April 25, 2012

Reforms would shift power from leaders

As published in The Erin Advocate

MP Michael Chong remains confident that his efforts to reform the rules of parliament and shift power away from the party leaders will make Canada's political system more effective and democratic.

The Member for Wellington-Halton Hills has campaigned to restore public faith in the system, not only by making question period more civilized and relevant, but by enhancing the rights of MPs within their parties.

Thanks mainly to Stephen Harper, my vote has never gone to Chong, but he has won four elections by ever-increasing margins. He received a Macleans Parliamentarian of the Year award, based on a survey of fellow MPs, for his non-partisan work on behalf of constituents.

“The least we can do for people who have disagreements with the government is to relay those concerns to Ottawa,” he said.

On issues of parliamentary reform, he has excellent ideas that go beyond party politics and make sense to ordinary people. In 2010, he received support from across the political spectrum and earned respect in the national media for a motion to reform the daily question period.

"If you restore the right of the Members to ask questions, which is really the heart of the motion, you're going to actually go back to the way question period was run for the better part of our history," he said in a recent interview. In the current system, the leaders dictate which members are recognized to ask questions.

"The questions will reflect what ordinary Members of Parliament are hearing back in their ridings. It would mean a loss of control for the three party leaders, absolutely, and I'm in favour of that...Rules need to reflect the equality of Members."

His motion, which passed by a vote of 235-44, calls for tougher discipline by the Speaker of the House to control rude behaviour that Chong has said "would not be tolerated around the kitchen table".

"Teachers have told me that the level of behaviour in question period is such that they will not take their classes here anymore," he told fellow MPs.

The amount of time allowed for each question and answer would be increased from 35 seconds to one or two minutes, encouraging intelligent dialogue instead of superficial sound bites. Ministers would have to respond to questions directed at them, instead of allowing another minister to answer.

Half the questions each day would come from backbench Members, including those on the government side. They would be selected randomly. Chong believes there will be an improved dynamic and better behaviour when most MPs are not just spectators.

"The leaders still get their national agenda-type questions," he said, "Somebody said to me, 'The questions are going to be very local,' and I said, 'That's wonderful'. That's what democracy is. All democracy is local. Parliament's concerns need to reflect the unique nature of this country."

Taking a practical idea from the British parliament, Chong proposes that the Wednesday period be set aside exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister. It would be part of a roster concept, in which cabinet ministers would only have to be present on two of the other four days to answer questions on their portfolio, giving them and their staff more time to deal with other business.

The focus would shift among the major government departments, with a schedule that would enable both ministers and opposition critics to prepare their strategies. This could reveal more useful information and relevant opinions for the public to consider.

Chong's successful motion sent the issue to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee for consideration and possible changes, but the process came to a stop with last year's election.

"My hope is that the committee is going to take up this issue again this spring, without me having to re-introduce a motion to the House," he said. "I'm optimistic they will give it serious consideration."

He could have to wait well into 2013 for his private members turn, if it is necessary to propose a new motion to the House. In this case, another MP could use their turn to propose it for him sooner. Of course, the government itself could adopt the initiative and move it forward quickly.

If the committee studies the matter and sends the House a report recommending changes, and a subsequent motion of support is supported by a majority of MPs, the reforms would take effect immediately. They would be primarily changes to traditional customs respected by the Speaker and MPs, not a bill or change in law.

"Politics is a powerful way to change the world around you, and if you don't get involved politically, you don't vote, then you have no say in the way your community, your province and your province is being run," said Chong. "It has been fashionable to say politics doesn't matter, government doesn't matter, we're going to change the world in different ways – I couldn't disagree more.

"People may find it frustrating in a democracy – the pace of decision making and the difficult nature of politics. There are far more efficient decision-making systems of government, but they're not democracies, they are dictatorships and other forms of totalitarian government. Democracy can be infuriating and cumbersome, but in the long run produces much better results.

"That's not to say our system is perfect. We have strayed somewhat from our democratic principles. I do believe we have to reform our institutions, and restore the primacy of parliament as the place where decisions are made.

"Question period reform is just one little element of what I think we need to do. There are far bigger things that we need to do to restore people's faith in our Canadian institutions."

