In Farmers Forum: November 18, 2019
Though the province provides online mapping of wetlands (many conservation authorities offer their own maps on their websites as well), it’s not exactly an easy tool to use if you’ve never used it before.
Here’s the simplest way to make it work for you. Go to this URL: www.ontario.ca/page/make-natural-heritage-area-map.
Click on make a natural heritage map.
Once the page has loaded and you’ve accepted the disclaimer, click on Map Layers, then click on Select Map Layers, then click Wetland. You can then click on Find Information, click Search By Location, and choose a type of location to search by.
But if the CA considers it a wetland, then it’s a wetland, and the penalties for damaging one can be severe. Fine can be as much as $10,000 a day, with the possibility of up to three months in jail.
Landowners are ultimately responsible for knowing the designation on their property, said Bednarczuk. The ministry offers maps (go to www.ontario.ca/page/make-natural-heritage-area-map) and many CAs offer their own maps for viewing. Landowners can also contact their local CA to find out what types of wetlands they regulate and if a particular area is, or is not, a wetland.
Once your land is designated a wetland, you need a permit from the CA to do any of the following things on it: Building, re-building or placing down a pre-fabricated structure; changing a building in a way that would change its use, making it larger, or adding more rooms for people; site grading; and dumping or removing material from the area. If that wasn’t broad enough, the Conservation Act also forbids anyone from interfering “in any way” with a wetland.
CAs can authorize development around wetlands. South Nation Conservation charges $2,470 for a permit for a project larger than five acres near a wetland, which doubles if the permit application is made after the work starts. An environmental impact study for a same-sized project near a wetland costs $2,710 and takes 20 business days.
A landowner trying to go ahead without a permit is taking a big risk. In the modern era of ubiquitous smartphones, the odds of a landowner making any kind of significant change on his property and nobody noticing is pretty remote, said the OFA’s Jeffery.
Landowners who try to get away without a permit could end up paying twice with nothing to show for it, because CAs have the authority to order remediation of wetlands, at landowner expense. “Having that (permit) in hand is your ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card,” Jeffery said.
Former Ontario Landowners Association president Tom Black said he’d never heard of a CA reversing a designation after a site visit, but has heard of a landowner who called the MNRF and they reversed the CA’s wetland designation.
Last month, the OFA called on the province to increase protections for landowners. Specifically, the OFA is calling for on-ground verification — they call it ground-truthing — of all wetland locations and boundaries because “all too often they are mapped solely through air photos.” The farmers’ federation also wants all municipalities to formally notify property owners in writing (with an outline of their appeal options) if a wetland has been identified on their property at the time it has been identified; and property owners must have access to a no-cost appeal mechanism if they disagree about the area being a wetland.
Meantime, the ministry and conservation authorities can change the designation of your land and not tell you.