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Council supports tree line and fence-bottom policy wording – with an addition

UPDATE AUG 13: Councillors supported proposed policy wording for the Office Plan regarding tree lines and fence bottoms – but added an amendment to allow for discussion of a farming compensation program should it become necessary.

Councillor Janice Maynard proposed the amendment to the section of wording that describes tools that could be used to ensure natural heritage policies are implemented.

Referencing other municipalities with similar policy, Maynard suggested the wording to allow contemplation of compensation should the farmers ever be asked to leave a treeline, or a corn crop in place to help combat snow onto roads, for example.

“The farming community is concerned because there is still wording in here that could effect their ability to take out some fence lines, and going to a Tribunal is not what they want to do,” she said. “If we get to the point we want to try maintain some fence rows, or want to prevent blowing snow by tree planting or leaving crops standing that there’s a mechanism to make sure the farmers are not at a financial loss doing so.”

Elizabeth Blomme, on behalf of the Natural Heritage Conservation PEC, made a deputation to council earlier in the evening. She acknowledged the effort put in by the planning department toward new wording.

“This new wording recognizes the important role fence bottoms play in protecting the environment for future generations,” she said. “It also makes it clear that we all have a role to play here.”

She noted conversations with the agricultural community are ongoing.

“We seem to be making inroads. There’s certainly a segment of the agricultural community that is very much onboard and is already working to preserve hedgerows. There are others who are speaking with us and we’re trying to make inroads and come to some conclusions with them.”

Councillor Phil Prinzen, a farmer, made note that he still feels the wording “is a wedge” into further rules. He, along with councillors Maynard and Brad Nieman did not support the motion in a recorded vote.

Tree line and fence-bottom policy wording returns to council

AUG 11 – Council will re-visit changes to proposed policy wording on the County’s tree lines and fence-bottoms, at Tuesday night’s meeting.

County staff were first directed to investigate inclusion of of fence bottoms and tree lines in the Official Plan in May last year, following a deputation by Elizabeth Blomme and Bill Bonter, on behalf of Natural Heritage Conservation PEC (NHC-PEC) asking the municipality to consider ways to “conserve the disappearing cultural heritage asset”.

Blomme and Bonter had shared documentation of effects on the environment, “however unintended  when hedgerows are removed”.

“Historically, small-scale farming in the County created a patchwork of fields demarcated by hedgerows,” said Bonter in the presentation. “In recent decades, the County’s agricultural landscape has changed, sometimes dramatically, as hedgerows are removed to create much larger, continuous fields.”

Bonter added that tree lines and fence bottoms combat soil erosion, wind and crop damage, mitigate drought and flooding, connect wildlife habitats and contribute to road safety by blocking blowing snow and dust.

The original wording presented by staff last month, was drafted with a review of wording supplied by NHC-PEC, and discussion with agricultural representatives, including the Agricultural Advisory Committee, Quinte Conservation and the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture.

At that meeting, following correspondence and deputations from several farmers concerned that policy will create challenges on how they maintain their farms, council asked staff to seek wording that doesn’t explicitly implicate farmers and agricultural practices in the future.

“It will end up being a creep,” said Wellington farmer Scott Simpson. “Within five years, all of a sudden it will all be in a plan and pursued in detail, as rules.”

Farmer Kurt VanClief noted he is not a proponent of wide-spread clear-cutting, but also advised of the larger equipment in use today, expensive land costs and that large fence rows cast significant shade and rob moisture.

Several councillors agreed they want to see no hardship for farmers.

“Our farmers are the best stewards of the land and this will set up unrealistic expectations,” said councillor Janice Maynard, suggesting a more fulsome report is required before landing in the Official Plan.

Cristal Laanstra, Planning Coordinator, Policy, in her report to council for Tuesday night, noted wording has removed focus on the agricultural community, where possible, and also stated a larger update, to clarify the adjustment in terminology away from the word ‘hedgerow’.

“Based on the review of definition of hedgerow, it would appear that the term has been used in place of fence bottoms, a more appropriate description of the feature within the Prince Edward County landscape,” the report states. “The references to ‘fence-line’ and ‘hedgerows’ have been updated to read ‘tree-lines/fence bottoms’ throughout the report and recommended policies.”

As Planner Paul Walsh told council in July, her report reiterates that “it is essential to note these policies do not enact any bylaws or control normal farm practices in any way.”

Walsh stated the municipality currently encourages working co-operatively to preserve tree lines and fence-bottoms, but has no explicit policy. If it were part of the Official Plan, he confirmed the potential effect “would be further guidance to applicants”.

“The policies included do not impact how the farming community uses their land but rather flags features to be considered for potential land use changes.” Laanstra’s report states.

“Additionally, the policies apply to all land uses within the countryside; as such, the policies are as much located in the Plan for use by residential, commercial, and industrial developments.

She added the agricultural community’s right to normal farm practices “is strongly ingrained within the draft Official Plan document and is further addressed and protected through The Farm and Food Production Protection Act (FFPPA).”

Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Shire Hall.

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