Nestlé defends bottled water at Open House

As published in The Erin Advocate

After applying for a 10-year renewal of its well permit and buying the Morette's Furniture factory property as a buffer zone to protect the quality of its product, Nestlé Waters defended its bottled water operations during an open house at the Hillsburgh Community Centre last week.

Ontario's system of well permits is also being challenged in an application to the Environmental Commissioner.

Mike Nagy, Chair of Wellington Water Watchers, and Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians, claim that the Permit To Take Water (PTTW) process fails to conform to Ontario's Statement of Environmental Values.

"Public input is not being given adequate weighting in the permit decision process," they said, in their request for a review of the system, pointing out that related impacts such as pollution from trucking and plastic waste are not evaluated. "Additionally, the PTTW process does not consider the negative impacts of climate change on ground water recharge."

John Challinor, Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestlé Waters Canada, said that current regulation by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) does ensure the public is "adequately protected" and that he is not concerned about the challenge.

"I don't think it's going to have any impact," he said at the open house.

The company is permitted to extract up to 1.1 million litres per day in Hillsburgh, but the average is about 25 per cent of that. There are peak periods with a higher pumping rate, especially in the summer when there is more demand for bottled water, said Challinor.

Liz Armstrong of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) said the seven days' notice for the open house was insufficient, and that a well-advertised public meeting is needed for people to hear a presentation and ask questions. There was no opportunity for The Advocate to notify the broader community, and town councillors were busy with a regular meeting on the same night.

The company is under no obligation to hold such an event, and Challinor said there will be no immediate follow-up. While anyone was welcome to attend, the open house was not intended as a full public meeting. About 100 invitations were delivered to "neighbours" with wells that draw from the same part of the aquifer.

Challinor said the open house was scheduled as soon as possible after Nestlé submitted its application for a permit renewal, and the Town was notified.

"It is not a municipal matter," he said. Next month, Nestlé will meet with the Town, the conservation authorities and the Environment and Natural Resources Ministries to share data, answer questions and discuss issues.

Nestlé is the world's largest multinational food and bottled water corporation, and last year was listed in the Fortune Global 500 as the world's most profitable corporation. Its bottled water sales total about $10 billion and its water-taking has sparked controversy in several countries.

Tonight (Wednesday) at the Erin Legion, at 7 pm, there will be a showing of the film Bottled Life – The Truth About Nestlé's Business With Water, a recent documentary highly critical of the company. Admission is free, with donations appreciated.

The local Nestlé well property is located just west of Hillsburgh and the Credit River, between 22 Sideroad and Station Road. The well itself is 128 feet deep, located in the northwest section near Station Road and the Sixth Line. Tanker truck access is on the southeast side. The Hillsburgh water is shipped to Aberfoyle, south of Guelph, where Nestlé has another well and a bottling plant.

As a condition of its permit, Nestlé is responsible to the MOE to monitor and report water levels on the surface and underground. A network of monitor wells, including sensors installed in the wells of local property owners, measures the impact of the operation. In addition to water quantity, the quality is tested for possible contaminants, and the data is shared with the property owners at no charge.

"Our testing is more sophisticated than the municipality's," said Challinor.

Nestlé is nearing the end of a five-year permit for Hillsburgh. The public will be able to make comments on the renewal through the Ontario government's Environmental Bill of Rights Registry at www.ebr.gov.on.ca. The government's responses to objections made in 2007 can also be read on the site. People can email Environment Minister Jim Bradley at: minister.moe@ontario.ca.

While Nestlé was obliged to increase monitoring of water levels, the ministry found in 2007 that the data had shown the well to have "no significant impact" on groundwater. Credit Valley Conservation and the Town of Erin said they have seen no impact on surface water, while staff with the ministry and Grand River Conservation found the surface data inconclusive.

Nestlé is also obliged to deal with potential conflict between their well and the two municipal wells in Hillsburgh. Based on maps released recently for local Source Protection Areas, the zones of influence for the wells appear to be separate.

"It's a common resource," said Tom Roberts of Erin, at the open house. "We should be getting something for it. It's being used for profit by a big company."

Nestlé pays the province $3.71 for each million litres taken, and makes contributions of at least $10,000 per year to Town of Erin projects such as McMillan Park and the planned Skatepark.

Challinor pointed out that most businesses don't have to pay any special fee for the water used in their products. He said the provincial fee might not be appropriate, but wouldn't say if it is too high or too low. "We are willing to pay for the research to set a proper fee," he said.

