Issues and Solutions on the Bruce Peninsula
Education Close to Home
Our schools in Tobermory and Lion's Head are again threatened with closure.
The geographic nature of the Bruce Peninsula and the changing demographics of this rural area have created lower enrollment that has triggered action by the Board of Education. A study based on an economic formula supplied by the province has suggested that the Bruce Peninsula and District High School population be moved to the school in Wiarton and that the Lion's Head facility become an elementary school.
Probably nothing can effect an isolated rural community like the Bruce Peninsula more than the closure of its schools. Locally available education is critical to the life of the rural community.
The Council of course is supporting the Peninsula Action Committee for Education (PACE) in every way possible in the effort to assure that local education remains. There was unanimous support for this motion requested by PACE. Council has offered whatever support is necessary.
In the long run the Province must realize that rural schools are often in a unique situation and that rural communities need locally available education. The Northern Bruce Peninsula ratepayers pay a large amount of real estate taxes toward education which goes out of the area. The funding formula for rural schools must further change to reflect these circumstances.
The latest research demonstrates that children can not be spending long hours on a school bus. As every parent knows They need sleep and maybe more than we thought. A recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling on school districts to move start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high schools, so that students can get at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night. The travel times from Tobermory to Lion's Head and Wiarton are way too long even when traveling directly in a nice vehicle in the best of weather conditions.
Usually the Council of the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has little or no say in matters of education and in the last term of Council the local school board representative has come to address Council on one occasion. If the actions of the Board of Education in the next few weeks is determined to have a negative effect then Council should become involved in every way possible to see that local interests are protected for the long term. AMO is aware of our plight and at the latest conference offered information and support which could effect change at the upper level and prevent future threats and rural school closures.
Accessibility and Alternative Transportation
For about ten years the municipality has reported annually on the progress made to make the community accessible to a wide range of user groups. Provincial legislation has been a driving force.
At any given time a large percentage of the population of the municipality can find itself facing physical barriers due to many circumstances and all elected officials and municipal staff receive training to understand and appreciate the importance to the community of an effective program which systematically removes these barriers. This process has been an important part of the budget consideration and every year good progress is made.
In addition to the mandated requirements necessary to deal with those with a wide range of physical limitations there has been and will continue to be a demand to better accommodate pedestrian traffic and encourage the use of alternative transportation.
The municipal street-scaping study completed years ago stressed the importance of separating walkers from vehicles while making the necessary adaptations to include bicycles. Future planning and design must allow for transition from the personal automobile. These adaptations have to occur annually and in a manner that responds quickly to needs as they occur. There is now a sizable population of residents who wish to safely access the downtown amenities via streets and sidewalks on a four season basis on motorized scooters and on foot. Well designed and maintained sidewalks and street-scapes are no longer considered a luxury in our urban areas.
The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has been well served by the Ontario Provincial Police for many years. The price for this service has been reasonable considering the level of service necessary for this area. In order to reduce the cost of policing in about a third of other Ontario municipalities the Council has been informed that the cost for Northern Bruce Peninsula policing will have to increase substantially. The current cost of $700,000 could double with the new formula.
There are few options available to the Council to reduce this new radical tax burden. Some saving might be found in reduced calls for service and requests for less policing but since there is no option available to contract policing from a neighbouring municipal police department we may be faced with a very large tax increase. Increases will be spread over a five year period but even so the situation is not good.
Fire and Rescue - Emergency Services
The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula has two fully functional stations in Tobermory and Lion's Head. Responding at these stations are at least forty well trained volunteer fire-fighters who in addition to usual fire and rescue duties are trained and equipped for high angle rescue. A full time Chief is employed and a robust modern communication system is maintained. The cost of this operation is about $450,000. This is not the primary concern. The safety of these fire-fighters is paramount. The training that these individuals are willing to receive is invaluable. The equipment that is part of their job is modern but not extravagant. It is well cared for and offers an element of pride in their duty.
Land Use Planning
The Bruce County Official Plan and the Municipal Comprehensive Zoning By-law are the two documents used on the Northern Bruce Peninsula to guide all types of development and to foster a level of environmental protection. The Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act and the Niagara Escarpment Plan are applied to the designated area on the east side of the Peninsula. These documents are periodically updated via a defined public process. The update of the Municipal By-law is on hold pending new and improved mapping of natural heritage features and hazards. The Niagara Escarpment Plan is now being redrafted for a 2015 review along with the Greenbelt Plan and the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan.
When a draft of the Municipal Zoning By-law was brought to Council for an update there was some public objection to the representation of an Environmental Hazard designation along properties which are on the Lake Huron shoreline. Other property owners thought that wetland mapping was arbitrary and needed refinement. For the most part the new by-law may not have changed substantially but it was considered to be more than just a "housekeeping exercise." Even a small change could have an effect on one's development plans. It may be difficult to track the changes in a comprehensive new drafting so planners and staff should be available to assist a ratepayer in understanding the impact if any on their particular properties.
