Friday, 16 April 2010

What We Don't Know About the Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFD) and the South March Highlands

This is based on what I have learned from from information provided by many interested local residents and activists who have been looking into the details of this project and are contributing to an informal mailing list. This is a very complex issue and to avoid writing a documented treatise I will just be presenting highlights without attribution to their sources.

For more detailed information please contact Paul Renaud at paul@renaud.ca


Fast-Tracking the Environmental Assessment Process


It has become clear that the City of Ottawa has been fast-tracking the environmental assessment process for the project in order to expedite it to gain federal economic stimulus funding. Indeed it appears the City has been playing fast and loose with the environmental assessment process for the project and taking advantages of any and all loopholes in the process. I have read copies of extensive correspondence with the authorities regarding this and the complexity makes it impossible to summarize.

The following letter has been sent (by one of the mailing list participants) to Ottawa City Councillors.

Subject: RE: CEAR, Assessment 09-01-51616

Marianne, and other members of Council,

Further to my prior correspondence, you should be aware that the 2004/2005 EA Addendum for Terry Fox Drive that was approved by City Council did NOT include ANY realignment of Shirley’s Brook. A realignment of the stream on the north side was added only in the 2007 EA, documented as Exhibit C-10, dated April 2006. However, the City did NOT file a Notice of Completion for this EA and that proposed realignment in the 2007 EA was NEVER approved by Council. This does not meet my definition of fiscal responsibility and I wish to confirm that it doesn’t meets yours either.

Subsequently the scope of the realignment has increased significantly and it is evident that this project is now out of control. It is time that Council revokes any delegated authority to staff and re-assert its control over this project.

Council should also insist that staff stop fighting with provincial authorities and follow the Municipal Class EA Process as required by law. The law states that the City should be filing a single integrated EA document, based on the provincial process and updated as required to meet federal standards, for this project.

It is inconceivable that the project is proceeding, at the provincial level, under a stale EA dated 2005, and simultaneously proceeding at the federal level (not requiring public consultation), under a newer plan dated 2010. This does not meet any definition for an integrated process.

Even worse is that the federal CEEA documentation contains significant changes to both planning and environmental context that, according to provincial law, requires the proponent to file an EA Addendum and seek feedback from interested parties.

Council should not be permitting staff to operate in a lawless and irresponsible way. What are you going to do about this intolerable situation?
Biodiversity and the Brunton Report

The following is a extracted from a summary(prepared by one of the mailing list participants) of Brunton's 2004 Study of Biodiversity in the areas impacted by the Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFD).
The area is very bio-diverse with 268 species of vascular flora and over 134 species of birds cataloged. In addition to the provincially rare species found in the area, there are also 4, formerly 5, Regionally Rare species of plants:

- Rusty Woodsia
- Southern Blue Grass
- Wood-Rush
- Long-leaved Chickweed

According to this study, page 13, the 5th regionally rare species of plant life, “Spiny Coon-tail (Ceratophyllum echinatum) [was] extirpated in 2003 by the destruction of wetland habitat in Richcraft Property east of First Line Road right of way.”

This is the very same Richcraft that proposes to use the Plan B extension of TFD to appeal to the OMB to further destroy (I mean “develop”) lands west of the planned road!

The area of our first hike included the Richardson Forest habitat straddling the watershed divide between the headwaters of Watt’s Creek (which I have previously incorrectly referred to as Kizell Creek because it runs thru the Kizell Drain wetland) and the Carp river. According to Brunton, page 15, this area is one of the 4 most significant areas for ecological connectivity in the South March area and contains a White Pine forest area that is Regionally Significant.

TFD will sever this connectivity and development of the KNL land will “result in a major reduction in the ecological corridor function presently active [in the area]” and “virtually all of the interior forest values of the Richardson Forest will be eliminated.” (pages 23-24).

Evidently the Kizell Drain wetland scored 585 out of the 600 minimum points required to qualify as a Provincially Significant Wetland. So close! Given that the City of Ottawa’s Official Plan has a goal of protecting Locally Significant Wetlands, I doubt that city planners can reconcile why Kizell Drain is being allowed to be ecologically severed from South March and be turned into a storm sewer for the surrounding urban development. Saying that the “OMB made me do it” doesn’t cut it as an excuse.

Also making this area special is the presence of 18 Regionally Uncommon species of flora and 8 Regionally Uncommon species of birds. These birds require “uncommonly pristine forest habitats” now threatened by the development that will accompany this road. Brunton notes that the open condition caused by right of way (i.e. TFD) facilitates the spread of invasive, non-native vegetation.

