Browsing the blog archives for May, 2010.

McNamara’s Fallacy In Action

South March Highlands

The City of Ottawa has been warned by scientists, several times and in several studies, that TFD fragments the eco-system in the South March Highlands (SMH) and dramatically reduces the ability of the SMH to withstand change.

This warning is a well-considered and inevitable scientific conclusion, backed by years of research, that sadly cannot be scientifically quantified.  Questions like: How much further change can the SMH take? How much change is introduced by urban development? How long will the Conservation Forest survive, etc simply cannot be quantified.

So does that make the unmeasurable any less important to decision-making?

McNamara's Fallacy

Robert McNamara  was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War and was obsessed with making decisions based on only what could be measured.  He also had a predilection to prefer only information that fit into his metric-based world view.  This led to increasingly absurd decisions by the US Government for many years until they finally withdrew from the Vietnam conflict.

Sociologist Daniel Yankelovich described a process he called McNamara’s Fallacy to explain why some of us have a tendency to under-value what cannot be measured.  The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead has also referred to this tendency the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness“.

McNamara’s Fallacy is a process having 4 steps.

  1. Measure what can be measured.  This is fine as far as it goes.
  2. Disregard that which can’t be measured or give it an arbitrary quantitative value.  This is arbitrary and misleading.
  3. Presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t very important.  This is blindness.
  4. Say that which can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist.  This is madness.

TFD Fallacy

The Terry Fox Drive (TFD) extension is an excellent example of McNamara’s Fallacy in decision making.

Step1.  The City haphazardly commissions several piece-meal studies of the South March Highlands (SMH) area to identify existing ecological conditions and count species.  However, only easily studied vegetation is studied.  There are no comprehensive studies of fauna, insects and non-vascular plants.

Step 2.  Issues such as the size of eco-passages are ignored since the impact of the size on the effectiveness of eco-passages cannot be predicted (disregard what can’t be measured).   This leads to mitigation planned for TFD relying on experimental ideas whose effectiveness has no established scientific evidence at all (assigning an arbitrary value to them).

  • Instead emphasis is placed on having several smaller (measurable, so more must be better) passages instead of fewer, larger (more costly) ones. 
  • The location of these eco-passages is inferred from a 3-month winter study of wildlife movement because a summer study is too hard to do for the wide-variety of species affected.

Step 3. The long-term impact of losing ½ of SMH to development is never studied (too difficult to measure so don’t look at it at all).  The City has never examined its economic justification for TFD relative to its environmental impact (no cost/benefit analysis) because it is presumed that ecological value is unimportant (because it is difficult to measure).

Step 4. Councillor Wilkinson asserts that TFD can be ignored when promoting SMH as an NCC-owned wilderness park.  The the long-term effect of fragmentation of habitat and species kill-rate caused by TFD don’t exist (because they can’t be measured).

The reality is that the effect of TFD cannot be mitigated because it cannot be measured.  The very concept of mitigation depends on establishing an equal and compensating benefit to make up for the impact.  This is not possible when the impact cannot be measured.

Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle holds that where there is uncertainty regarding an approach that could cause significant harm, the uncertainty should be resolved before proceeding.

This principle is well established both in law and in medicine.  It is a statutory requirement in the European Union.  Perhaps it is also time for City Hall to apply it to the environmental assessment process too.

In the meantime, anyone that contemplates allowing TFD into the South March Highlands does so at great peril to the environment and to all the species that live in it.

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Terry Fox Drive & South March Highlands Overview

South March Highlands

This posting uses tabs.  Be sure to click on all of them to see the whole article.

SMH

The South March Highlands (SMH) has been described as a “wild island” of natural landscape within the City of Ottawa.

No other major city in the world  literally includes a vigorous old growth forest with as much bio-diversity that includes endangered species.  The closest is Vancouver’s Stanley Park which is 1/3 the size and contains ½ the variety of vascular plants compared to the SMH.

The SMH  is rated as a Provincially Significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) for both its Life Science value (895 hectares) and is also ANSI rated for its unique Wetland Complex (114 hectares).  A double rating is very rare in Ontario and speaks to the ecological significance of the area to the Province.