It is necessary to have a more comprehensive review of the By-law in the near future and apply better mapping along with local knowledge about the associated natural heritage systems. Lately Bruce County Council has suggested that locally significant wetlands be removed from the County Official Plan. In June the Biosphere Association launched a Community Conservation and Stewardship Plan. In the meantime there maybe other circumstances that will have and impact on future policy.
It is important that every landowner have a look at the planning documents that effect their property and that specific questions be asked of the planners and staff pertaining to detail. Those that are concerned with broader based environmental issues can learn how the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) has changed (2014) especially with regard to a systems approach to evaluation. The Federal government has a good resource when considering some of the natural heritage features. The title is "How Much Habitat Is Enough."
on the Beaches
This summer there have been two beach alerts in Lion's Head and one at Big Sandy Beach at the Black Creek Provincial Park on Lake Huron. This water testing is done by the Grey Bruce Health Unit and is a measure of bacterial levels in the water at areas of heavy recreational use.
The municipal public works department as taken measure to chase waterfowl off the beach in Lion's Head but it has not been determined if geese and ducks are the primary source of water pollution. Usually the bad samples occur after a heavy rain event or after an onshore wind when there is increased turbidity. Street runoff also might play a part along with the runoff from fields and pastures.
Old septic systems that were also poorly designed and under-performing have been blamed for contributing to water pollution. Some municipalities in Ontario have already implemented mandatory septic inspection programs absent of any provincial mandate to do so. At various property owners association meetings there have been concerns raised about properties that have obvious problems with failing systems. The issues has been somewhat ignored due to the obvious financial implication to the property owners who would be issued an order to repair or reconstruct their system.
The Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula now has a qualified person on staff responsible for septic inspections and his activity is reported monthly as a number in the building report to Council. It has been suggested that a municipal program start with an inspection of properties at the time of sale/purchase/transfer and that inspections be included for properties that are available for short term rental.
As a part of the Ontario Source Water Protection Program for the municipal water intake area for Lion's Head, grants were provided to repair or replace septic systems under the Ontario Drinking Water Stewardship Program (ODWSP). In Lion’s Head it is estimated that there were 118 properties eligible for a septic grant under the ODWSP. 29 of these properties received grants for septic upgrades, repairs or the installation of a new system. In Tobermory it was estimate that 10 projects were eligible for grants for septic projects. 2 landowners received grants in Tobermory. The total costs of these 31 projects was $348,474. Grants provided for these projects totaled $242,762. Across the entire Grey Bruce Region (including NBP) there have been 95 septic projects at a total cost of $885,404 and a total grant amount of $601,429. NBP accounted for more than 30 % of these projects. The good news is that money was received in the way of grants which covered as much as 80% of the work. The bad news is that 20%-25% of the systems needed work.
the Six Steam Project
For the last three years with funding provided by federal and provincial agencies through the cooperation of private funding and local fund raising work is underway to build alternative cattle watering systems along streams where cattle would otherwise enter the stream. The Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association has made a commitment to complete most this work with great cooperation from local farmers. These systems are up and running now at about twenty locations. Cattle seem to like them a lot and the stream banks are healing up. In addition to the work in the pastures there have been restrictions placed at the drainage outlets of the cropland to control runoff. This novel solution has proved to be well adapted to the flat terrain.
Water testing in area streams has been initiated and local volunteers both student and adult have been trained to do the job. This community involvement demonstrates a broad-based commitment to water quality maintenance and improvement.
To help with any of this vital work go to www.bpta.ca and join or make a donation.
NBP has recently become involved in the control of invasive phragmites. This common reed has been identified as Canada's worst invasive plant. The Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, the Lake Huron Centre For Coastal Conservation and various ratepayer groups have banned together with financial backing from NBP to attack the problem. This will be a long term battle but given the damage caused by this plant and if there can be success it will be money well spent.
The Bruce Peninsula is world famous for its biodiversity and any activity on the land or water will soon be evaluated for its potential to cause damage especially through the introduction of invasive species. The list of these plants and animals is long and getting longer and will continue to have an effect on everyone. While the upper tier levels of government will sometime sound the alarm it will be the community based approach that could have the most productive outcomes.
Solid Waste Management
Our three waste disposal areas are filling up and the cost of finding new disposal sites is prohibitive. We have to continue to implement best practices for solid waste management. In the last ten years we have greatly improved or methods of dealing with our wastes. We now divert just over 50% of our household waste from landfill. Blue-box material is collected at five depot locations in NBP. All the blue box material is now collected as a single stream and this may increase the volumes collected.On average the diversion rate is similar to or better than most similar rural municipalities that offer curbside collection of recyclable material.
There is a need to divert more waste from the institutional and commercial sector which includes some construction waste. There is a need to give more incentive the last ten percent or so of those residential customers who might not have received the message. There is also work to be done to better inform visitors.
