SOUTH GLENGARRY, Ontario – The Cooper Marsh Conservators (CMC) have responded to the Raisin Region Conservation Authority (RRCA)’s decision to break ties with their group.
The CMC are a volunteer group who for decades have assisted the RRCA in the management of Cooper Marsh and the protection of the wildlife that live there.
What caused the rupture in the relationship between the two organizations is the potential development of land adjacent to the Marsh.
Run Guo Investments Canada Ltd./Fotenn Planning + Design petitioned the Township of South Glengarry to rezone land that they own just east of Cooper Marsh to allow for the development of 25 camping sites.
The RRCA did not object to the rezoning, and it was later approved by the Township of South Glengarry.
According to the RRCA, the CMC has been lobbying against this development, and they say that as a Conservation Authority they must remain apolitical.
“Over the last several months, CMC has been involved in political activities which are inconsistent with the RRCA’s statutory mandate,” reads a statement from the RRCA released on July 16. “In general, no conservation authority in Ontario may, directly or indirectly, engage in political activities regarding development projects. The RRCA’s role in development projects that fall within its jurisdiction is circumscribed by the Conservation Authorities Act. Any departure from this clearly defined statutory role exposes the RRCA to legal jeopardy and negatively impacts its ability to deliver programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development, and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario.”
Since July 2020, the CMC states that it has been involved in organizing grassroots support, creating a Facebook page, fundraising, writing letters and issuing a petition calling for further examination of the environmental impact of the proposed development.
The CMC state that they believe that the Environmental Impact Study conducted by the property owners “failed to fully examine the potential impact such a development could have on the adjacent environmentally sensitive Cooper Marsh.”
Furthermore, the CMC is particularly concerned for endangered wildlife that nests near the the eastern edge of Cooper Marsh including the Least Bittern and Blandings Turtle.
The CMC’s petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures and the Facebook group Protect Cooper Marsh has over 2,300 people following the page.
The CMC state that in May of 2021 the RRCA informed them that the activities of the Protect Cooper Marsh Facebook group created a conflict with their statutory need to be apolitical. The CMC shut down the Facebook page, but state that allowing the development to go forward unopposed put themselves in conflict with their own articles of incorporation.
“Since the Conservators’ purpose in its articles of incorporation is “to preserve and protect flora and fauna by protecting and maintaining the Cooper Marsh Conservation Area”, the Agreement had put the Conservators into the impossible position of trying to fulfill their duty to “preserve, protect and maintain” Cooper Marsh, while at the same time, abiding by the terms of an Agreement with RRCA that prohibited activities which might be construed as lobbying or political,” reads a statement from the CMC.
The CMC admits that some of its members, independently of the organization, continued to lobby for further study of the proposed development, which is what lead to the end of their relationship with the RRCA.
”It should never have been this difficult for people of good will in the CMC to advocate for the benefit of sound public policy and the protection of the wildlife in the wetlands of Cooper Marsh.” said CMC Board member and South Glengarry resident, David Martel.
The CMC says it is at a crossroads in terms of how to move forward. They state that they have raised $750,000 over the years to support Cooper Marsh and have been involved in many improvement projects at the wetland including rebuilding all the boardwalks, new viewing platforms, signage, and open water habitat restoration.
The CMC states that in the fall they will be holding a meeting to discuss the future of the organization, which has been in operation since 1997.