Recipients of the ECO’s Recognition Award

Every year, the ECO asks prescribed ministries to submit outstanding programs and projects to be considered for the ECO’s Recognition Award. This award is meant to recognize the hard work of ministry staff in an initiative that betters Ontario’s environment and that meets the goals of the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR).

2016 - Mid-Canada Radar Site Clean-Up in Polar Bear Provincial Park (MNRF)

The MNRF, with support from the federal Department of National Defense and local First Nations’ communities, planned and implemented a remediation project to clean up a Cold War-era abandoned radar site in Polar Bear Provincial Park, known as Site 415. This 2.3 million hectare park, situated along the Hudson and James Bay coasts, is home to polar bears, caribou, seals and beluga whales. The park also contains the world’s third largest wetland, which is globally recognized for its importance to migratory birds.

The military constructed several radar sites within Polar Bear Provincial Park during the Cold War, but they were abandoned in the mid- 1960s. For decades, they blemished the landscape with derelict contaminated buildings of steel and cement; abandoned vehicles and equipment; radio towers and massive radar screens. Additionally, the site contained barrels (some that still contained gasoline and oil), garbage dumps, hazardous and non-hazardous waste (e.g., asbestos, mercury, and oil) and contaminated soils.

This area of the park is still extensively used by First Nations people living in nearby communities such as Attawapiskat, Fort Severn and Peawanuk. The MNRF held several meetings and open houses in affected Indigenous communities to explain the clean-up project, engage the communities, and provide opportunities for input. Community members actively worked with the MNRF in this clean-up project by putting in more than 27,000 hours of work. Additionally, more than 1,800 hours of classroom and on-the-job training was provided to community members. Over a period of two years, the Mid-Canada Line team, including ministry staff and the local members, cleaned-up several dilapidated buildings, leaking generators, vehicles, tractors and refuse dumps from the park.

The team also cleaned-up:

  • 6,520 drums (excluding drums from Sites 418 and 421) that contained 30,000 litres of gas, oil and other toxic or harmful liquids;
  • 126 m3 of Tier 1 materials including mostly asbestos;
  • 1,640 litres of PCB liquids; • An additional 90 m3 of Tier 1 materials (asbestos) from Doppler sites 418 and 421;
  • 3,970 tonnes of low-level PCB contaminated soils; and
  • 280 tonnes of PCB hazardous soils and debris.

The MNRF reported that it transported the contaminated waste over land to the James Bay coast, mostly in the winter on winter trails, to lessen the impact to the fragile James Bay inner landscape. It then used a barge to transport the contaminants to a ship that carried it to proper treatment facilities in the Montreal area. Once materials were removed from the park, the ministry also stated that it worked to “restore the site to as near a natural state as possible,” by reshaping road and trails to resemble a natural landscape and seeding them with naturally sourced native seed. Additionally, the team constructed habitat for at-risk barn swallows on site, and included interpretive education panels. The ministry is confident that the park is now much cleaner and safer, and local communities can continue to use the remediated area for their traditional hunting practices as wildlife migrate through and live in the park.

2015 - No submission found to be acceptable

The ECO has chosen not to give a Recognition Award for the 2014/2015 reporting year. This year’s submissions did not meet the high standard set by projects that have received the award in the past.

2014 - Water Chestnut Management in Voyageur Provincial Park (MNRF)

This year, the ECO is bestowing its Recognition Award to staff from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for an innovative project to control an infestation of European water chestnut (Trapa natans), an invasive aquatic species, in Voyageur Provincial Park. The water chestnut has become a serious nuisance in other jurisdictions because it can choke out native vegetation, decrease biodiversity, and negatively affect recreational activities.

