Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ontario Trails News - misrepresentation of Trails Act impacts hurting rural Ontario

Ontario Trails Council contacts Media, distributes content to members and third parties
 

At Ontario Trails Council we've done more than write the press release this week. We've been on hte phone with trail groups, landowners, the media and government officials. we've worked to clarify the issue, we were contacted on the weekend before the story broke big and we think we helped reduce the loss of trail through our effort. Please support this by:
  • Contact your MP and ask them to support Bill 100
  • Contact your Regional Trails Committee and ask them to support Bill 100
  • Send the OTC Press Release to area trail and landowners to clarify the issue
  • Most importantly - understand what the landowners concerns are and listen to them. If we respond as good neighbours they will understand trail folks are good folks
  • Talk to other trail users and tell them - don't trespass, respect private property - that saves trails!

Bruce Trail Media on the Issue.
Subject Line: Misinformation and Bill 100


Upon reviewing the recent article in the Owen Sound Sun-Times regarding the proposed Supporting Ontario's Trails Act, 2015 (Bill 100) we want to correct the misinformation it presents regarding easements and Bill 100’s impact on the rights of landowners.

The Bruce Trail Conservancy has the proud distinction of working with 960 landowners who generously allow the Bruce Trail to cross their private land. Many of these "handshake" agreements have been in place for close to 50 years, and the landowners have always had – and continue to have – the right to allow or withdraw access at any time. These handshake agreements are not the same as an easement.

Easements are a more permanent, legal arrangement whereby landowners are compensated for a permanent right to cross their land. Easements can only be established if the landowner agrees. The Bruce Trail Conservancy only enters into agreements, whether for access via a handshake agreement or via an easement, with willing landowners.

It is important to stress that none of the handshake agreements with our 960 landowners are in any way impacted by the proposed legislation in Bill 100.  Bill 100 does not make those handshake agreements permanent (i.e. it does not turn the permission into an easement), nor does it take away any rights of the landowners to decide what happens on their own land.  The landowner can still ask for the Trail to be removed and we honour our commitment to do so at their request.  If the landowner wants to enter into an easement agreement, a legal arrangement is established and the landowner is compensated for that (by cash or a tax receipt).

This recent note from Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, confirms that entering into easement agreements is at the discretion of the landowner:

The province introduced Bill 100, the Supporting Ontario's Trails Act, 2015, to improve access to Ontario's trails, building both a healthier, and more prosperous Ontario. Our ministry held consultations with over 250 organizations, including municipalities, Aboriginal groups, trail organizations and not-for-profit organizations. The feedback the ministry heard during these consultations was integral to shaping the proposed legislation.

To be clear, an easement pursuant to Bill 100, if passed, would be a voluntary agreement between a landowner and an eligible body or bodies. No property owner would be compelled to provide an easement unless they agreed to do so.

-    Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport

We thank and applaud the Landowners along the Niagara Escarpment that so generously allow the Bruce Trail to cross their land. Of their own volition, they - like so many landowners throughout the province - provide an invaluable service to those seeking to enjoy the outdoors.

Sincerely, Beth Gilhespy Executive Director The Bruce Trail Conservancy

Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport points fault

Faults Ontario Landowners Association for misinformation

MANITOULIN—Since last week’s front page story ‘landowners’ group feels snowmobile trail rights-of-way could compromise land use,’ the Manitoulin Snowdusters Snowmobile Club is pleased to report that their phones have not been ringing off the hook with cancellations of agreement, adding that the intent of Bill 100 has been largely misconstrued by the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA).
Last week, Green Bay farmer Bruce Wood told The Expositor that he received notification from the OLA on Bill 100, Supporting Ontario’s Trails Act, 2015, where the OLA had stated that clubs, such as snowmobile clubs or hiking groups, could gain legal access to a person’s property it had previously had agreements to use if the bill should pass. This worried him so much he gave the Snowdusters warning that his Honora Bay property would be closed to the club beginning this week. The club relies on Mr. Wood’s property for a good extent of its trail system in the area.
Immediately following the article, The Expositor received a message from Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau, who put forward the bill, which reads: “The province introduced Bill 100, the Supporting Ontario’s Trails Act, 2015, to improve access to Ontario’s trails, building both a healthier, and more prosperous Ontario.
“To be clear, an easement pursuant to Bill 100, if passed, would be a voluntary agreement between a landowner and an eligible body or bodies. No property owner would be compelled to provide an easement unless they agreed to do so.
“It’s unfortunate that the PC Party hasn’t taken the time to read the proposed legislation and is out of touch with over 250 stakeholders from the trails community including municipalities, aboriginal groups, trail organizations and not-for-profit organizations who were consulted by our Ministry. Input from these organizations was integral to shaping the proposed legislation,” Minister Coteau states.
Randy Hillier, currently the Progressive Conservative MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox-Addington, was previously involved in land use issues, founding the Lanark Landowners Association, the precursor to the OLA. Mr. Hillier also weighed in on last week’s story, commenting on this newspaper’s website, stating: “For the record Bill 100 does not impose any statutory or regulatory infringement/impairment on private property rights, neither does it grant acquired rights to access or use, over or on private property. However, Bill 100 does amend and expand how mutually agreeable land use agreements can be registered on title via easements. Registering agreements on title can provide greater certainty and protection of tenure and use to both the property owner and the user who are signatory to the agreement. Important to understand this law is applicable only to mutually agreeable contracts entered into by people.”
“The minister has done a good job of accurately summing up what Bill 100 is really about,” said Snowdusters spokesperson Brad Middleton when contacted following a Wednesday evening meeting which had Bill 100 at the top of its agenda.
“We are confident we are not going to have a mass exodus (of landowners),” Mr. Middleton said. “We will be dealing with this on a case-by-case basis if any landowners decides to pull their property from our trail system.”
As the snowmobile season is nearing its end, Mr. Middleton said he believed most landowners with doubts would likely see it through to the end, including Mr. Wood who was persuaded by the club to have his property remain as part of the system until the season’s end.
The Snowdusters plan to use the summer months to educate the landowners on Bill 100 with the help of Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha.
“I hope this just blows over,” Mr. Middleton added.
Mr. Wood told The Expositor that he has agreed to let the Snowdusters continue to use his property for the season, but “I’m thinking they should pay for a lawyer of my choosing to draft up an agreement for me that’s agreeable to them.” The farmer noted that he doesn’t receive a free trail permit for his kindness.
While his attitudes may have changed slightly over Bill 100 since the article and his accompanying letter appeared in this paper, “it still makes sense to put it out there that this could happen.” Mr. Wood said he worries that this Bill is just a government ploy to have conservationists get a permanent claim on land which may have endangered species or species at risk on it.
“If they can’t get it one way they’ll come around and do it another way,” he added.