We have three well constructed waste disposal sites which offer opportunities to recycle and reuse but the hours of operation at these locations have been reduced to about 16 hours a week. This reduction of hours will have to be evaluated based on good statistics and customer comments to determine future needs. The unsupervised collection of solid waste continues to be evaluated to be a poor practice. Increased site supervision and curbside collection of blue-box material offer many advantages. Funding the system through user pay may be the answer.
Council should continue to lobby the Province to continue to fund municipal programs through financial input from the sectors that produce the goods that generate the waste. The mantra of "Zero Waste" which has been promoted by the Province is understood to be the goal. The closed system of consuming in a manner which produces little or no waste would offer a solution to the need for increased landfill space.
Industrial Wind Turbines
It may not appear that large scale wind turbine development is immanent on the Northern Bruce Peninsula. It is a serious concern for rural municipalities to the south that are faced with large scale industrial development and all the associated impact on health and the environment. Most indications are that such development is not an immediate threat locally.
At one time industrial wind turbines were popular as a green alternative. Now most people seem to have a very negative opinion about them. At this time they are thought to be a plague on the landscape and that should be banned until a better power generation and distribution plan is put in place. Most would agree that the siting of large turbines should be turned back to the jurisdiction of the the local municipalities and planning authorities and make power generation part of a local or regional plan.
There are three large turbines on the Eastnor flats. They were put there by the same process that would see a barn constructed with the exception of an Environmental Assessment. The environmental assessment was a love in. The turbines were built with local money with almost 100% community support. Photos of the grand opening showed faces smiling in celebration at the launch of the original generator. That was before big city politics got involved and the greed that can come with mega projects. The downturn in the economy had a lot to do with demand and opinion on wind generation has been a function of electricity rates mitigated against greenhouse gases.
Bruce County had a good plan in place for dealing with turbine development and it was overridden by policies of Ontario's Green Energy Act. The drafter(s) of the Green Energy Act looked at the Northern Bruce Peninsula as three big red dots on a wind potential map. Additional transmission lines would require a large swath to connect with the grid. The environmental assessment for this would not be a love in. The costs of this transmission would require the placement of many turbine units to meet the costs. None of this makes sense or meets the public acceptance test that established the first three units.
Bruce County is the largest power generator in the world. As residents of Bruce County we have no need to apologize in any way to any one for our policies directed at energy generation and land use. We are now being asked to deeply bury low and intermediate waste which is a product of our nuclear power industry. Soon we may be asked to entomb the high level waste. To cover the original red dots of wind we would have to surrender those landscapes that over 5000 people thought were valuable when they signed a petition. The NBP Council agreed that the community was not a willing host. Short message to the Province is "Leave us be and contact us again when other communities make the same commitment to power generation that we have made over many years."
There are a number of solar facilities located on the Bruce Peninsula which are embedded in the electrical grid and continue to produce energy which is consumed locally through the existing distribution system. This generation offers a sensible local solution to local power supply
Road Needs Quantified
The provincially mandated Asset Management Report has revealed that the roads and bridges/culverts in NBP are under funded. Based on their value NBP may not be adequately funding for future repair and replacement. It will be difficult to correct this situation given anticipated operational needs.
Lately the council has initiated three environmental assessments to address the future of three water crossings.
Council and staff have been aware of road needs through the process of the regular five year "Roads Needs Study" which has regularly documents the condition of all roads. All road sections are given a current rating based on their condition. A list of roads which will need attention through the period of the study then serves as a guide.
The West Road Improvements
The West Road remains unimproved long after being turned over to Bruce County.
the Johnson's Harbour Road
The Johnson's Harbour Road has been identified as a candidate for the application federal and provincial funding. Over the years the necessary property has been acquired to establish a proper right of way. It will be a large project and can be completed in phases starting with the most unsafe sections first.
the North Shore Barrow Bay Road
An environmental assessment has almost been completed on this section and there seems to be unanimous agreement on the most suitable construction option. The necessary property has been acquired. This section has also been identified as a candidate for funding application. It would seem to be well beyond the ability of the municipality to build this section without the upper tier help. Nowhere in NBP are so many residences served by such a poor right of way. Baring any unforeseen circumstances coming from the Roads Need Study this should be high on the list.
Rural areas have generally been under-served by modern communication technology but for the the most part this has not been the case on the Northern Bruce Peninsula. A history of this was published fairly recently in the local press. More....
Changes now come fast in this industry and it is necessary to give support to those providers who will assure a future of good communication. High speed internet is available today throughout most of the municipality on a robust fiber optic system. Just as with roads this information highway is always in need of improvement.
It is important that local and regional government take an active interest in this important service and make it part of their community planning. Municipal Council should be kept informed of opportunities that can take advantage of programs which will serve to improve connectivity. The Western Ontario Warden's Caucus has investigated funding for major improvements in bandwidth capability and we should be lobbying the upper tier government for financial support.
Lately the federal government has announced funding which will attempt to direct funding to supply better broadband access on the Peninsula.