SMH has been rated by scientists as the “most important reservoir of  ecological potential” in the City of Ottawa because it has the densest bio-diversity of any area in Ottawa and provides resources for the renewal of depleted natural areas elsewhere.  There are 10 distinct habitats within the SMH that are home to  17 species-at-risk (SAR) and the largest deer wintering yard (925 hectares) in the City of Ottawa.

The hydrology of SMH is integral to both the Carp River as well as to the Shirley’s Bay wetland complex in the Greenbelt.  Two subwatersheds that have headwaters in SMH feed both ends of Shirley’sBay wetlands in the National Capital Greenbelt.

The SMH is geologically unique in the City of Ottawa and supports over 440 species of vegetation, including: 64 Regionally Significant, 50 Locally Significant, 6 Provincially Rare, and 2 Nationally Endangered species of vascular plant life.  This habitat is crucial for 164 species of bird, including 136 species that breed in this area, 9 bird SAR, and the 30 Regionally Significant species of bird that inhabit this ecosystem.

Yet, even though the Regional and City Official Plans have officially “protected” the SMH since 1972, less than 1/3 of the original area remains. 

TFD 2000-2005 

In 2000 the City prepared an Environmental Study Report (ESR) that recommended that  Terry Fox Drive (TFD) be routed through the centre of this fragile ecosystem.  This choice had the highest ecological impact of the 4 alternative routes considered in the study and completely ignored the results of the 3 public criteria workshops that consistently rated ecological impact as the most important evaluation criteria for the City to use. 

Two of the four reasons for choosing the environmentally worst option were to mitigate the impact that TFD would have on future development within the area – development that was not approved at that time, and on lands that were not zoned for urban expansion at that time.

In 2004, at the request of residents, a Special Study of the NEA zoning was conducted that improved the protective zoning of lands south of the proposed road.  However, later that year an EA Addendum was prepared that was used to justify an expansion of the urban boundary. 

An EA Addendum is required whenever there has been a material change to either the planning or environmental context for a project.  The Notice of Completion was filed for this Addendum on January 2005.  A Notice of Completion creates the only opportunity for interested parties to formally intervene in the EA process and they only have 30 days to file a formal appeal (called a Part II Order Request).

A Part II Order Request was filed by a land developer that was not resolved until January 2007 after a private deal was struck with the City that relocated the Goulbourn Forced Road (GFR) & TFD intersection so that it would provide easier access within the subdivision that the developer was planning.  Note that a  subdivision plan had not received even a draft approval at that point in time. 

This deal had the effect that GFR could no longer serve as a conduit for south bound traffic along 2nd Line Road (part of the original justification for the TFD extension).  The City has adopted the position that changing the intersection is not a material change to the EA Addendum even though GFR is the boundary of the project scoped by the 2005 EA Addendum.

Meanwhile, the developers (KNL/Urbandale) challenged  the 2004 NEA zoning and obtained an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruling in 2005 that approved a draft plan of subdivision for development within half of the SMH. 

Neither of the 2000 or 2005 “environmental” assessments, nor the OMB, addressed the ecological impact of both the road and urban development.  The Special Study’s scope was restricted by the City to a narrow area and did not examine the holistic impact of road and urban development on the SMH.

TFD 2006-2010

In 2006, the City of Ottawa made amendments to the Official Plan that effectively creates the TFD roadway as the outer edge of the western urban boundary. Inside the curve of TFD, areas previously identified as Natural Environment Area were changed to General Urban Area or to Urban Natural Feature. In effect most of the forested area was re-zoned to general urban use inside the arc of TDFE, while outside the roadway arc lands remained zoned as conservation forest, agricultural or greenbelt rural. 

In 2007, after public challenge, the OMB upheld the change to urban boundary.  The City then prepared another EA Addendum in 2007 but has never filed Notice of Completion for it.   In order to accelerate qualification for federal Infrastructure Funding, the City adopted the position that it did not need to complete the 2007 EA Addendum even though there have been two OMB rulings affecting zoning since 2005 Notice of Completion.

