Saugeen Conservation elects new chair at AGM

FORMOSA – Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) has a new chair – Barbara Dobreen, representing Southgate. She was acclaimed to the position during the Jan. 19 annual meeting of the authority’s board of directors.

Acclaimed first vice-chair was Tom Hutchinson (West Grey); Paul Allen (Grey Highlands) was elected second vice-chair; elected member-at-large was Steve McCabe (Minto, Wellington North).

The meeting was held at the SVCA headquarters in Formosa – the first time an in-person meeting of the directors has been held there since before COVID.

Because of the weather, a contingency plan was in place to have the meeting on Zoom if necessary, but the decision was made to go ahead with the in-person meeting.

Past chair Maureen Couture conducted the first part of the meeting including elections, welcoming a number of special guests including MP Ben Lobb and MPP Lisa Thompson.

Said Lobb, “It’s a pleasure to be here in person.”

Thompson thanked everyone who has finished their term with the SVCA board, and commented positively on their work in “making sure SVCA is focusing on priorities.”

Two staff members were recognized with service awards, presented by Couture and SVCA general manager Jennifer Stephens – Lorne Chamberlain, five years; and Erik Downing, 15 years.

Couture said in her address to the board, “It’s been my pleasure to serve as chair.” She noted that in her term that started January 2021, all meetings were conducted on Zoom – until her final meeting Jan. 19, 2023.

During that time, a lot was accomplished including a number of infrastructure projects. The permit review time was shortened, while the accuracy of the reviews increased. Natural hazards “were given the place that was their due.” Two new properties were added to the SVCA, and 28,000 trees were planted. A new program was implemented to allow staff to ticket those in violation of regulations on SVCA property. At present, the ramifications of Bill 23 are being assessed.

“The outlook is positive,” said Couture in closing. Her final remarks were words of congratulations for staff, who worked effectively during the “terrible conditions” of COVID-19. She expressed confidence that she’s leaving the SVCA in good hands, with staff, board members and the new executive.

Stephens presented an overview of her time with the SVCA – just over two years.

“It’s been an adventure,” she said.

Despite the fact they were “tumultuous years” they “set a solid foundation for positive change.” She spoke of the 10-year strategic plan that will be released, and the narrowing of the scope of services that will “allow us to do fewer things, but do them well.”

“There’s still much to be done,” added Stephens, but she expressed confidence in the “willingness and expertise” of staff to accomplish the SVCA’s goals.

Dobreen, the new chair, told the board, “I appreciate the vote of confidence.” This will be her ninth year with the authority, and she said, “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

The meeting included a presentation on the Forestry and Lands department, presented by Donna Lacey, department manager, as part of a continuing orientation that will include presentations at future meetings on the SVCA’s other departments.

Lacey introduced the staff who are responsible for the almost 22,000 acres of land that includes conservation areas, managed forests, wildlands and wetlands. She explained that wildlands are areas where no forestry harvesting takes place, for example, Sulphur Spring.

“It’s largely an educational property; people see what happens as nature takes its course,” said Lacey.

SVCA took over forest management when the Ministry of Natural Resources ended its forestry program in 1998.

“Landowners were left needing advice,” she said. “We offer an unbiased opinion.”

The programs offered include tree planting and tree sales, as well as a tree marking service. Staff have professional forestry credentials.

The “Lands” part of the department includes the four campgrounds, three of them staffed.

“They’re run somewhat like independent businesses,” Lacey said. “We are definitely tourism operators.”

The nine conservation areas (Allan Park, Brucedale, Denny’s Dam, Durham, McBeath, Saugeen Bluffs, Stoney Island, Sulphur Spring and Varney) each have some sort of amenity, such as a parking lot and/or washrooms. Lacey urged the board members to take a walk through these conservation areas.

Of course, management of these diverse properties requires a diverse set of skills, including plumbing, electrical, woodworking, mechanical, operating heavy equipment, fleet maintenance and trail maintenance, she said.

Stewardship is an important part of the department – staff assist landowners with projects.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times