The Essex Region Conservation Authority board of directors has passed an $8.4 million budget which includes a phosphorous study, land preservation efforts, extensions of trails and new educational programs.
The budget, approved Thursday night, includes a contribution of $2.9 million from local municipalities. The levy will increase by $139,323 from last year’s budget, which works out to $0.65 extra per household, according to the budget report.
“I think our board appreciates the value we bring in our ability to leverage other dollars through senior levels of government, through other funding opportunities and grants,” said ERCA general manager Richard Wyma. “From an operational perspective, about 75 to 80 per cent of our operations is funded through third-party sources and not through our local tax dollars.”
ERCA’s deficit is expected to reduce to $96,000 from its 2012 high of $437,000.
Of the $609,400 in capital and operational reserves, $318,500 will be used for capital infrastructure projects this year. Also, $50,000 is set aside for capital replacement and $158,600 is for additional land acquisition.
Wyma, also the secretary treasurer, said a lot of the projects funded this year are related to becoming a “more sustainable region.”
The authority will begin a three-year study on blue-green algae blooms on Lake Erie. The “intensive” project will look at finding the most beneficial management plans and ways they can be applied to different parts of the region, said Wyma.
Another study is focused on improving habitats for fish in the Detroit River, which Wyma said is at the stage of choosing the areas where ERCA can have the “best impact of the work that we can do.”
To help with sustainability, Wyma said the organization aims to “plant another 120,000 trees which will restore at least another 125 acres of land,” as well as restoring 20 acres of prairie land and create five new acres of wetlands.
Wyma said ERCA is hoping to complete the approximately 70 kilometre Cypher Systems Greenway trail system between Amhertsburg and Essex. He said there are also plans to start connecting the Chrysler Canada Greenway, which already intersects with the Cypher trails, to the new trails along the Herb Gray Parkway and Leamington’s trail system.
“The goal, if we can make these connections all work, is you can cycle or walk or whatever from downtown Windsor and go to Leamington or Pelee Island or Amherstburg and never have to actually be on a road,” he said.
ERCA will host the Lake Erie Student Conference in the spring, which Wyma said will not solely be about the issues facing the Great Lakes.
“We want to provide an opportunity to bring those experts together with students, so that we don’t just focus on the challenges that we’re facing, but also … the types of professions that help us answer and solve these problems, which I think is really important, especially with our younger generation,” he said.
Other projects include the drafting of a 10-year strategic plan by April and stormwater management guidelines for the whole region, which Wyma said will address changing weather patterns.