In 2007, Ontario became the leading jurisdiction in North America for SAR protection when it passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Even though there is no impact analysis on SAR  in any of the 2000 ESR, 2005 EA Addendum, or the unfiled 2007 EA Addendum, the City has taken the position that the passage of ESA does not constitute a material change to the environmental planning context. 

The unpublished EA Addendum in 2007 provided for changes to rail-grade separation.  But  when the City accelerated the project for 2010 construction, it decided to incorporate the design for a raised rail crossing but not implement the bridge until later.   Use of the raised-crossing design  with level-crossing implementation will not only violate Transport Canada regulations for train line-of-sight safety, but also pose serious risks to human safety.  Without public review, there is no opportunity to ensure the safety of this rail crossing.

In 2008, the Minister of Environment (MoE) issued an order setting conditions regarding the approval of the Carp River Restoration Plan (CRRP), 1 km of which overlaps with, and is hydraulically interconnected to the management of drainage for TFD.  In 2009, flooding in the Carp River watershed affected 1500 homes. 

According to the 2005 EA, TFD will impact the floodplain storage area by over 45,000 cubic metres – significantly exacerbating the risk of flooding since the impact of the road was analyzed using an assumption that peak flows would be 30- 40% less than what it is now understood to be.

According to the 2009 TFD Storm Water and Floodplain Management Report, the construction of TFD “directly impacts the Carp River floodplain”. 

In 2010, as a result of the discovery of questionable parameters used by the City for hydraulic modeling of the Carp River flood levels, the MoE required that CRRP be regulated as a sewage works requiring approval under the Ontario Water Resources Act. 

Yet, even though there is a 1km overlap between TFD and the CRRP, and even though it is now known that the storm culverts planned for TFD are insufficient for the task, there has been no re-examination of the design impact of TFD storm water management on the setting of Carp River grades.

In 2010, to qualify for federal funding, the City completed two Canada Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) Screening Studies for different parts of TFD that cross through the SMH.  The City subdivided the project into two parts (A & B) so that they could meet federal deadlines for approvals for Infrastructure Funds. 

Despite the fact that both the content and depth of these CEAA studies are larger than the original Provincial EAs, the City chose to perform those studies without public review and input.  

 

Mitigation Denial

The City’s CEAA studies rely heavily on environmental mitigation plans for which there has been minimal to no scientific basis. 

  • Eco-passageways proposed as mitigation for turtle habitat fragmentation are regarded as experimental by the scientific community and there is no scientific evidence that they will even be used by turtles.  
  • The size and location of eco-passageways were determined on the basis of least project cost and a 3-month long winter study of wildlife movement (when many mammals and all amphibians and reptiles are hibernating). 
  • Vegetation studies have been piece meal and have never holistically examined the entire SMH context. 
  • Herpetofauna (reptile & amphibian) studies for the road were based on a random-walk that only conducted a single sample of the area, except for the salamander study which was required to be performed in greater depth by the CEAA. 
  • Fisheries studies have been cursory, never exceeding 2 days in length. 
  • Despite the fact that Blanding’s turtle, a SAR, has been repeatedly observed in SMH since at least 1991, there has never been a radio-telemetry study of their movement. 
  • Even though the Monarch Butterfly, a SAR, has been observed in SMH there has never been an insect study.

The Part B CEAA Study contains material changes to the planned re-alignment of Shirley’s Brook.  Over the past 10 years, 5 different re-alignments of Shirley’s Brook (depending on which EA is referenced) have been proposed – even though previous studies determined that re-habilitation of the brook was not necessary.  None of these changes examined the collateral impact on drainage and floodplain requirements, nor did they examine the collateral impact on SAR.

The fisheries impact analysis presented in the CEAA Part B Study conveniently omits the presence of a SAR, Bridle Shiner, at the location impacted by the various re-alignments of Shirley’s Brook.   The effect of omitting this information results in a material reduction in the risk assessment for fish habitat. 

To-date the Dept of Fisheries and Oceans has declined to revisit their approval of this project because Bridle Shiner isn’t listed for the SMH in their SAR database. Yet separate studies conducted by the City of Ottawa in each of  1998, 1999, and 2000 confirm the presence of Bridle Shiner in SMH.