Brunton also found the largest local population of Regionally Rare Short-headed Sedge (Carex brevior) growing on the bedrock outcrops near Richardson Side Road. He also observed Blanding’s turtle and the Golden-winged Warbler in the Special Study Area that we hiked through.

In this report, Brunton expresses concern that the mitigation proposed by the City for TFD is an ecological passageway whose location may be sub-optimal. Evidently a developer proposed an even less optimal location than the one originally determined by Dillon Consulting’s 3-month winter study (when most wildlife are hibernating). Evidently, discussion on the merits of one location over the other centered on the amount of rock to be removed and whether this was any worse than the earthwork impact on wetlands caused by the road itself. (perhaps this line of thinking should be given a name - the logic of incremental destruction)

Brunton’s report points out that ecological connectivity would be the more important criteria for planners to use! Final selection of this route was not determined by the time Brunton’s report was completed, so it would be important to find out the rationale & facts relied upon by the City in choosing the location of these “mitigation” measures.

Brunton, page 29, recommends a 50 meter protection zone (per the Ontario Natural Heritage Manual) around all lands zoned NEA due to the “uncommonly sensitive nature of the South March Highlands landscape. … This is particularly so in light of South March Highlands soils being generally more vulnerable to disturbance and less capable of supporting disturbance-tolerant natural vegetation than landscapes on the clay and loom based lowlands which dominate eastern Ontario.”

He also goes on to recommend that the waterways that drain some of the area into the Carp River maintain their natural course and that the standard City of Ottawa 30 meter no-development buffer is applied.

As for TFD, he states bluntly “the finished roadway would constitute: (1) a significant impediment to wildlife movement along the Hazeldean Escarpment, raising public safety as wildlife mortality issues, and (2) increased fragmentation of the habitat.”
2004 Brunton Report

2008 Brunton Report

Species at Risk

There are many species at risk in the habitat of the South March Highlands that are potentially impacted by the Terry Fox Drive Extension. The City of Ottawa has identified Trillium Woods as the most environmentally significant section of the South March Highlands. The Terry Fox Drive Extension will cut off this smaller section from the larger conservation area placing its habitat under great stress and at great risk.
One of the challenges facing the public is the incomplete documentation surrounding the patchwork of environmental studies done by the City over the years. Each document discovered seems to surface more facts not previously disclosed and often omits other information previously disclosed about the South March Highlands ecosystem and the Terry Fox Road project that seeks to sever it in two.
The total is now 17 species-at-risk:

3 x Endangered Species
- American Ginseng (Plant)
- Butternut (Tree)
- Loggerhead Shrike (Bird)

6 x Threatened Species
- Blanding’s Turtle (Reptile)
- Whip-poor-will (Bird)
- Western Chorus Frog (Amphibian)
- Eastern Musk / Stinkpot Turtle (Reptile)
- Olive Sided Flycatcher (Bird)

8 x Special Concern Species
- Bridle Shiner (Fish)
- Short Eared Owl (Bird)
- Black Tern (Bird)
- Common Nighthawk (Bird)
- Snapping Turtle (Reptile)
- Eastern Milksnake (Reptile)
- Monarch (Insect)
- Bald Eagle (Bird)

The Ontario Species at Risk at will provide automatic habitat protection for 4 of these 12 species within 2 years. Some would consider it immoral for the City to act now in a way that it knows will be illegal in 2 years. Hundreds of residents have already objected to Richcraft, KNL, and Urbandale developing subdivisions in this ecologically sensitive area.
Shirley's Brook Realignment

There are some serious issues regarding the extent of the Shirley's Brook realignment that is being done as part of the Terry Fox Drive Extension (as well as the KNL development), especially as regards the inaccurate reporting of fish populations done as part of the environmental assessment process.
Misinformation appears to have been the City’s agenda because any statement that fish are not present is unfounded on fact. The 2000 ESR notes the presence of Central Mudminnow, Northern Redbelly Dace, Finescale Dace, Bridle Shiner, Buntnose Minnow, Fathead Minnow, and Brook Stickleback in the area where Shirley’s Brook will be relocated near the rail crossing.

The 2007 Addendum further notes that “the presence of larval fish within the area [i.e. in the location of the rail crossing] indicated that the site is utilized as a rearing and nursery habitat.”

In the area most affected by the diversion, the 2007 Addendum notes the presence of Central Mudminnow, Brook Stickleback, Northern Redbelly Dace, Blacknose Shiner, and Creek Chub. The report states “Based on the fish species present within this watercourse, this watercourse is characterized as providing seasonal spawning, nursery and forage habitat during spring and/or high flow conditions for cyprinids [minnow species] and other baitfish species.”

