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Officials frustrated with 'disheartening' construction on provincial wetland

'That's a no-no': Severn Township forced to install gates on property and then billed the owner after he dredged on wetland and damaged portion of Uhthoff Trail

What are the consequences of building without a permit on provincially significant wetlands?

For one Severn Township property owner, it has so far meant a $4,169 invoice from the township and a stop-work order from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

In May 2023, Justin Hindson approached Severn Township council requesting the township reverse an invoice for gates it had installed blocking an access point to his property, which was promptly shot down by council after learning of the work he carried out without any permits.

“It really bothers me when people go ahead and do things and think it's easier to say 'I'm sorry' than to follow the rules,” said deputy mayor Judith Cox at the meeting.

The property, located at 13205 County Road 16, is bisected by the publicly owned Uhthoff Trail and extends into the Matchedash Bay provincially significant wetland.

At last year’s meeting, council learned Hindson had dredged a portion of the wetlands and constructed an access road on either side of the Uhthoff Trail without a fill permit.

Township officials also say the construction of the road violated a restrictive licence of occupation permit, as a floating structure and multiple vehicles were found within the second portion of Hindson’s property.

The agreement was issued to allow Hindson some access to the second portion of his lands beyond the Uhthoff Trail, but it prohibited Hindson from using anything larger than an ATV to cross the trail.

During the meeting, council and staff shared suspicions about how Hindson managed to move numerous loads of fill beyond Uhthoff trail without using a vehicle larger than an ATV — with Hindson arguing the violation was a “one-time event” during construction on his property.

“Mr. Hindson’s contention is that this was a one-time incident and he shouldn't have to pay for the fence, but we've now been over that he built his access without permission,” said CAO Laurie Kennard. “He built his structure without permission and he dredged a provincially significant wetland without permission.”

After questioning by council about what had happened on his property, officials did not see how Hindson could have carried out the work without multiple violations of the agreement.

“It's difficult for the township to believe that he only took the vehicle across our land that one time that we caught him — you know that we don't have much bylaw enforcement,” Kennard said. “All those things look like there was continual access and continually doing things without permission and asking for forgiveness after.”

In his request, Hindson railed against the township’s invoice and its decision to revoke the licence of occupation permit, arguing that preventing access to his property could constitute a “human rights violation.”

The installation of a bollard, or padlocks on his own fence, could have provided a much cheaper alternative to the fence constructed by the township, he said.

“Having gates installed (with side fencing to prohibit walking around) at a cost of $4,169.70 was a ridiculous step taken by the clerk, and of all the possible solutions this was the most expensive and impractical,” he said in a letter to council.

Council, however, did not agree.

“You dredged on MNR property? I think that’s a no-no, sir,” said mayor Mike Burkett.

“I've dealt with them, and they're aware of it — I'm really here about this fence, though,” Hindson said.

“What you’ve done is a violation,” said Burkett.

Ultimately, Hindson paid the invoice for the gate across his property in June 2023, township staff told OrilliaMatters.

Council also passed a motion to have any fill removed from the township lands bisecting Hindson’s property, but an environmental impact study later determined it would be more damaging to the wetland to remove it than to keep it in place.

Mayor Mike Burkett told OrilliaMatters it’s disheartening to see work carried out in protected areas.

“It’s very disheartening to see that in today's world because it's there for a reason. It's protected for a reason,” he said. “We all pay taxes, so it is for us to use but it needs to be protected … for future generations to enjoy.”

Given the large size of the township, Burkett said the township responds to bylaw violations on a complaint-driven basis, as capacity at its bylaw department is limited.

He said the only jurisdiction the township has, in this instance, is enforcing the required permits and damage sustained on the Uhthoff Trail from Hindson’s actions — the rest falls to higher government authorities.

“What can we do? We took some of the gravel out. He destroyed the Uhthoff Trail, so we fixed that.”

Township Clerk Alison Gray told OrilliaMatters the Department of Fisheries and MNRF have been dealing with this issue, as well, and that Hindson continued to carry out work on his property in 2023.

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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