Meanwhile the City, Ontario MNR, and Environment Canada continue to ignore the uncharacteristic and increasingly blunt warnings from scientists about the serious fragmentation of habitat caused by TFD. 

  • The 2004 Special Study determined that the extension of TFD will sever the eco-connectivity of the SMH to the extent that it is called a “Berlin Wall” by Dan Brunton, the foremost scientific authority on the area.  
  • The leading turtle scientist in Canada, Ron Brooks, has declared that, regardless of the proposed mitigation measures, building the road will eradicate the entire population of Blanding’s turtle
  • The City of Ottawa’s expert Forest and Greenspace Advisory Committee passed a unanimous resolution expressing “grave concerns about the ecological damage caused by the TFD extension”, denouncing the proposed mitigation measures as seriously inadequate and expressing concern over the failure of the City to protect the area. 
  • The Ottawa Field Naturalists, Canadian Bio-Diversity Institute, Greenbelt Coalition, Riverkeeper, Ecology Ottawa, Sierra Club, Save Our Greenspace, and several other ecological and community groups have endorsed a statement that the road should be abandoned.

No Reason

The justification for the road evaporated with the tech bubble in 2001. 

  • The City’s Auditor General in 2007 found that the population projections used to justify it and several other projects were unrealistic and unreasonable since actual growth has been 80% less than forecasted. 
  • City Management agreed with the AG’s findings and undertook to review all existing growth-related plans and programs. 
  • In 2008 the City reduced the forecast in the Transportation Master Plan but failed to update the TFD traffic study (used to justify the increase in scope of the project in the 2005 EA). 
  • The City has never obtained Council approval to continue with a project that no longer fills an economic need. 
  • The City’s Transportation Master Plan, 2008, continues to assert without justification that the rationale for the TFD expansion project is that it “Accommodates the vehicular capacity deficiencies for growth areas in Kanata“.

Meanwhile, in 2010 another developer (Richcraft) as applied to the OMB to have the lands outside of the arc of TFD zoned for urban development – yet again using the road to justify the push of the urban boundary westward.  This application is currently being reviewed by the OMB and is opposed by community and ecological groups.

The Municipal Class EA Process is unambiguous in requiring that an EA Addendum must be prepared whenever there has been a 5-year lapse of time between filing the Notice of Completion and the commencement of construction.  Notice of Completion for the 2005 EA was filed January, 2005 and project construction for Parts A & B did not commence until April 2010. 

The City holds the position that the 5-year limit applies only to the 2000 ESR for which construction started in 2003 south of the area scoped in the 2005 EA Addendum.  This position conveniently ignores the fact that, by definition, a subsequent EA Addendum represents a material change in scope to the project.  To assert that the 2005 EA Addendum does not reset the lapse-of-time clock defies any reasonable interpretation of Ontario’s Environmental Assessment process.

Ontario’s MoE staff have concluded that, under the Municipal Class EA Process, it is up to the proponent to decide whether an EA Addendum is necessary.  Consequently, the MoE has to-date declined to require the City to update its 2005 EA. 

Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) provides that Ontario residents can expect that government ministries will protect their environmental rights.  The responsibilities of each Ministry in this regard are specified in a Statement of Environmental Values.

The MoE’s reluctance to require the City to update its 2005 EA appears to be in contravention of that Ministry’s Statement of Environmental Values that states, in part, “The ministry works to protect, restore and enhance the natural environment by: Undertaking compliance and enforcement actions to ensure consistency with environmental laws

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Ottawa Citizen Continues to Whitewash TFD

South March Highlands

The Ottawa Citizen has put so much white wash over the Terry Fox Drive (TFD) extension project that it will soon be unsafe to drive.  Each article that they publish seems to add more white-wash than the last.

The article, “Councillor muses about Terry Fox land swap“, quotes Marianne Wilkinson as saying she wants a park, but “the road must go ahead“.

Click on each tab below to reveal why she is wrong.

Why?

There is no economic justification for spending $47.7 M on a road that will sever the eco-connectivity of the area that Councillor Wilkinson wants to create a park in.