The Voyageur Provincial Park water chestnut infestation was one of the first known cases in Ontario, and MNR staff acted swiftly to minimize its impact and spread. Staff consulted other jurisdictions for information and support, researched new control methods, experimented with control and monitoring techniques, and designed new equipment that can control the species more efficiently and effectively. For example, the water chestnut can be controlled by hand-pulling from a canoe but this method is time-consuming and labour-intensive. MNR staff developed a new system of specially adapted boats to remove and collect the tops of the plants, decreasing the possibility of flower and seed production. MNR staff also engaged and informed the public throughout the project; for example, staff circulated newsletters, created a volunteer program to assist with plant removal activities, and held education programs for park visitors.

As a result of this successful project, the infestation has been contained to Voyageur Provincial Park, certain sections of the park have been cleared of water chestnut, native species are re-establishing in areas once covered by the invasive aquatic plant, and there has been a 95 per cent reduction of viable water chestnut seeds in the sediment.

2013 - Wasaga Beach Provincial Park Piping Plover Program (MNRF)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for their Wasaga Beach Provincial Park Piping Plover Program. The 2005 arrival of the piping plover to Wasaga Beach was significant as this endangered species had not successfully nested on the Canadian Great Lakes for over 30 years, and had not had breeding success at the park in over 70 years. The 2012 season marked the most successful season to date with a record of six fledged piping plovers. The ECO commends MNR staff for taking a proactive approach to the conservation of this endangered species at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, which included extensive and highly successful public outreach and involvement, as well as habitat protection and ongoing monitoring.

2012 - Algonquin Provincial Park’s Waste Management System (MNRF)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for their waste management system for park visitors in Algonquin Provincial Park. The system facilitates recycling and organic diversion through the placement of separated waste collection containers along the Highway 60 corridor of the park. These containers are specially designed with wildlife resistant lids and are placed 2/3 underground so the coolness of the ground tempers odours.

As Ontario’s flagship provincial park, most visitors would expect that waste management in Algonquin would be treated with the utmost environmental sensitivity. However, with a turnover of hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, MNR faces a challenge in educating visitors and managing large quantities of waste. Innovative individuals rose to this challenge by implementing the new system, which has increased the waste diversion rate in Algonquin from about 20 per cent in 2004 to over 40 per cent in 2011. This amounted to over 200 metric tonnes of waste diverted from landfill last year. The staff’s next goal is to reach a 60 per cent diversion rate.

The ECO applauds this project for its environmental benefits including: increasing recycling and organic diversion, which prevents waste from entering landfills; and educating visitors and staff about responsible waste management. The ECO believes this project is important as it will lessen the environmental impact of the almost one million visits that Algonquin receives annually. Further, if applied across Ontario’s protected area system, improved waste management could help educate park users and lessen the impact of the more than 10 million visits that these special places receive each year.

2011 - Bioretention Cells and Rubber Modified Asphalt at the QEW Ontario Street Carpool Lot, Beamsville (MTO)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of Transportation for the ministry’s use of a bioretention system and crumb rubber modified asphalt at its Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW highway) carpool lot at Ontario Street in Beamsville. The ECO applauds this project for its benefits on three environmental fronts: managing stormwater; diverting waste; and promoting carpooling. Bioretention is a low-impact development technique that aims to mimic the natural hydrologic cycle; it infiltrates, filters, evaporates and detains runoff, while treating pollution at its source. Bioretention also enhances aesthetics, acts as habitat for birds and other wildlife, improves air quality and reduces the urban heat island effect. The ministry has partnered with the University of Guelph to monitor, analyze and report on data from the bioretention cells for the next two years. Additionally, half of the surface layer of the site contains rubber modified asphalt; this is equivalent to about 624 tires that would otherwise have been scrapped. This project serves to provide valuable lessons that can be used by municipalities, other agencies and the public sector.

2010 - Green Power for the Summer Beaver Airport (MTO)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) for their project to make the Summer Beaver Airport the first airport in Canada to be almost entirely powered by renewable energy. The ministry operates 29 remote airports in Ontario’s far north in First Nation communities that do not have all-weather road connections to the rest of Ontario. These airports are a crucial link in the transportation of people, materials, equipment and supplies. Using solar and wind power, MTO staff greatly reduced the need for diesel power at the Summer Beaver Airport, substantially reducing fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. The success of this project has led MTO to consider using renewable energy sources at other airports it operates.

