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Regional chair breaks silence on Wilmot Township farmland expropriation

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Karen Redman has addressed Waterloo Region’s controversial plan to acquire farm land in Wilmot Township in an email to concerned citizens.

Property owners have been fighting against the proposal to buy 770 acres of land between Nafziger Road, Bleams Road and Wilmot Centre Road. Exact plans for the property have not been announced publicly.

The letter, sent from the Region of Waterloo chair’s email address to members of Nith Valley EcoBoosters, was then forwarded to CTV News. It said the region remains committed to balancing “the protection of our natural environment with facilitating economic opportunities to support a high quality of life for residents.”

Nith Valley EcoBoosters initially reached out to the region to voice their concerns about the possible environmental impact of any development on the farm land.

“We feel called on to take action when we see our water sources, natural areas and farmlands threatened,” the group wrote. “We see that happening now with the planned acquisition of land in Wilmot.”

In her response, Redman said having shovel-ready land is critical to securing future investment and jobs that support community growth.

“Since 2021, Waterloo Region has received numerous inquiries seeking large-scale parcels for development, speaking directly to the urgent need for this type of land,” Redman explained. “No current or future shovel-ready lands are or will be located within the Regional Recharge area, which is critical to our water supply. The Regional Official Plan protects our water sources and ensures a more than adequate supply of high-quality farmland remains. Generally speaking, this area is excellently suited for future development and investment given the proximity to arterial transportation and existing infrastructure, and the connection to Waterloo Region’s skilled workforce.”

Redman also said she can’t “speak specifically about the location or size of the area at this time” due to the privacy concerns of landowners.

She added that more information and engagement opportunities will happen as soon as possible once all necessary consultations are conducted.

The Nith Valley EcoBoosters wrote back to Redman with a list of questions they didn’t feel were answered in her email. They asked about the region’s due diligence so far, how food security and water protection will be addressed if there is development on the land, and other proposed locations for development.

CTV News reached out to the Region of Waterloo to request further comment on the matter. They confirmed the content of Redman’s email and shared the specific section of the Regional Official Plan she was citing: “The region, in collaboration with the province, area municipalities, local utility providers, and the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation will work to identify and plan for suitable ‘mega-sites’ to support new large-scale, strategic employment uses that complement the regional economy. Such sites typically range between 200 and 400 hectares in size and support large-scale manufacturing operations.” They added: “Due to the size needed for large-scale industrial projects sites cannot be met within the urban boundary.”

Property being considered for future “shovel-ready projects" in Wilmot.

Continued calls for reconsideration

On Tuesday, the Waterloo Region Labour Council wrote an open letter to the region expressing their concern about the potential expropriation of the 770 acres.

“As farmland becomes a more diminishable resource, we lose our ability to feed our own population,” the letter said, in part. “With some of the most fertile land for crop cultivation in the entire country existing in Wilmot Township, we question why the land proposed for expropriation is happening, as it is already serving an important purpose with reference to the long-term sustainability of Waterloo Region.”

The letter also questioned if the land selected goes against the Region of Waterloo’s environmental, sustainability and climate change initiatives.

“The impact of this decision has the potential to have long-standing consequences for not only the people of Wilmot Township, but also Waterloo Region,” the letter continued. “We respectfully request that the Region of Waterloo ceases its actions to expropriate this farmland in Wilmot Township.”

Jeff Donkersgoed, the Waterloo Region Labour Council’s first vice-president, said while the group is in favour of jobs and unions, this proposal just doesn’t sit right.

“What the labour council found so problematic with this is that [there was] no consultation. It’s just being taken away from them without any discussion points and nothing being transparent,” he explained. “For me, it’s knowing that personal connection of farmers and just all of a sudden – here is your livelihood and you don’t have a say in this, it’s being taken away from you, no consultation. I just found it very surprising and very concerning.”

Donkersgoed also stressed the importance of retaining farm land in Ontario.

“If we cannot feed ourselves as a province and as a country, we’re in deep trouble. We have to be very careful about where we take land,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for good, clean jobs being located here in the city. Particularly union jobs. But it’s the location that I think is really important. This is not necessarily very well connected to any urban centre.”

There is also an online petition circulating, titled Stop Appropriation Targeting Wilmot Township Farmland, that has already surpassed 20,000 signatures.

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