"I'm not happy with the taking of water," said Town Councillor Jose Wintersinger, in a public discussion of the issue the following evening, at the Fast Forward Film Festival. "But it is a provincial issue, and we as councillors don't have any more influence than you do. However, it doesn't mean that we as council can't band with you and help you as the process unfolds.

"If everybody stopped drinking bottled water, we'd have them under control, since there would be no market."

Nestlé plans to demolish the Morette's furniture factory on the nearby land it bought last month. It is a cement structure originally used for potato storage, built next to the old CPR rail line by grist mill operator John Awrey. In 1958 it was converted to a furniture factory by Bruce Morette.

The company will eventually host a meeting for people to discuss ideas about what could be done with the Morette's property. It is not intended for a back-up well the company has been considering. The land will be returned to a natural state as a "permanent buffer" to protect the main well.

"We were concerned about residential development and septic systems," said Challinor. The company planted 2,500 pine trees on the property last week, and is considering ideas such as a community garden, a playground and a trail loop connected to the nearby Elora-Cataract Trailway.

Cynthia Canavan lives in the area directly influenced by the Nestlé well, but says she has not noticed any impact on her well.

"It does worry me, but based on their numbers, the water levels seem to be consistent," she said. "They seem to have it under control."

A well protection agreement between Nestlé and Erin is designed to provide rapid response to any complaints by well owners. The firm promises to pay for scientific evaluation and to fix or replace any well that fails because of their water taking. They also promise to cut back or stop production during drought conditions, if they decide it is necessary.

Part of the Nestlé property is farmed, but as a precaution for the groundwater, only organic methods are used. There is water close to the surface in the area, but beneath it is a layer of till about seven metres thick – an almost impervious barrier of clay and silt that helps protect the deeper aquifer where the water is drawn.

Environmental groups often point out that the pumping of oil is heavily taxed, while the taking of water is not. Challinor said this is not a valid comparison.

"Unlike oil, water is a renewable resource," he said. "Our pumping can't permanently impact the aquifer."

In a press release, critics of the Nestlé well said any permit to bottle water represents a net loss to the environment and health of the planet, and is an unnecessary and wasteful use of what they consider a finite resource.

"There are also issues with huge tanker trucks hauling water 24/7 along our sideroads and highways, including noise, dust, diesel pollution and road wear-and-tear," said Christopher Green, of the newly-formed Friends of Hillsburgh Water. With environmental activists from CCAGE and Wellington Water Watchers, they are campaigning to stop or severely restrict the Nestlé permit and to promote the use of tap water.

Challinor said about 70 per cent of consumers drink both tap water and bottled water, and that bottled water is only a small portion of the beverage marketplace. He argued that his industry's impact on the environment is relatively low.

"Tap water has a lower carbon footprint, but we don't compete with tap water," he said. "People are not leaving tap water to drink bottled water."

Critics point to the use of scarce fossil fuels to make the water bottles; and despite a relatively good recycling rate of 62 per cent, millions of them end up in landfill sites every year. Challinor said Nestlé has the lightest-weight bottles in the industry, to use the minimum amount of plastic.

"We have the highest recycling rate of anything in the grocery store, but we're not going to pat ourselves on the back – there's a lot more we can do," said Challinor. "I believe we can get to 90 per cent, and we are driving that change."

April 18, 2012

Source Water regulations will protect Town wells

As published in The Erin Advocate

Areas close to municipal wells will soon face regulations and inspections designed to protect the drinking water supply from contamination or depletion.

A new Source Water agency will have the authority to control or prohibit activities on private property if they are considered threats. The protection will apply only to municipal wells, not to the private wells of homeowners, farmers or industries – including the Nestlé bottled water operation in Hillsburgh.

"The policies have been developed by a multi-stakeholder committee – so it's collaborative, it's locally driven and it's science-based," said Susan Self, Chair of the CTC Source Protection Region, at an information session about the draft plan, held in Georgetown on April 3.

A similar open house will be held on April 26, at David's Restaurant in Erin, 6-9 pm, including a 30-minute presentation expected at 6:30 pm. All comments on the proposed policies must be made in writing by May 1. Copies of the plan and maps of the affected areas are available at www.ctcswp.ca, and at the Erin library.

Town Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said that residents or businesses in the Wellhead Protection Areas are not likely to see much impact from the new system – "unless they're doing something that they shouldn't have been doing in the first place".