2009 - Project Green (MOECC)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for their Project Green initiative. MOE staff sought to lessen the ministry’s environmental impact by focusing on its own internal practices, such as the greening of building operations, energy conservation, and waste diversion. There are many notable successes of this initiative, ranging from several carbon neutral offices to the ministry now having 114 hybrid vehicles in its fleet. Staff responsible for Project Green have played an important leadership role; they have been able to channel individual MOE staff concerns and desires into collective action that has delivered measureable results. MOE staff delivered more than 40 presentations to approximately 2,000 Ontario Public Service staff, established 16 greening committees across MOE, generated more than 1,500 submissions on ideas to green the ministry, and established an interministerial greening committee with the participation of eight other ministries.

2008 - Zero Waste Events at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCS)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of Tourism for their “Zero Waste Events” at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. To date, 14 such events have taken place with an average waste diversion rate of 97 per cent. This remarkable waste diversion rate saves, on average, the equivalent of 57 trees, 75,000 litres of water, 39,310 kWh of energy, 16,200 litres of oil, 77 kg of air pollutants, and 85 cubic metres of landfill space. The ECO applauds the efforts of the Ministry of Tourism on this project and sincerely hopes that it serves as an inspiration to others.

2007 - No submission found to be acceptable

Based on the panel’s recommendation, the ECO has chosen not to give a Recognition Award for the 2006/2007 reporting year. The panel and the ECO believe that it would be premature to recognize some of the nominated projects and programs before their full implementation. Other initiatives described in the submissions were primarily statutory responsibilities, or not of the calibre of previous award recipients.

2006 - Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (MNRF)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to staff of the Ministry of Natural Resources for their exemplary work in developing and implementing the Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (SOLRIS). SOLRIS is a comprehensive regional electronic mapping program designed to accurately measure the nature and extent of southern Ontario’s natural, rural and urban areas and to track changes in these landscapes over time. This is achieved by combining the most current data from both provincial and local resource data sources and supplementing this information with recent information acquired from satellite landscape images.

SOLRIS will prove to be a critically important tool for supporting effective implementation of a host of plans and initiatives in southern Ontario, including the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Niagara Escarpment Plan, and source water protection efforts. These initiatives all rely on up-to-date, detailed mapping in order to ensure that environmentally significant features and functions are identified and protected. Further, SOLRIS is available to other players, including Conservation Authorities and municipalities, which also require accurate, up-to-date information so that sustainable approaches to planning are pursued. The ECO applauds the efforts of the Ministry of Natural Resources in both developing and facilitating the implementation of this critical planning tool.

2005 - Conservation of Alfred Bog (MNRF, MOECC, MMAH)

This year’s ECO Recognition Award is being presented to officials and staff within the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment for their efforts to save the Alfred Bog. The ECO is pleased to recognize these ministries for their concerted efforts to preserve this vulnerable ecosystem.

Located in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the Alfred Bog is southern Ontario’s largest remaining domed peatland and is home to significant plant and animal species. But the Bog has been vulnerable to ecological degradation since the 1880s when peat extraction began at the site. The Bog was designated as a conservation zone at the municipal level in 1978, but in 1982 a landowner submitted an application to change the zoning of a sizeable portion of the Bog to agriculture, which would permit peat farming or drainage for other agricultural uses. This renewed fears about the future ecological integrity of the Alfred Bog. A 20-year effort, spearheaded by regional and local environmental organizations and supported by both local stakeholders and the province, has culminated in the protection of approximately 7,550 acres of the remaining 10,300 acres of Bog area.

In 1999, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell adopted and the province approved an official plan that included policies designed to protect the Bog. These elements of the official plan were appealed, and the province subsequently determined that it needed to assume a lead role if the Bog was to be protected. Provincial inter-ministerial cooperation played a significant part, with MAH drawing on technical advice and expertise from both MNR and MOE to establish that the Bog is an area of provincial

interest. Over a four-year period, the ministries worked to resolve the appeals to the official plan. The appeals were ultimately settled, partly through the purchase at fair market value of any remaining portions of the Bog that were slated for peat extraction. Over 75 per cent of the remaining Bog area is now in public ownership.