The original justification for the road evaporated with the tech bubble in 2001.  The City’s Auditor General in 2007 found that the population projections used to justify it and several other projects were unrealistic since actual growth has been 80% less than forecasted. 

City Management agreed, yet the traffic study for the road has never been corrected, nor was Council approval obtained to continue to proceed with a project of this magnitude having no economic justification.

No wonder Council can’t balance the City budget.

Who?

According to the Census, only 26,000 people in Kanata live north of the Queensway and most of them live south of South March Highlands – Morgan’s Grant, Dunrobin, and North March being the only communities in the north end of Kanata.

Meanwhile there have been 4 roads built in Kanata to enhance north/south connectivity (in addition to the 4-land March Road) since TFD was planned in 2000:

  • Hertzberg road now connects to TFD,
  • Kanata Avenue links to Campeau and TFD,
  • CastleFrank now crosses the Queensway,
  • TFD links Centrum to Kanata south.

The City is also spending $18 M to upgrade Goulbourn Forced Road so that is will be a usable road. 

How many roads do 26,000 people need?

According to OCRI, high tech employment is lower now than it was in 2000 and is likely to be flat for the foreseeable future (click to enlarge):

Graph of OCRI: Knowledge Based Employment Showing Flat Trend

Negative to Flat 10-year Growth In High Tech Employment

With the demise of Nortel, causing its parts sold off to foreign investors, we are unlikely to see significant employment growth returning to Kanata.

Who does the Councillor expect to use this road?

How?

The Citizen chose not to challenge Councillor Wilkinson on how she expects to justify a park to the NCC when TFD extension will sever eco-connectivity to it.

Scientific studies have proven that the road severs both the existing park in Trilliam Wood and the future park that the Councillor wants to have south of the road.  The leading scientific expert on the area, Dan Brunton, has called the road a “Berlin Wall” because it creates an impassible obstacle that will kill any animal that tries to cross it.

The City’s own Forest and Greenspace Advisory Committee, consisting of an expert panel of ecological advisors, passed a unanimous resolution expressing “grave concerns about the ecological damage caused by the TFD extension”, denouncing the proposed mitigation measures as inadequate as well as the failure of the City to protect the area. 

The Ottawa Field Naturalists, Canadian Bio-Diversity Institute, Greenbelt Coalition, Riverkeeper, Ecology Ottawa, Sierra Club, Save Our Greenspace, and several other ecological and community groups have jointly issued a statement appealing that the road be abandoned.

In trying to promote a park and build a road, how does the Councillor expect to have her cake and eat it too?

When?

Councillor Wilkinson is right in asking that the NCC extend the Greenbelt to embrace the South March Highlands.  The entire area should be a park that is out of the reach of the developer-driven planning at City Hall.

However when will the Councillor drop her support for a road that is no longer needed?

When will she rescind delegation of authority to City staff that enables them to approve developer plans for this area without public review?

If the Councillor were actually opposed to development in the area she would be using every mechanism available to her to delay it. 

When will she act as she speaks?

Conflict of Interest?

One can only wonder about why the Councillor floated a $100 M price tag for the purchase of land that cost considerably less for the developers to purchase.

In 2012, the land will soon be close to worthless from a developers’ perspective when habitat protection automatically kicks in as a result of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. 

There are 17 species-at-risk identified with the South March Highlands, many of which currently reside in lands owned by developers.  With habitat protection, it will be very difficult and costly for developers to develop this area.

At some point, Ontario’s Ministry of the Enviornment will also get serious about dealing with the Radon gas that is embedded in the granite beneath the area.  This gas will be released by any blasting done for development and is already a health hazard for existing residents of North Kanata.

Environmental mitigation for radon gas emissions will make it harder for developers to sell homes in the area.

Without the road, developers will have to rework their draft plans for subdivisions, involving costly engineering work.  And even if the road is allowed to proceed, the environmental assessment process for development in such a sensistive area should be subject to lengthy public review.

Selling the land to the NCC at even cost plus 10% makes better business sense from a developer’s perspective because it creates more economic cash flow than tying up expensive capital for diminishing returns.