Potential threats include improper storage of fuel or chemicals, malfunctioning septic systems and poor management of manure. Activity may be assigned a threat score – a combination of the vulnerability of the land to transfer contaminants to drinking water aquifers, distance from the well and the risk level of the activity itself.

"If it is a significant threat, we must develop policies to manage it," said Self. "There's no choice."

The Source Water initiative is one of the major recommendations from the 2002 inquiry by Justice Dennis O'Connor into the tragedy at Walkerton, in which seven people were killed and hundreds made ill by a polluted municipal well in 2000.

"CTC" refers to the territory that includes three watersheds: Credit Valley, Toronto and Region, and the Central Lake Ontario area east of Toronto. This is the first round of consultation; a second one will be held this July, with the plan delivered to the Minister of the Environment by August 20.

"It empowers the community themselves to take action to prevent the threats from becoming significant, and it requires public participation," said Self. "Everyone in the community gets a chance to contribute to the planning process. It requires that all plans and actions are based on the science that was developed through the assessment report phase."

Detailed maps have been made for areas near the two Town wells in Hillsburgh and three near Erin village. They show a 100-metre radius red zone around each well, plus additional red areas, in which contaminants could move relatively quickly into the underground water supply.

Then there are rings showing territories for the 2-year, 5-year and 25-year time of travel for possible contamination. Since the underground water is flowing, generally towards the Credit River, the risk zones are upstream of the wells.

For the Hillsburgh wells, the risk zones extend northwest, including farmland and many homes in the village. For Erin village, the zones for the well on 17 Sideroad extend northwest, including farmland and industrial uses, including Erin Auto Recyclers. Zones for the well on the Eighth Line extend generally south, but with a red zone to the northwest covering homes and a section of Erin Heights Golf Course.

The Bel-Erin well, located near the intersection of County Road 124 and Ninth Line, was taken out of active service eight years ago, but is still operable and could be used if needed, said Smedley. Its risk zones extend southeast beyond 10 Sideroad, including a large red zone covering homes on both sides of Ninth Line, and the cemetery.

Water on the surface of the land, or in shallow aquifers close to the surface, does not necessarily move down to the deep aquifers where the Town wells draw their water. For example, monitoring of water flow from the auto recycling site on 17 Sideroad shows that it does not move into the intake area for the nearby Town well, said Smedley. Still, it is within the 2-year risk zone on the Source Water map.

Research for technical Assessment Reports started in 2006, identifying threats to drinking water, setting up a "water budget" and assessing vulnerable areas near wells that supply municipal drinking water systems. The plan outlines policies to protect these systems.

Much of the responsibility will be put on municipalities to inspect properties in vulnerable zones. They will monitor existing (and possible future) threats to both the quantity and quality of water. They will have to enforce the plan, possibly starting next year.

The Town will have to employ a Risk Management Official, who will have the powers of a Provincial Offences Officer.

The specific identified threats to water quality include waste disposal sites, and pathogens such as bacteria and other organisms from farm manure, septic systems, storm sewers, wildlife droppings and the discharge from sewage treatment plants. Also on the list are fertilizers, pesticides, salt (from roads or water softeners), stored snow, fuel, organic solvents and other chemicals. The plan has detailed policies on each type of threat.

Defined threats to water quantity include pumping activity that takes water from an aquifer, but does not return it to the same aquifer; and activity such as the paving of roads and parking lots that reduces the recharge of an aquifer.

Under the authority of the Clean Water Act, a Source Protection Plan could prohibit certain activities in vulnerable areas to prevent new threats from developing in the future.

Possible prohibition of activity on private land has become a "red flag for everybody, and we have set out the guiding principle that it's the absolute last choice – wherever possible, we would rather manage threats than prohibit them," said Self.

Education plans and incentive programs may be used to reduce threats. Small farms that may have been exempt from developing a formal Nutrient Management Plan may now have to have one. Another option for farms or businesses is a Risk Management Plan. This would have to be negotiated between the Risk Management Official and successive owners of a property.

The Town may need to adopt new bylaws, amend its Official Plan or put limitations on land use in new developments, in order to manage threats.

The province may also control activity through permits under the Pesticides Act, licenses under the Aggregates Act, or its system of Certificates of Approval (now to be called Environmental Compliance Approvals).