The ECO applauds these ministries for their contribution to efforts to protect the Alfred Bog.

2004 - Environmental Monitoring (MOECC)

The recipient of this year’s Recognition Award is the Ministry of the Environment. The ECO is pleased to recognize MOE officials and staff who work on the province’s ambient environmental monitoring networks that collect, analyze and report on data on the province’s air, surface water, and groundwater. In the last few years, MOE has established the Ontario benthos biomonitoring network, which focuses on the condition of biological communities in the aquatic ecosystem. Other monitoring programs managed by MOE include sport fish contaminant monitoring, the Lake Partners Program, which assesses the nutrient status of 500 inland lakes, and the Great Lakes Survey, which provides comprehensive monitoring of the Great Lakes on a lake-by-lake basis over time. The data collected from these networks and programs are then used to establish baselines and trends, identify sources of contamination, and support environmental decisions. In a number of cases, the data are also summarized and published as important public reports, such as the “Air Quality in Ontario” series or the “Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish.” The data are valuable to the government, environmental groups, industry and the public.

Although work done by MOE officials and staff on the province’s ambient environmental monitoring networks is often carried out behind the scenes, their efforts provide a vital foundation for environmental decision-making and a better-informed public.

2003 - Ontario’s Living Legacy (MNRF)

The recipient of this year’s Recognition Award is the Ministry of Natural Resources. The ECO is pleased to recognize the work of MNR officials and staff in the development of Ontario’s Living Legacy (OLL). Announced on March 29, 1999, the goal of OLL is to protect 12 per cent of northern and central Ontario. Areas identified under OLL will support biodiversity initiatives and reflect the range of ecosystems and natural features found in the area. OLL also has the goal of establishing 378 new protected areas – the largest single expansion of parks and protected areas in Ontario’s history – as well as identifying nine signature sites where significant natural heritage values warrant protection.

At the time, OLL was the largest and most complex public consultation exercise ever carried out by MNR, with over 8,000 comments submitted via the Environmental Registry. MNR has continued to use the Registry as OLL is being implemented.

Ontario’s Living Legacy is a significant achievement and contributes to the purposes of the Environmental Bill of Rights, particularly to the protection and conservation of biological, ecological and genetic diversity and the protection of ecologically sensitive areas.

2002 - Oak Ridges Moraine Strategy (MMAH)

The recipient of this year’s Recognition Award is the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The ECO is pleased to recognize the work of MAH officials and staff in the development of the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) strategy. The ECO also recognizes the involvement of officials and staff from other ministries, especially the Ministries of Natural Resources, Environment and Energy, Agriculture and Food, Transportation, and Finance.

The ORM strategy, announced on November 1, 2001, included the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, a land exchange proposal and the establishment of the interim board of directors for the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation. Once implemented, this comprehensive provincial strategy for the protection of the ORM has the potential to achieve key EBR goals: the protection, conservation and restoration of the integrity of the environment; the wise management of natural resources; and the protection of ecologically sensitive areas and processes. (For more information on ORM, see pages 72-79.)

The ORM strategy was the culmination of a consultation process using the Environmental Registry established under the EBR, as well as other methods to allow the public and stakeholders the opportunity to participate and build consensus in developing the strategy. The process involved extensive public participation supported by inter-ministry and multi-stakeholder teams. MAH staff promoted the use of the Registry as a way of informing the public about the consultation and soliciting involvement. In addition, public open houses and stakeholder sessions were held as part of the consultation process. More than 2,000 people attended these forums, and almost 600 written submissions were received by MAH.

2001 - Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Project for Highway 69 Reconstruction (MTO)

The recipient of this year’s Recognition Award is the Ministry of Transportation. The ECO is pleased to recognize the work of MTO staff in taking an proactive approach to the protection of the endangered Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake through an innovative program to mitigate habitat loss caused by highway construction, and to conduct unique follow-up monitoring.