It appears that the Councillor is not experienced in the art of business negotiation, so why is she batting about high price tags?   Is it because the City is too accustomed to giving developers whatever they want?

Ecology Ottawa, Do_Developers_Run_City_Hall, examined campaign funding by developers for City Councillors in the last election.  It will be interesting to see how much funding from developers goes to Wilkinson and other candidates in this year’s election.

Ecology Ottawa also tracks the environmental voting record of all City Councillors and it will be very interesting to see if there is any inverse correlation between the declining environmental grades given to several councillors and any increased campaign contributions they receive from developers in the upcoming election. 

As an example you can see from page 2 of postcard-and-grades, the Councillor for North Kanata’s environmental record has deteriorated from a B to a C-D rating since the last election.

While we are looking at the long hand of developers, we should also ask why doesn’t the City’s editorial board ever allow its reporters to challenge the road? 

Could it have something to do with the significant amount of advertising revenue from the City of Ottawa each year? 

Or perhaps the massive amount of advertising revenue from advertising from developers.  This volume is enough to justify a whole section of the paper each week called “New Homes”.

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GHG Denial in TFD EA

Climate Change, South March Highlands

Opportunity Cost

The 2010 CEAA Screening Study for Terry Fox Road Part B contains a manditory section that summarizes the effects of the project on air quality.

Amazingly, the road is assessed as having No Significant impact due to tailpipe emissions and resultant smog and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) effect!

CEAA Summary of Effects On Air Quality

Table 6-5 From CEAA Screening Study

The US Environmental Protection Agency, however, measures vehicle emissions based on the distance driven.  By creating more roads, our cities expand the opportunity for vehicles to drive (generating more GHG in proportion to the length of the road) and create a disincentive for using public transit – roads are more convenient. 

By investing in Terry Fox Drive (TFD), the City has also created an opportunity cost of $47+ M by not putting the same amount of money into public transit.  As an example of the impact of this opportunity cost, currently there is some concern over the cost of student bus passes that are now manditory.  An expenditure of less than $5 M is probably sufficient to allow all students to ride the bus for free.  The $47 M being spent on the road would have enabled students to ride the bus for free for over 9 years!

Real Disclosure

The City should have disclosed that TFD will result in a net total annual emission of 90,324 Tonnes of GHG per year.

 The calculation for this is:

  • GHG increased by volume of traffic x amount of time of traffic on road.
    • Use avg traffic volume x 24 hrs x avg GHG emission per hour per vehicle
    • Assuming peak to average ratio is 10:1 and that peak hour volume is 2 hours x morning & afternoon
    • US EPA: light duty vehicle (incl passenger car but not SUV and miniVANs) = 337 gCO2 per mile
    • US EPA: SUV, miniVAN, pickup trucks are approx 1.3 x worse
    • US EPA: Combined Cars & Trucks = 1.13 x passenger = 1.13 x 337 = 380.81 gCO2 per mile driven
    • 380.81 x 1.6 = 609.296 gCO2 per km per vehicle = 0.6 kg CO2 per km
    • TFD is 4.8 Km long = 0.6 x 4.8 = 2.88 Kg CO2 per vehicle
    • Using unconstrained modal split disclosed in the 2004 EA Traffic Study of 8950 vehicles per hour (In+Out) 8950 x 2.88 = 25776 Kg CO2 per peak hr
    • 8 x 25776 / 1000 = 206.208 tC per day from peak plus 16 x .1 x 25776 / 1000 = 41.2416 tC non-peak per day
    • 206.2 + 41.24 = 247.44 tC per day x 365 = 90,315.6 tC per annu
  • GHG absorption decreased by loss of forest cover due to clear-cutting for the road:
    • Use hectares removed by road times GHG absorption per hectare
      • 4.67 ha Dry-Fresh Sugar Maple-Ironwood Deciduous Forest
      • 0.34 ha Dry-Fresh White Ash-Hardwood Deciduous Forest
      • 5.61 ha Fresh-Moist White Pine-Hardwood Mixed Forest
      • 0.37 ha Young Deciduous Forest
      • 4.67 + 0.34 + 5.61 + 0.37 = 10.99 ha
    • 10.99 x 0.75 = 8.2425 Tonnes Carbon absorbed per year
    • According to David Suzuki Foundation, other GHG removal per hectare of forest is 60 kg/ha = 0.06 t/ha
      • 0.75 + 0.60 = 1.35 GHG per ha
    • 10.99 x 1.35 = 14.8365 Tonnes of GHG per year

