Guelph’s natural river heritage may be at risk if changes to the city’s official plan are approved by City Council on June 5. This is occurring without adequate public scrutiny of the draft plan, OPA 84. In response, a new environmental advocacy group called Living Rivers And Greenways Action Group (LRAG^2) is calling for consultation.
The Speed River and Eramosa River are central to Guelph’s cultural life. Parks provide public access to the rivers throughout the city, while also enhancing essential habitat for wildlife and plants. Since 1995 river policy has protected this linked greenway system and recognized its value to both community and environment. This policy extends the city’s strong environmental history. Residents are justifiably proud of our green spaces. The two rivers contribute to a high quality of life that consistently rates Guelph one of the best places to live in Canada.
June 5 is decision day. The draft official plan removes the Speed and Eramosa rivers as defining natural features of the city. OPA 48 also scraps the linked open space concept that protects and enhances our accessible, connected, naturalized corridors. City planning staff previously provided City Council with a draft document that does not identify or compare changes in wording. It is difficult to interpret how this will impact future development in areas protected by the current policy. The lack of transparency means the changes may pass without public discussion. Input from citizens has not been sought. City councillors may not be aware of what they are voting upon.
Recently, as a guest blogger at the Tokyo-based PopcornHomestead, I wrote more about this important heritage: Guelph, Ontario: A Tale of Two Rivers. Joan Lambert Bailey’s exchange post about Tokyo waterways here at Speed River Journal shows how rivers also benefit the cultural life of a much larger city. It would be myopic for Guelph to compromise its valuable greenways.
OPA 48 should be rejected. Changes to river policy must not be made until residents can review them, understand their implications, and respond. Anyone concerned can register as a delegation for the June 5 meeting of City Council: contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register. Since this is a decision meeting, presentations will be limited to five minutes. Residents may also contact city councillors asking them to vote against adopting the changes. Be sure to raise concern that the open space system and natural heritage features of the two rivers should remain protected within the official plan.