Norm Miller critical of Muskoka Lakes floodplain development reviews McNeil's 2019 flood report

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Agatha Farmer

Muskoka Post reached out to Parry-Sound Muskoka MPP Norm Miller regarding the McNeil Flood report, its recommendations and what the provinces as well as Miller's next steps are as we approach spring and Muskoka's 2020 freshet. We also informed the MPP of reaction to the report from the Muskoka Lakes council at a recent Jan. 15 township meeting.

Muskoka Post asked if Miller had discussed and reviewed the McNeil flood report with Muskoka mayors and specifically the three municipalities which declared flood emergencies?

Miller acknowledged that as of Jan. 16 he had not.

When told the Township of Muskoka Lakes claimed that they had requested a delegation in December with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and have not yet received a response. Muskoka Post asked why there seems to be a lack of non-interrupted communication between ministry and municipality given that Spring 2020 is three to four months away?

Miller seemed to at first bypass the question and responded with the following:

"McNeil had a recommendation that perhaps the conservation authority be considered for Muskoka and also whether there is a possibility or need for a municipal order to restrict development on floodplains and in the report he was a bit critical specifically of the township of Muskoka Lakes with regard to allowing development in the flood plains."

Muskoka Post brought the subject back to our question regarding a lack of communication between the MNRF and Muskoka Lakes; Miller said he doesn't know why "council is having trouble getting a meeting."

Muskoka Post inquired about the status of funding for the riding to mitigate flooding and specifically funding for the hydrometric systems.

Miller confirmed that the Ford government has committed "to ensure the continued investment of over $4.7 million into the hydrometric network to enable flood forecasting and warnings. McNeil's report does indicate that there will be future flooding, therefore the province and municipalities have to become more resilient."

Miller said the government's first ever multi-sector provincial climate change impact assessment has been initiated and the government is investing in various water projects. This includes a $1 million project to improve the municipal disaster relief and recovery assistance.

When questioned about NcNeil's planning recommendations which included improved flood plain mapping Miller suggested that it would be better if the municipalities developed solutions for improved resiliency to flooding, which includes less development on water front elevations.

"Boathouses are a reality on our major lakes but I think it makes sense for municipalities to look at what can be done in building them to be more resilient to flood events."

Miller also alluded to the fact that Georgian Bay for example does not have many boathouses because several years ago the water level was 5.5 feet lower than it is right now. Miller thinks that floating boat houses should perhaps be an idea municipalities could consider moving forward.

"It is a very economic factor for townships like Muskoka Lakes ... in McNeil's report he was critical of them for allowing development in the flood plain. For instance between 2013 and 2015 the township of Muskoka Lakes issued building permits for over 260 new boat houses with a total value in construction of over $46 million."

When told that at a recent Jan. 15 Muskoka Lakes meeting township council was disappointed in the lack of solutions in the report and specifically short term mitigation for Spring 2020 Miller asked Muskoka Post to "check around with other councils because I think they will have different opinions."

Muskoka Post noted to Miller that Muskoka Lakes council is looking to "illicit more help" from his office.

Miller: "I'm happy to sit down with them at meetings and work for them but I think the report is a good report and I think there is a lot to be learned from it, part of what it says is that there is no human errors, and that floods are going to happen in the future . The report is comprehensive and it's going to take time to implement all of it."

Miller confirmed that work on updating the MRWMP, one of the main asks of Muskoka Lakes, is occurring as well.

The MECP established Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group will be holding a community listening session to obtain public input on issues within the watershed on January 23 from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Port Carling Community Centre.

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