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Monday, August 22, 2005

Conservation authority loses lawsuit

A couple fought and won a decision by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, but it's taxpayers who may end up footing the bill.
The authority heard a case of a couple who wanted to develop a residence on an Innisfil property that, just last June, experienced a once-in-100-year-calibre flood.

The board of directors rejected the plan twice for safety reasons, said Gayle Wood, CAO of the authority.

"Our primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of people in these areas," she said. "This couple wanted to build in a highly susceptible area."

After being rejected twice by the authority board, the couple appealed to the Mining and Land Commissioner, which ruled in favour of the development since the individuals had already spent so much money on bringing forward their case, Ms Wood said.

"On top of approving the development, the commissioner also felt the party should be awarded their cost to be paid by the conservation authority," she said.

The authority felt it should not have to reimburse the family for those costs, which haven't been confirmed, in addition to the authority's own expenses. Since the conservation authority is funded by the municipal and provincial governments, the cost will be paid through tax dollars. The authority presented its objections to the approval of development and reimbursement to the Ontario Court of Justice.

"The courts still wanted their costs awarded and are allowing the development," Ms. Wood said.

After hearing an allegation accusing her of trying to keep the matter quiet, she said she is doing the complete opposite. Each hearing was an open session and the only reason the matter was discussed in-camera at the board's July meeting was because it is a legal matter and policy states it must be dealt with behind closed doors, she said.

"I will soon be doing a full analysis of the court case, the outcome and to see how it impacts our decision-making process," she added. "Then I will be discussing the information with other municipalities, Conservation Ontario and the province."

Until legal council has been sought, CAO Wood was unable to release the name of the couple or comment on who now holds legal responsibility if a flood occurs after development.

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