The 21-member CTC committee includes municipal representatives, representatives of business sectors (including agriculture, aggregate mining, golf courses and the petroleum industry), members of the public and environmental groups.

The eastern parts of the Town (including Erin village and Hillsburgh) will be supervised by a Source Protection Authority (SPA), which will be the board of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, including Mayor Lou Maieron. The western part of the Town of Erin will fall into the jurisdiction of the Grand River SPA, in the Lake Erie Source Protection Region.

Clean Air Alliance promotes sensible energy plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

Ontario's energy system always seems like a shell game designed to confuse the average,  income tax-paying, air-breathing Hydro customer. It is a never-ending strategy of subsidies and rebates designed to mask the true cost of electricity.

If we still owe billions of dollars in interest payments for nuclear reactors that are worn out, and still don't know what to do with the radioactive waste, does it make sense to borrow billions more to build new reactors?

Does it make sense to import coal from the US, and then, because we have excess generation, turn around and sell coal-generated power back to the US? Ontario has promised to close its coal-fired facilities by 2014, but the plants continue to spew air pollutants and toxins, along with carbon dioxide that is helping accelerate the harmful effects of climate change.

"We are the only jurisdiction in the planet that is phasing out coal for environmental and health reasons," said Angela Bischoff, Outreach Director for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, speaking at the Fast Forward Film Festival in March. The Climate Change Action Committee of Erin presented The Last Mountain, a film about the fight to stop the removal of Appalachian mountain tops for their coal.

Ontario gets some of its coal from that region to fuel electricity generation plants. Bischoff said only three per cent of Ontario's electricity comes from coal, down from 25 per cent just seven years ago, and that coal could be eliminated ahead of schedule.

"Right now, we (Hydro customers) are subsidizing OPG (Ontario Power Generation) about $300-400 million every year just to keep those coal plants open. With the high cost of keeping the plants open and the low amount of coal that's being burned, it is no longer profitable to be burning coal, so we're lobbying to have the coal plants shut down early, like right now. We have 36 per cent excess electrical capacity on line.

"With green energy coming on line, natural gas coming on line, we don't need to be keeping these coal plants open...By shutting down the coal plants and committing no more dollars to nuclear expansion, we could meet all our energy needs much, much cheaper."

The Clean Air Alliance is a coalition of about 100 organizations across Canada, including businesses, municipalities and non-profit groups, committed to the goal of a 100 per cent green energy grid by 2030. They are opposed to the government's plan to build new nuclear plants (at a cost they put at more than $80 billion over ten years) to supply a significant part of Ontario's energy needs.

The current doubling of the transmission line through Erin is part of the infrastructure needed to deliver more electricity from Lake Huron reactors to Lake Ontario cities.

"Our strategy is to find political leadership...but none of the political leaders right now are advocating for a massive shutdown of the coal plants or a shift in funding away from new nuclear reactors to greener electricity," said Bischoff. After the huge cost over-runs of the past, the Alliance has advocated that the bid process for reactors reflect their full life cycle cost and that people be fully aware that nuclear energy has been highly subsidized by taxpayers.

They promote a combination of three less expensive strategies to make nuclear power unnecessary: 1. Conservation measures to reduce demand. 2. Importation of clean hydro-generated power from Quebec, where they have excess electricity. 3. Efficient use of natural gas (capturing waste heat), as an interim measure.

She said these measures would allow the province to shut down reactors at the end of their useful service and not replace them, opening the grid to a flood of green, renewable energy. That will be generated not only by wind turbines and solar panels (both large-scale and home-based), but biomass processes, geothermal (extraction of heat from the ground) and new technologies such as capturing the energy from waves and rivers.

She also criticized the way wind farms are being developed in Ontario, with no control or ownership by local communities. Wind turbines have been well accepted in Europe where there has been strong community involvement.

The Alliance is urging people to contact political representatives to make their views known. More information is available at www.cleanairalliance.org and www.CoalMustGo.ca.

April 11, 2012

New activities at Erin Tennis Club

As published in The Erin Advocate

A new program for kids in Erin is called Winners Tennis, but winning is not the object of these games. It is a drop-in event every Friday, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., at the Erin Tennis Club.

"It's a parent-run program of non-competitive tennis," said organizer Andrea Cuthbert. "This isn't about winning, it's about developing skills and having fun."

