re-develop existing neighbourhoods," said Mushtaq.

She pointed to a report about disappearing forests and wetlands in southern Ontario by the Environment Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe.

At the time of the report's release, Saxe had said Essex County has "the lowest rate of wetlands and woodlands in Ontario — only three per cent of trees, and only about 1.5 per cent of wetlands."

As for what's necessary for a healthy ecosystem and reasonable flood resilience, Saxe also said at the time, "30 per cent woods and 10 per cent wetlands," were necessary, at minimum.

In the city's Environmental Master Plan, it says a way to protect, enhance and expand the quality and condition of natural areas and wetlands — including the South Cameron woodlot — is to develop a management plan and to have buffer zones. 

It also says protecting wetlands, which naturally provide flood control, is a way to improve stormwater management to reduce flooding risk for residents.

CBC News has reached out to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for more clarification on the designation review process. A spokesperson said in an email that a response will be coming.

CBC News has also reached out to the mayor's office for comment but has yet to hear back.


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