Thursday, August 6, 2020

Here's Why a Letter to the Editor from Ward 2 Councillor's Adviser Published Today in the Sudbury Star is Misleading - and Unhelpful

I just read this letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star from Tom Price, who is an adviser to Ward 2 Councillor Michael Vagnini. I have serious concerns about this letter due to a number of things in it that are simply not true.
As some here know, I am an appellant to the Kingsway Entertainment District matter presently before the LPAT. I am also a blogger and Star columnist who writes about the environment. I believe it's important to get one's facts right when calling for measures to be taken to address important issues. I'd say that's important for any member of the public.
It's doubly so when one has some kind of official capacity in government. I understand that people who have political agendas don't always tell the whole truth, in order to further their agendas. But this letter from Tom Price goes much further than that. He is simply not telling the truth on a few significant matters here.
Water Quality - An Important Municipal Issue
Water quality - especially for drinking water sources - is a serious issue in our City. In my opinion, it's one that isn't being addressed adequately by our elected officials and city managers who rely on dated minimum standards. I have called for freezing development around Ramsey Lake until the completion of the Ramsey Lake Watershed Study, and until its recommendations can be worked into municipal policy documents like the official plan. That would be one way for the city to demonstrate a more serious commitment to protecting at risk lakes from the impacts of development.
What is not helpful in these sorts of discussions is to make claims that are not supported by facts and evidence. Price does this in a number of locations in his letter. It's almost as if he wants to present a distorted picture to the public to further his own (or if not his own, than someone's) narrative.
Source Water Protection and the KED
In this letter, Price concludes that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) "deemed source water protection not important to decisions regarding" the KED and "taxpayers need an explanation of why source water protection is not part of considerations by LPAT" for the KED. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that the LPAT dismissed the Minnow Lake Restoration Group's appeal of the parking lot zoning by-law, but it was not because LPAT believed source water protection was unimportant. It was actually the complete opposite. LPAT sided with the developer (not the City) who initiated the motion to dismiss Minnow Lake's appeal BECAUSE the proponent had undertaken studies to demonstrate that impacts of salt migration on Ramsey Lake (a drinking water source) could be mitigated, and that Minnow Lake - not coming to the table with its own technical studies to back up its opinion those mitigation methods called for in the developer's Plan wouldn't be enough, was raising apprehension instead of addressing an issue on which the LPAT could adjudicate. In other words, the LPAT decided it wasn't good enough to just say "we don't believe the technical studies are good enough" without presenting actual evidence to the contrary.
That said, there are some serious flaws to the Source Water Protection process, in my opinion. But rather than identify that the KED developer undertook technical studies, developed a Plan to identify potential harmful substances (including road salt) and measures to mitigate impacts from those substances, and that the City reviewed and approved this plan n compliance with our Source Water Protection Plan, Price simply provides a throw-away statement the LPAT didn't care about protecting water quality.
Valley East Twin Pad
Similarly, Price claims that Council isn't doing its due diligence with regards to the Valley East Twin Pad. Here he goes so far as to claim that the Valley East Twin Pad will "present a major risk to the municipal water supply" - a drinking water source that Price says "already exceeds Public Health recommendations" and that Council was "not following the advice of" municipal technical experts.
None of this is actually true in any meaningful way. While it is true that there is a drinking water source (a municipal well) in proximity to the proposed Twin Pad arena in the Valley, and that drinking water source - along with other municipal wells in the Valley - is under stress due to the presence of contamination - the well is still being used to provide safe, clean drinking water to Valley residents. Public Health has not recommended that use be discontinued.
It is also true that the well is expected to be impacted by the Twin Pad. And that's why the City followed its Source Water Protection Plan and developed a strategy to mitigate those potential impacts. As with the KED, no strategy is going to mitigate every single expected impact. But mitigation here was deemed possible and appropriate by City staff - those technical experts whose advice Price insists Council did not follow. Again, the opposite is actually true.
Lake Nepahwin
And finally, Price raises the matter of Lake Nepahwin and a recent study that shows that lake as being in serious trouble. What Price doesn't do, however, is identify Lake Nepahwin as not being a drinking water source. Instead he lumps it in with Ramsey Lake and a municipal well in the Valley. This is an important omission, because the level of protection for water quality for drinking water sources is much higher than for surface water features that are not the sources of potable water.
Price also fails to identify that the Lake Nepahwin report concluded that the majority of the damage that we can expect to see in the Lake has already been done, and little further opportunity exists to do more damage, due to the fact that there are few available places on the lake for more development, and due to the fact that the City has been paying closer attention to things like road salt and phosphorous run-off into all urban lakes.
The Sudbury Star
I often call the Sudbury Star out for publishing letters that offer opinions that are clearly based on nonsense or that are unsupported by facts and evidence. I can't do so here for two reasons. First, a lot of this is very technical and easily misrepresented by those who either don't care about the nuances of how policy, regulation and reports interact to better protect our natural environment. It's a lot easier to claim that something lakes aren't being protected than to explain how they're not being protected. And let's face it, I agree with Price's thesis that the City should be doing more to protect vulnerable lakes. But it's unhelpful when conclusions are distorted and facts are invented to support that thesis.
Second, Price is a political animal. He advises a municipal Councillor - one whom many believe has ambitions beyond Ward 2. By publishing this letter, the Star is contributing to the political discussion in our community - if not helpfully advancing concerns of citizens who have long been involved with trying to push the City towards more protection for vulnerable lakes. Those people (and I am not one of them) have experienced considerable success over the years - and have made our City a better place for everyone to live.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)