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NPCA says mandate not affected by job cuts, MOU changes

By Allan Benner, The Standard

NPCA headquarters in Welland. File photo

NPCA headquarters in Welland. File photo

Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is adamant it will continue to fulfil its mandate, despite concerns about recent layoffs.

NPCA issued a statement Wednesday morning, hoping to clear up “inaccurate union claims and MPP statements” regarding its ongoing role and responsibilities after the agency cut eight frontline workers in late September.

The organization’s statement, posted on its website Wednesday morning, says some of the job cuts were a result of discussions about revising a memorandum of understanding that was signed by NPCA, Niagara Region and local municipalities about a decade ago.

NPCA communications manager Michael Reles, however, said neither the changes to that MOU or the resulting job cuts that included two planners will undermine NPCA’s commitment or ability to fulfil its legislated mandate.

Despite concerns that NPCA’s watershed protection duties could be transferred to Niagara Region, Reles said that part of its job falls under the Conversation Authority Act and will not change.

“It continues to be under the purview of the NPCA and nothing will change that area,” Reles said. “It has nothing to do with shoreline protection. It has nothing to do with watersheds, streams, wetlands, creeks, nothing to do with that.”

Reles said property owners still require permission from NPCA for any project within a regulated or hazard area, as well as NPCA-issued permits for any development that may interfere with wetlands or watercourses.

Niagara Region’s planning and development commissioner Rino Mostacci said the MOU was developed in 2007 after the Region adopted new natural heritage policies as part of its official plan.

NPCA was brought in to interpret and administer those policies, “because they had the expertise to do that at the time.”

Mostacci said the conservation authority recently “determined that they no longer want to provide that service to the Region, and we have to renegotiate the MOU and assume the responsibilities for natural heritage planning,” Mostacci said.

Although doing so would provide a “one-window administrative solution here at the Region,” Mostacci said it would also create a strain on resources within his department.

Mostacci said regional planning staff have already added the interpretation and administration of natural heritage policies to their existing workload, which has had an impact on resources.

“If we’re going to have to administer the natural heritage policies in house, we’re probably going to have to pick up the appropriate staff to do that.”

The NPCA statement also says the organization hopes Niagara Region will hire former NPCA employees who lost their jobs.

“To be clear, the expertise resides within individuals, not within organizations,” the NPCA statement says.

Mostacci said he suspects “that some of the folks who were doing the work previously will have a leg up in terms of experience, but I can’t commit to who we ultimately hire.”

Mostacci said there will still be a role for the NPCA within the revised MOU, which he hopes to have completed by the end of the year.

“There are still going to be some things that we’d like the conservation authority to administer on our behalf, likely related to storm water management and other things that are more aligned with their mandate.”

Other job losses resulted from a minor restructuring that led to the loss of a director position, as well as a value-for-money review of its restoration program conducted by an independent consultant.

The value-for-money review pointed out deficiencies and liability exposure within the restoration program, that also fell “short of NPCA’s high standards of accountability and transparency,” the statement says.

Reles said NPCA is instead developing a new restoration program to replace it, that does a better job of engaging stakeholders and volunteers, while also enhancing accountability and reducing costs.

That program is expected to be approved in the weeks to come with more information to be released before the end of October.

Meanwhile, the NPCA statement says it will “continue to monitor and assess its own needs with the possibility of recalling laid-off workers should the need arise.”

Reles said he could provide no further comment on the potential of recalling any of the laid-off workers.

ABenner@postmedia.com

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