Beginners aged 6-9 will participate in tennis "games" in a group format, while novices and experienced players aged 9-14 will have more challenging activities.

Winners Tennis will run from May 18 to June 29. It is free with a tennis membership, which costs $170 per family, or $105 for adults and $50 for juniors under age 18.

The club is hosting a Try Tennis Day this Saturday, April 14, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Drop in to play, ask questions or register for the upcoming season. The courts are owned by the Town of Erin and are located behind Centre 2000 on Boland Drive.

(Shelley Austin warms up for the new season at the Erin courts.)

Club Pro Doug Ing will again offer four free lessons for every member, plus a free Doubles Strategy Clinic for adults. The kids' lessons will now have a separate time slot for those 7 and younger.

Various other lessons, clinics and programs are available at an extra cost. There is a new cardio-training option for adults. For kids 7-16 there is a new competitive Sunday afternoon program called Team Tennis, in which teams of six will play against other teams, with each player matched against his or her own skill level. Ing can be contacted at 519-895-6822 or at doug@mbscoach.com.

The five courts are open to members at no charge until 11 p.m. daily, although organized activities have top priority. Also free with membership are weekly house league play, men's tennis on Sunday mornings, ladies' tennis on Saturday mornings, inter-club teams, a Freedom 55 traveling team, a singles ladder competition and a series of five tournaments.

The club has several Friday Fun Nights – a combination of tennis and partying. The first is on June 15, with members invited to dress up in Caribbean style.

More information and a registration form are available at www.erintennis.com, and questions can be directed by email to erintennisclub@gmail.com

Erin student promotes benefits of plug-in cars

As published in The Erin Advocate

Kyle Pinto is part of a green wave of university graduates, trained to help businesses and consumers who want to make energy conservation a way of life.

He is on the University of Waterloo team for "EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future" a three-year student competition focusing on electric vehicle technology. Teams from 15 universities across North America will strive to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles by lowering emissions and consumption of fuel (especially petroleum) – without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability.

Electric vehicles are on the market, but improvements are needed for large-scale penetration – from reducing battery weight and charging time, to designing practical back-up power and persuading people to charge up their cars like they charge up their cell phones.

"The public should give it a chance – it's about changing your habits," said Pinto. The three-year competition is in its first year, with modeling and simulation work, but Pinto is contributing as he is about to graduate in May with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies.

His work with the EcoCAR team is in the Outreach Program, raising awareness about the benefits of advanced vehicle technologies and how they reduce the impact of transportation on our environment and economy.

(Celebrity scientist David Suzuki dropped by to learn about the EcoCAR 2 project, at the EcoBuzz Conference at David Suzuki High School in Brampton last November. Hosting the display are Mark Goody, Director of Outreach with the Alternative Fuels Team at the University of Waterloo, and student Kyle Pinto at right.)

Of course, just driving an electric car will not save the environment. It is part of a huge puzzle that will include new technologies, a pervasive conservation attitude and a shift in consumer expectations.

"If you talk to most people, they are concerned about the environment," said Pinto. "But that doesn't always translate into purchasing habits. We're working to make it acceptable to consumers. We're judged on the utility of it."

While attending Erin District High School, Pinto participated in environment-related club activities. He chose Waterloo because it allowed him to combine interests in Environment and Business, which he has been doing for five years now, including co-op placements.

"Being young and idealistic, you think you can change things, but then you see what happens in the real world," he said. A career in environmental consulting is his goal, helping businesses reduce emissions and the carbon footprint of their buildings and operations.

Waterloo and the University of Victoria are the only two Canadian schools in the EcoCAR 2 competition. It is sponsored by the US Department of Energy (which has sponsored vehicle technology competitions for 23 years), GM (which provides a Chevy Malibu for each team to use), Natural Resources Canada and corporations such as Snap-on, Magna, Bosch and Siemens.

For the time being, hybrids come with a relatively high price tag, offset somewhat by government financial incentives. Surveys show that people who buy them were likely to have chosen a relatively expensive vehicle anyway, said Pinto.

Plug-in hybrids require a second fuel to kick in when battery power runs low, extending the usable range of the vehicles. This could be hydrogen, biodiesel, or the one chosen by the Waterloo team – ethanol.

"More infrastructure is needed to buy ethanol conveniently, but you just need a regular socket for battery charging," said Pinto.