 Net change in GHG = 90315.6 + 8.24 = 90323.84 Tonnes per year

Lack of Accountability

The analysis used in the previous section is based on the City of Ottawa’s own traffic study statistics which are based on unreasonable traffic volumes.  Nonetheless the City was obligated to disclose the impact based on the numbers that they used to justify the road.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) was also obligated to ensure that the disclosure was accurate.  How could they have accepted an error of over 90 MegaTonnes of GHG emission?

We deserve much more responsibility and accountability from our public servants at both the Municipal and Federal levels!

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Terry Fox Roadkill

South March Highlands

The railway crossing design for Terry Fox Drive appears to be unsafe. 

The problem has arisen because the City of Ottawa accelerated the project to obtain federal Infrastructure dollars.  In doing so they had to drop the planned railway bridge documented in the 2007 EA Addendum.  The upshot is that they have a design for a bridge, but are implementing a level rail crossing. 

The big difference between the two is the possibility of train/car collision!

From the engineering drawings in the City’s environmental assessment, it appears that the City has not left enough sighting distance from the road to the approaching train. It looks like the at-grade crossing sightlines are blocked by the berms and rock outcrops. Because the ‘at-grade’ CN crossing is split over two drawings it is difficult to make out. However the text suggests they have not even considered this safety implication.

Transport Canada rules state there should be a distance between the crossing and car of 140 metres for an 80km/h approach speed of the car. Assuming a slow moving train at 20mph, then the car driver needs a clear view up the track ( The Hypotenuse of triangle).

This equates to a distance from the crossing down the track to the train of  91 metres to the train. Both these distances will increase the faster either the train or the vehicles travel.

It looks like it won’t be just deer and turtles at risk of being killed by this road!  Hopefully it won’t be you.

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The Terry Fox Clown Show

South March Highlands

As described in a prior post, the MCEA process in Ontario is “proponent-driven”.  The City of Ottawa evidently interprets this as meaning that they can get away with just about anything as long as they go through the motions of consulting with MNR, MoE, and CEAA. 

None of those “authorities” have actually any authority to dictate to the City any standard of compliance.  Meanwhile the city’s project staff can claim to have the “approval” of those same authorities as they merrily go about making a mockery of the process.

Consider the following timeline of “compliance” by the Terry Fox Drive Extension project:

