Bainsville farmer quits water committee in protest
By Brandy Harrison
BAINSVILLE ó With a plan on the books that offers rural property owners no protection or compensation if their land use is restricted, Shawn McRae felt he had little choice but to throw in the towel and resign from the Raisin-South Nation source protection committee.
"This was my last stand to say I disapprove of the plan because we have not made the government accountable," says the Bainsville crop farmer, who resigned over the summer. Under the Clean Water Act, appointed committees identify risks to municipal drinking water and suggest strategies to eliminate them in source protection plans.
The plan for Raisin-South Nation, which includes Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, Prescott-Russell and portions of Leeds and Grenville and the City of Ottawa, was sent to the Ministry of the Environment for approval in mid-August.
While those strategies could take private property out of use, restricting pesticide or fertilizer use or preventing development and causing land values to plummet, the legislation rules out compensation for affected property owners. McRae says that leaves landowners with no options, even if they hire an appraiser to put a cost on the damage to their land value caused by the legislation.
In his five years on the committee, McRae lobbied for both a change in the legislation and a tribunal process that could award compensation. Both suggestions were brushed aside by the ministry.
Four years ago the idea seemed to gain momentum across the province.
"People were getting excited we might really be able to bend the ministry to our will. In the end, people gave up. The ministry circled the wagons," says McRae.
But lack of compensation isnít the only problem. McRae also says there is room for abuse of power, with few checks and balances on the authority given to source protection officials.
"The plan calls for a brand new official with police powers to come to your farmhouse door and quote, unquote negotiate a drinking water protection plan," he says. "They start telling you what you have to do to clean up your act."
McRae knows well the situation landowners can end up in. More than 30 years ago, 180 acres of his familyís farm was designated as a provincially significant wetland. His family had to scrap tile drainage plans on their land and an appraiserís estimate on a small portion of the land pegged their loss at $1 million.
"I think about what my grandfather was able to do in 1960 and what can I do today. The differences are huge and itís getting worse."