There are issues with ethanol, since it uses crops as an energy source and takes considerable energy to produce. Still, it is considered a useful secondary fuel in some of the combinations being tried in new car designs.

The Volvo C30, for example, has a 272 kg battery pack, but to maximize that power source, especially in cold weather, the car heater is powered by ethanol. A 15-litre tank of ethanol could heat the vehicle during regular use for about three weeks.

April 04, 2012

Pancake event celebrates spring at Terra Cotta

As published in The Erin Advocate

The arrival of spring is an opportunity to enjoy outdoor education activities at Terra Cotta Conservation Area.

Families came out to the Spring in the Park Festival on March 17 to join a scavenger hunt, check out a wildlife identification display, make their own bird feeders out of pine cones and have a pancake breakfast – served all day.

(Dave Orr of Credit Valley Conservation serves up pancakes and sausages to hungry visitors.)

At the neighbouring Jack Smythe Field Centre, there were maple syrup demonstrations. By next year, Terra Cotta should have its own maple syrup program, since they are planning to build an educational sugar shack this year.

Saturday's event was the first of the spring Landscapes for Learning events at the Watershed Learning Centre at Terra Cotta, which is located on Winston Churchill Boulevard, 1.6 km south of Erin.

Get Your Gardening On!, planned for April 14, has been cancelled, but you can register for the Birding for Beginners event, to be held Saturday, May 12, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Discover the basics of bird watching, learn tips for locating and identifying them and get a complimentary birdhouse for your backyard.

Register and get more details about these events on-line at www.creditvalleyca.ca/education, or call the Stewardship Hotline at 905-670-1615. The cost for non-members is $10/adult, $7/child or senior, and for members, $5/adult, $4/child or senior.

There are other programs at Terra Cotta, such as a Bat Box Building Workshop on Wednesday, April 18 at 7:30 p.m., and a free workshop to help rural landowners care for their land and water, at 6 p.m. on April 25.

Terra Cotta Conservation Area (just north of the village of Terra Cotta) is 408 acres of protected forest and wetlands, with a network of trails (including the Bruce Trail), plus Spring Pond, Muskrat Pond and Wolf Lake. People can take advantage of picnic areas/pavilions, barbecue rentals, fishing areas, community meeting space and a new visitor centre with a store and washrooms. In winter, there are groomed cross-country ski trails (with ski rentals), a skating rink (ice conditions permitting) and snowshoe rentals.

An amphitheater is being planned for a sloped area of land near Wolf Lake, which could be used for education of school groups, musical entertainment or even weddings.

Regular admission to Terra Cotta is $5/adult and $3/child, but you can get a one-year family membership for $100 that will admit up to six people to all 10 areas operated by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), including Island Lake in Orangeville, Belfountain Conservation Area and Limehouse Conservation Area.

Fans of Terra Cotta may want to check out a unique photography exhibition being held at the Williams Mill Visual Arts Centre, 515 Main Street in Glen Williams, March 21 to April 22. Local photographer Manny Martins visited the conservation area once a week for one year, and has produced a series of 52 large-format images called Terra Cotta Journey.

There are also volunteer opportunities for those wanting to make a difference at Terra Cotta. People who could help out with environmental projects or events on one Saturday morning or afternoon per month are urged to call Annabel Krupp at CVC, 905-670-1615, ext. 446.

Teens can earn community service hours as a regular volunteer or with the Conservation Youth Corps, which offers a one-week summer term of work and environmental education. Registration is now open – call coordinator Shawn Verge at 905-670-1615 ext. 441.

Volunteers are also needed for the Friends of Terra Cotta, a group that meets monthly to discuss new developments at the conservation area and help plan and carry out various fundraising and educational activities. They will be heavily involved with the Haunted Forest event in October, just before Halloween.

To find out more about the Friends, contact Julie McManus, Conservation Areas Partnership Coordinator, 905-670-1615 ext. 247.

The public can also get involved with activities of the CVC Foundation, which contributes at least $1 million per year to CVC projects. The Seventh Annual Conservation Gala is planned for Wednesday, May 9, including dinner, entertainment and philanthropy, at Rattlesnake Golf & Country Club in Milton. Tickets are $125 per person, or $1,200 for a table of ten – call Terri LeRoux at 905-670-1615, ext. 424.