Environmental Advisory Committee provides update to Prince Edward County Council

(Gazette file photo)



Jane Lesslie, Chair of the Prince Edward County Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) provided council with an annual update on Tuesday, April 5th. In her presentation, she focused on the local environmental threats, trends, successes, challenges and opportunities.

Lesslie began her presentation by reminding council a key aspect of the EAC’s mandate is to advance the environmental aspects of council’s strategic priorities. These aspects are as follows:

  1. Mitigate the effects of climate change
  2. Encourage water and energy conservation measures
  3. Foster waste reduction, reuse and recycling programs
  4. Encourage conservation/restoration of natural features and habitats which support the community’s unique ecology character and environmental assets
  5. Identify new opportunities for business/ employment/ housing that climate change mitigation efforts may offer

After discussing formalities, Lesslie dove into her presentation with a blunt reminder that climate change is progressing quickly.

“Given yesterday’s update from the IPCC, the clock is ticking,” stated Lesslie. “2021 was tied with 2016 for hottest year on record. The seven hottest years on record have all occurred since 2014.”

As a reminder, Lesslie pointed out that a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature change is considered to be a tipping point, beyond which the effects of climate change will be more extreme.

Citing a recent survey of 241 communities that straddle the Canada/U.S.A Great Lakes, Lesslie pointed to the intrinsic link between financial hardship and that of the environment.

“Financial risks and environmental risks are inevitably intertwined,” she said, adding that the total amount these communities spent on mitigating the effects of climate change (particularly rising water levels) came to more than one billion dollars.

In two to five years, Lesslie noted, the amount these communities expect to spend on this issue is 2.5 times greater.

“The question becomes more pressing when you consider the county contains 10 per cent of the Canadian contingent of that shoreline. That gives you a sense of what the magnitude could be for us,” she said.

Besides rising water levels, another key threat brought forth by Lesslie is the damage being done to the local tree canopy by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).

“This isn’t just an aesthetic issue,” she said. “This is a budget and a climate change issue. EAB kills 99 per cent of ash trees within a decade. 26 per cent of trees removed from county properties last year were dying ash and these dying trees do not only present a safety risk, but losing the tree cover allows invasive species in to take root and reduces our ability to absorb greenhouse gases and so on.”

Thankfully, 71 per cent of Canadians now believe climate change is real and that it is caused by human activities.

With this high percentage of people who are concerned about climate change, Lesslie noted she has received many requests from the public inquiring as to the municipality’s specific action plan to tackle this issue.

“The number of requests I’m getting for the county’s climate change action plan continues to increase,” she said.

“I’m happy to say the county had it’s share of environmental successes last year. Chiefly, council put us on the map by joining the Partnership Climate Protection Program (PCP) offered through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The PCP Program can help us set targets, learn from municipalities and develop and implement that climate action plan. This dovetails nicely with work done by the strategic planning consultant Strategycorp.”

Lesslie noted the county is making “meaningful progress” when it comes to the Adopt-A Tree Program, but that this work must ramp up in light of the EAB problem.

“Spread of EAB means me must ramp up tree planting to protect our existing tree cover,” she urged.

Speaking of the recent work on the municipal strategic plan, Lesslie noted she and various members of the EAC are concerned by council’s decision to shelve work on the municipal strategic plan given the declaration of a climate emergency.

“We’ve had successes and we continue to face challenges,” Lesslie stated.

One such challenge is the stress placed on planning staff due to the high number of developments and their lack of expertise when it comes to environmental factors pertaining to those.

“Our environmental impact studies process for new developments is dysfunctional. Our planning staff are not biologists or ecologists. Quinte conservation has seen it’s mandate tighten and can’t provide the support they have in the past,” Lesslie explained. “We lack the means to verify that mitigation needs identified in development plans are indeed carried out.”

Lesslie stressed another issue that needs further attention is inland flooding and that headwaters need to be properly mapped in order to identify these risks. As well, she noted the weeds and grass bylaw needs to focus more on invasive species and noxious weeds.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton asked Lesslie about the best avenues for public outreach.

“Have you got any idea as to how the municipality and EAC as an advisory body could perhaps look to do education and outreach in a direct manner as productively as possible?” MacNaughton asked.

In her response, Lesslie emphasized the importance of dialogue.

“You really want a two-way communication street, which is why I love the sustainability hub.  You not only want to be providing information to people, you want to be taking it in. Aside from making more use of Have Your Say…one thing we did identify for priority this year is wanting to have some sort of public forum. We’ve talking about a session that could be held covid permitting.”

To view Prince Edward County’s Sustainability Hub, please visit: https://www.thecounty.ca/sustainability/ for information regarding the municipality’s response to climate change and other issues of environmental sustainability.