Highlands East property owners are taking issue with a proposed all-use trail development, which they say sprang up without forewarning or environmental consideration.

Kevin Jackson and Dan Patfield spoke to Highlands East Council in separate delegations Nov. 12. They each own property along the proposed Dillman Hill Trail between Legacy Road and South Wilberforce Road, which would include ATV and snowmobile traffic.

However, the two argued there was not enough public consultation, as the municipality had not alerted multiple area landowners. They also expressed concern about the environmental impact ATVs could inflict in the area. Jackson said residents have spotted Blanding’s turtles along the route, a protected species under Ontario legislation.

“The environment is not getting the proper attention,” Jackson said.

Trails and outdoor tourism advisory committee chair and Coun. Cam McKenzie said the development is now on hold to address the issues raised. That includes the possible species at risk matter, which McKenzie said would require the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks to assess the area after the winter.

“We sure as heck don’t want to get involved with some kind of breach with a fairly important piece of provincial legislation,” McKenzie said.

The route also extends into an environmentally protected area in the municipality’s official plans. It is not completely clear if more motorized traffic would be allowed in that zone, McKenzie said. Jackson also proposed the municipality develop a trails master plan to better guide the process for development.

“We need something,” McKenzie said. “I personally kind of like the idea but I’m only one member of council.”

McKenzie said the development predates him joining the committee in 2019. But he said an approximately two-kilometre stretch was likely considered because it is on publicly-owned land. But he said no group or individuals have specifically pushed for it since he came onto the committee.

Halliburton ATV Association director and committee member Barry Lord said the organization is not eyeing the trail.

“We have tons of trails and we have added new trails in the past, but we have not been looking in Wilberforce to add a new trail,” Lord said.

The next committee meeting is scheduled for February to start addressing the concerns raised, McKenzie said.

“There’s something wrong with the process,” Jackson said.

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