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Thursday December 10th, 2015

Posted at 8:30pm

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The Essex Region Conservation Authority is set to circulate its 2016 program priorities and associated budget to its partner municipalities.

“2016 will again prove to be a year of significant projects and initiatives aimed at improving our regional environment,” noted ERCA General Manager Richard Wyma. A major project slated for next year is the construction of the Cypher Systems Group Greenway. “This 22 kilometre section intersects with our existing Greenway and will bring the dream of a region connected by trails one step closer to reality. To date, over 70 kilometres of Greenway trail have been acquired and funded through donations and corporate support, at no cost to municipal taxpayers,” he adds.

Tackling phosphorus will continue to be a priority in 2016. “Research is indicating that we are on the right track, but we need to significantly increase the scale and intensity of the best management practices being implemented to make a difference in Lake Erie,” said Dr. Katie Stammler, ERCA’s Water Quality Scientist. ERCA will undertake the analysis of water control structures for tile drainage management, promote the construction of rain gardens for urban storm water management, and urge urban and rural Low Impact Development (LID) projects and innovative farming practices that may lower phosphorus outputs. “Results from these projects can be used to encourage uptake of BMPs that have demonstrated success in this region,” Stammler adds.

In addition, ERCA has also been selected as one of only four Conservation Authorities in the province to work extensively with local agricultural landowners through the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative; will continue monitoring streams in the Kingsville/Leamington area to better understand the influence of greenhouses on water quality; monitor streams and recreational beaches to harmful algal blooms and work towards a more rapid method of detection of the toxin they produce.

Greening efforts will also continue, restoring at least 125 acres of land, planting more than 120,000 trees, establishing 20 acres of prairie habitat and creating four new wetlands that will help restore hydrology, improve water quality and habitat for wildlife and fish.

“We will also collect 2,000 pounds of seed for use in our tree planting programs, as local genetics are always best,” Wyma goes on to say. ERCA intends to partner with the Caldwell First Nation to restore a Lake Erie Coastal wetland at the mouth of Sturgeon Creek; and has proposed to embark on a Phragmites Control pilot project at Hillman Marsh.

Further improvements are planned for the Grand Marais Drain in Windsor, with ERCA contributing $600,000 to the City of Windsor through the provincial Water and Infrastructure Control program. ERCA will also seek funding to repair the infrastructure along the Belle River Flood Control Project in Lakeshore.

In 2016, ERCA also will launch its Specialist High Skills Majors certification program and host a Lake Erie Student Conference to connect secondary school students, teachers and Great Lakes professionals to learn about and connect with Lake Erie; highlight Great Lakes related career opportunities across a broad spectrum of professions and to participate in experiential activities.

The draft budget totals $8.4 million, with an operational levy contribution from member municipalities of $2.1 million, or less than 25% percent of the total budget. This represents a proposed levy increase $0.65/household (from $14.92 to $15.57/household valued at $200,000) based on Current Value Assessment. “A survey of all 36 Conservation Authorities in Ontario recognizes that ERCA is in the top 10 in terms of programs and services,” Wyma concludes. “At the same time, ERCA ranked 30th out of 36 Conservation Authorities in terms of General Levy as a percentage of total revenues (28.2%), consistently well below the average (41.6%) over the last three years. This again shows the tremendous value ERCA provides for Essex region.” The final vote on the budget is expected to take place in February, 2016.

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