Evidently, the City would like to bury the 2007 study as it seriously contradicts their assertion that no fish are present.

FYI, the 2000 ESR also notes that muskrat was observed in the area of Shirley’s Brook.
The Terry Fox Drive Extension and A Quebec Bridge
TFD might also become a major arterial route for the proposed site of the western bridge to Quebec.

The most logical site for a western bridge would be up Moodie where the 416 meets the 417, but that cuts through an existing developed subdivision and the river is wider at that point. Terry Fox is the City's next best choice - especially since it will eventually cut thru the wetland on the other end to link to Hunt Club via Maple Grove Road.

The reason that the transportation factor scores were low for the bridge at Riddell was that March Road provided the only link to the 417. Earlier bridge studies (e.g. 1995, 1999) had included the dotted line for Terry Fox, and referred to it as a "ring road". Now it's happening... So not only would it be a link between Morgan's Grant and Centrum/ Stittsville, it would also eventually be a trucking route from the 417 to Aylmer/ Gatineau!
Alternative Roadway

It has been suggested that an upgrade of Goulbourn Forced Road would be a suitable alternative to the Terry Fox Drive Extension.
While a road may be needed to facilitate access between the Centrum and Morgan’s Grant, it does not have to follow the route currently chosen. NONE of the environmental assessments conducted by the City for this road have ever considered the impact on these species-at-risk in decision-making about where the road should go. Incredibly, in the 10-year planning history of this road the City has consistently opted for road alignments that have greater impact on the natural environment than other alternatives. Better alternatives were discarded by planning staff because they failed to apply any prioritization to the criteria that they obtained during public consultation.

An upgrade of in Goulbourn Forced Road (GFR) in conjunction with the Part A re‐alignment of GFR will meet the local transportation needs of residents and has already been studied and identified as the environmentally best alternative by the City’s 2000 Environmental Assessment (EA). There is no need for Part B other than to support development in a sensitive area. The only objection to using GFR as an alternative is based on the assumption of significant development in sensitive areas and the increased traffic that it will generate. Although future development has been approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), final development plans have not been approved.

Left un-opposed, the Terry Fox project could ultimately devastate 3 wetlands (Cederview, March Highlands, Ottawa River/Morgans Grant)
Can KNL's Development Be Stopped

Since the damage from the KNL development is related to and arguably much greater than that from the Terry Fox Drive Extension, can it be stopped. While I tend to think that this is not possible there is another view.
The clock doesn’t have to be rolled back, it just has to go forward in a different direction.

Refusing the road significantly undermines the economics of development in the area and creates a basis for limiting future development. Developers will have to modify their plans and they cannot force the road to be built.

Meanwhile Federal infrastructure dollars can be applied to upgrading GFR which was already studied as alternative 4-3B in the 2000 ESR. This is just as “shovel ready” as the poorly conceived TFD Part B.

Land repurchases to protect NEA land is consistent with the City’s official plan and can further shrink the urban footprint on the area. Strategic repurchases to augment already protected land can save valuable eco-corridors and eco-connectivity in the triangle between South March Highland, Trillum Wood, and Watt’s Creek.

With no new road, reduced economics, rising costs, and an opportunity to recoup land costs with a reasonable profit, it is likely that developers can be convinced to sell land back to the City.

So why can’t we buy the land back and build a park instead that will rival Gatineau park? Even if not all the land in the area is repurchased, any repurchasing reduces urban pressure on both the environment and traffic volumes in the area.

Creation of a larger, better-managed, South March Park will create a recreational destination that also will boost tourism dollars spent in your ward, benefit local business and increase property values.

I also believe that it is possible to raise matching funds for purchasing land for a park from the high tech sector. They will respond to an alternative vision for the area as well as to the perpetual branding opportunities that it might contain (think “RIM-park”, “Mitel-interpretive centre”, etc.). If 3-year branding of the Palladium can be sold for $25 Million, perpetual branding in a highly visible tourist destination nearby can certainly be sold.

All that is missing is bold leadership at a time when everyone else at City Hall is wringing their hands and saying “the OMB made me do it”.
For more detailed information please contact Paul Renaud at paul@renaud.ca

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW!!! GREAT ARTICLE.

Hey join my facebook group I want to save the lands north of the Beaver Pond in Kanata Ontario" I have pictures and posts and would appreciate you sending out as many notes/cmments as possible.

BTW - I'm working hard at sending letters to everyone I can about this issue.

I'd love to have a coffee.

BTW I am Chair for the new KNRC Community Steering Committee www.kanatarec2012.com and think it is very important to maintain the forest.

Who builds a subdivision in the middle of a sensitive/protected forest.

Steve