MTO is currently expanding Highway 69, which runs through the Georgian Bay region. This region is one of four remaining native Canadian habitats for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. As a result of the environmental approval process, MTO made a commitment to protect the species during highway construction and developed a habitat management strategy in partnership with MNR.

During the 2000 construction season, MTO staff researched species characteristics, population dynamics, habitat and hibernation requirements. They also identified construction activities that could have an impact on snake habitat or population, and then incorporated design features into the highway construction such as culverts under the highway to provide the snakes with summer migration paths, and steep rocky slopes placed adjacent to the highway. Staff also created artificial habitats, including relocated tablerocks used by brooding female snakes. MTO provided training to all construction workers in the prime habitat area on how to respond to snake encounters. Throughout the construction period, any rattlesnakes encountered will be protected and relocated.

Following construction of the highway, MTO’s mitigation strategies will be monitored to ensure ongoing protection of the rattlesnake population. This will include implanting 10 snakes with radio transmitters to record the movement of the population. MTO hopes that this continued monitoring will contribute to the ministry’s understanding of the impacts of habitat fragmentation and the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies developed in this project.

2000 - Septic System Program (MMAH)

This year for the first time, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is formally recognizing ministry programs and projects that either best meet the goals of the EBR or are considered best internal EBR practices. The ECO asked the 13 ministries prescribed under the EBR to submit programs and projects that met either of these criteria. Four responded to our request with a total of 12 projects for the ECO to choose from. An arm's length panel reviewed the submissions and made suggestions for the one that should be selected for inclusion in our 1999 annual report.

As a result of this process, the ECO is pleased to recognize the efforts of the staff of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in educating professionals and the public in order to minimize the impacts of smaller on-site sewage systems more commonly known as septic systems.

In 1998, MMAH assumed responsibility for administering the regulatory framework covering septic systems. This responsibility included amending the Building Code Act and the Ontario Building Code to include new design, construction, inspection, operation and maintenance standards. In order to ensure the proper installation, approval and maintenance of high quality septic systems, MMAH developed a certification and training program for septic contractors and inspectors.

The development of the certification/licensing framework was intended to increase the technical competency of those who construct, approve and inspect septic systems. By raising the level of knowledge and ensuring technical proficiency by requiring each person to pass an MMAH-administered examination, the ministry expects the result to be higher quality septic systems throughout the province. By extension, this should also mean fewer negative impacts on the natural environment associated with improperly installed systems, reduced septic system failure rates over the longer term, an increased ability for contractors and inspectors to identify and correct problems, and more certainty for property owners when they engage qualified installers.

Among its objectives, the program ensures that septic systems are sized properly to avoid discharges; that proper materials are used in construction to avoid future operation and maintenance problems; and that appropriate systems are installed commensurate with site conditions and soil characteristics.

To date, approximately 2,400 installers and inspectors have been certified under this MMAH program. The training and certification program is ongoing.

In support of the new operation and maintenance standards included in the Ontario Building Code, MMAH also wrote, published and distributed a brochure aimed at property owners and cottagers who own septic systems. The information in the document reinforces these owners’ responsibilities to ensure the proper functioning of their systems. The brochure describes the different components of a typical septic system and how the system works. It lists common septic problems and advises on how to recognize them and provides tips on proper system maintenance and use. The brochure also details the importance of regular septic tank cleaning and inspection by qualified persons and provides details on who should be contacted to carry out this work.

The brochure’s information focuses on the need for water conservation so the septic system’s capacity is not overloaded; reducing the use of phosphate-based detergents that can escape the septic system and impair water quality; and eliminating activities which can impair the functioning of the leaching bed. Over 25,000 copies of the brochure have been distributed since November 1999.

The ECO applauds the effort put forth by MMAH staff to improve the quality of septic systems in the province. A commemorative tree has been planted in the GTA in honour of the work done by MMAH staff.

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