Radio — Fighting back against developers to protect a wetland in Niagara Falls

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Emily Spanton, Taylor Telford, and Rose McCormick. They are involved in Save Thundering Waters Forest, a campaign that has done everything from lobbying politicians to a week-long land occupation this past August in its efforts to save a wetland in Niagara Falls from being turned into luxury housing.

The 484 acre natural area in question is hidden away by a golf club and residential area to the north, an industrial and commercial area to the east, and an L-shaped bend in the Welland River to the west and south, and even many nearby residents aren’t aware of it. Thundering Waters Forest is a rare remnant of the kinds of ecosystems that once covered much of this part of the province – in this case, a mix of savannah plains and old growth forest. Much of it is forested wetland, including 220 acres that are designated as significant wetlands by the province of Ontario.

A company called GR(CAN) Investment Group wants to develop this land, ironically under the name “Paradise.” At the moment, the provincially designated portion cannot be developed, but the company hopes to use the remainder to build high-end housing, and all of the associated infrastructure, for 10,000 people.

Consultation and discussion related to the proposed develpoment was happening via a number of local governmental bodies over the course of 2016. At various points, the Niagara Region, the City of Niagara Falls, and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (or NPCA) have all been involved, and from the beginning concerned residents took every opportunity to participate.

The issue initially came to a head when a secondary plan that would have allowed the development to proceed came up for a vote in August 2016. Citizens opposed to the development lobbied hard in the lead-up and then filled the council chamber that night, and they were successful in pushing enough councillors to express uncertainty about the proposal that the vote was postponed.

Over a year later, and that vote has still not been held. Nominally, the process is waiting for additional studies to be completed about various aspects of the development, but those residents who are paying close attention to the issue say that it is very unclear what is actually going on. They say that even their allies on city council have been unable to get answers about the process, and they have grave concerns about what this might mean down the road for efforts to protect the wetland.

Emily Spanton, Taylor Telford, Rose McCormick, and the rest of the members of Save Thundering Waters Forest argue that developing the portion of the site that is not currently protected by the province would ultimately destroy the viability of the entire ecosystem, even without developing the rest. And they fear that, either way, approval would lead to a push from the developer to remove the provincial protection from the balance of the land. They even make it clear that they have nothing against development per se: Niagara has many brownfield sites – meaning urban sites that have previously been developed but are not currently in use – that they would love to see GR(CAN) Investment redevelop.

In the year since the vote on the secondary plan was postponed, Save Thundering Waters Forest has not been idle. They have been doing all sorts of public education around the issue, have launched two separate online petitions (1,2, and in August of 2017 took the step of doing a week-long occupation of the site to raise the profile of the issue. Seven of them stayed for the duration, including Emily, Taylor, and Rose. Media coverage and a strategically placed banner drew passers-by to the site, and they offered tours as well as generous amounts of information to illustrate exactly what is at stake if the wetlands are turned into high-price housing. For the moment, the group is focused on building their case against the development, on continuing their public education efforts, and on keeping a close eye on the evolution of the public process with a readiness to intervene whenever necessary. And they have not ruled out resuming their occupation of the site, if that’s what it takes.

Emily, Taylor, and Rose speak about Thundering Waters Forest, about the dangers posed by the so-called “Paradise” development proposal, and about the work they’ve been doing to stop it.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for use in this post was taken by Emily Spanton and is used with permission.

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