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Wilmot farmers say Region of Waterloo denied their freedom of information requests on farmland expropriation

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A group of farmers, who expressed concern about expropriation in Wilmot Township, say they’ll keep fighting even though their latest push for answers has failed.

Fight for Farmland said they recently filed 21 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests with the Region of Waterloo.

“Eighteen of which were denied entirely, and the remaining three answered with ‘no record’ nor information,” Wednesday’s media release said.

Fight for Farmland, made up of Wilmot farmers and their supporters, was formed as a protest to the region’s plan to acquire 770 acres of farmland between Nafziger Road, Bleams Road and Wilmot Centre Road. The region said it wanted shovel-ready land for future development but didn’t specify what those projects could be.

Residents expressed their concerns about the environmental impact, as well as the loss of prime agricultural land. Some told CTV News that they just don’t like the idea of a large industrial site in a rural area.

In their quest for answers, Fight for Farmland filed multiple FOI requests.

“The region’s unusual denial of these requests raises serious concerns about the transparency and legality of their actions,” the release stated. “Is the region withholding this information because critical steps in the land acquisition process have not been taken? Why are they keeping constituents and citizens in the dark?”

The group said the information they requested had to do with: selection criteria, alternate site evaluations, impact on wastewater and drinking water, infrastructure planning, costs and how the project fits into the region’s official plan and promise to protect farmland. They also requested a copy of any non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). A full list of their questions has been posted online.

A map shows the land the Region of Waterloo wants to buy. (Graphic by Hayden Phillips/CTV Kitchener)

CTV News reached out to the region to get their reaction. They sent the following statement: “Conversations with landowners remain confidential, which is common practice in professional real estate negotiations. MFIPPA protects this information to protect the interests of all parties involved. We remain committed to sharing more information as we are able and the project progresses.”

Fight for Farmland isn’t backing down. They said they’re planning on appealing the region’s decision with the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and asking the Ontario Ombudsman to “investigate the many in-camera meetings to determine their legality.” They’re also promising to reach out the Integrity Commissioner to investigate investigate how Vive Developments allegedly knew about the land assembly before it was made public. That claim has not been proven.

Alfred Lowrick talks to land owners in Wilmot on March 22, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

“It is very concerning to see the lack of response to these basic questions about this proposed industrial mega-site and its impacts on the surrounding communities,” Alfred Lowrick, Fight for Farmland’s spokesperson, said in the release. “We have to wonder what the region is hiding and if they have even done the needed investigations, studies and research for this massive proposal that will have such huge impacts.”

The region said information on the assembly of shovel-ready land and “all available project details” can be found on their website

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