  1. The City conducts public hearings, as required by the MCEA when preparing the 2000 EA, to obtain input on criteria to be used to evaluate alternative alignments for the road. 
    • A total of 3 workshops were conducted, resulting in unanimous agreement by residents that the natural environment was top priority (this is well documented in the 2000 EA Appendices). 
    • Project staff then proceed to ignore this feedback by not applying any criteria priority weights when evaluating the alternatives (clearly evident from reading the 2000 EA). 
    • The result is selection of the alternative that, by their own analysis, was rated by project planners as 5x worse for the natural environment than the most eco-friendly alternative. 
    • Does compliance with the process mean only lip-service to it?
  2. The traffic studyin the 2000 EA that  justify the traffic volumes for the road double counts traffic running along March road 3x.
    • It also counts traffic from subdivisions that were not even approved at the time that the traffic study was performed. 
    • In fact those subdivisions were not approved by the OMB until 5 years later!
    • How is the use of inflated traffic volumes compliant with MCEA process?
  3. In calculating the costs for the 4 different alignments considered for the route that the road should take, the cost of upgrading Goulbourn Forced Road (GFR) was applied against the eco-friendly alternative routes, but not against the alternative recommended by staff. 
    • The result was that the recommended alternative (carving out an entirely new road) is claimed by staff to be $4 M less expensive than the shorter route of upgrading an existing road!  As if. 
    • The cost of the GFR upgrade was also accurately costed to be within $1 M of today’s cost, but the cost of the recommended alternative was only $13 M in 2000 as compared to today’s cost of $47 M.  
    • Even at $47 M, this cost does not include future development of more lanes, a railway bridge, and several other expensive features.
    • How is fiscal manipulation and under-costing compliant with any process?
  4. In presenting the recommended alignment to the Transportation Committee in the fall of 2000, the City minutes reveal that there is no mention of the fact that the recommendation was in conflict with the highest rated priority expressed by residents.
    • Is this a transparent process as required by the MCEA or as expected by City Council?
  5. One of the reasons given in 2000 for the recommended alignment was that other alignments would split communities that had not been approved yet!
    • No consideration was given to the fact that the recommeded alignment would split a conservation forest in two.
    • The lands for the future development were not even rezoned as urban use for 5 years after the 2000 EA was issued.
    • Yet the westernmost road alignment was used to justify an expansion of the urban boundary in 2004.
    • How is using an EA to justify future development compliant with the EAA?
  6. The traffic study updated in the 2004 EA Addendum uses population projections  that are wildly optimistic.  They forcast that population growth will double in Kanata by 1996.
    • Yet census data reveals that population growth in Kanata from 2000 to 2006 was actually only 18%.
    • How can the road be justified based on this and why does this material fact not require a new EA Addendum?
  7. After completing a special study in March 2004 of the area caused by the shift in urban boundary arising from the 2000 EA recommended alignment, none of Daniel Brunton’s findings regarding the presence of significant species found in the area appears in the 2005 EA Addendum.
    • How is the documentation of 7 distinct habitats and the discovery of 268 (including 4 regionally rare and 12 Regionally Uncommon) native species of vascular plant, 6 Regionally Significant birds (including 1 one now on the SARO list), as well as the observation of Blanding’s and Snapping turtles not relevant to the EA Addendum?
  8. After approval of the 2005 EA Addendum by City Council in Oct 2004 (containing only a 400m diversion of Shirley’s Brook), but prior to filing the notice of completion, project staff “slipped in” a 1370 m diversion (project staff used those very words to describe this to a City Advisory Committee). 
    • However the document did not contain the costs for the larger diversion, nor an impact assessment of it, as required by MCEA process. 
    • Is that an example of EA process compliance?
  9. Despite moving a critical intersection with GFR 3 times from the original plan in 2000, the City maintains that there is no need to file a Notice of Completion for the 2007 EA Addendum because there was no change to the planning context. 
    • So why did they prepare the 2007 version of the EA Addendum at all? 
    • And if intersection location is not important to the process context, why was it the objective of a Part II Order request filed by a landowner pursuant to the 2005 Notice of Completion? 
    • It was evidently important enough to justify a negotiated change the the EA Addendum at that time.
  10. Despite there being a change to the urban boundary as a result of an OMB hearing in 2005, the City maintains that there is no need to file a Notice of Completion for the 2007 EA Addendum because there was no change to the planning context. 
    • If an OMB ruling does not change the planning context for a municipality what does?
  11. Despite the introduction of the SAR acts both federally and provincially after the only Notice of Completion filed by the City in 2005, the City maintains that there isn’t sufficient change to the environmental context to warrant a revised addendum. 
    • If the passage of environmental legislation at both federal and provincial doesn’t affect the sensitivity analysis of an EA what does?
    • Given that, as a result of that legislation, there are now 17 identifiable species-at-risk in the scope of the project where previously there were none flagged, how is that not a material change to the environmental context?
  12. Notwithstanding the fact that the 2000 EA documents the presence of Bridal Shiner in Shirley’s Brook, a SAR listed both in SARA and SARO, project staff conveniently omit this critical information in their application for DFO approval. 
    • How is that compliance with CEAA process requirements to disclose the presence of all species-at-risk?
  13. Notwithstanding an Ontario-Canada agreement (2004) on the coordination of EAs that requires the proponent to follow an integrated process having a single body of documentation, the project staff chop the provincial EA into two parts and performs 2 separate additional EAs for the sole purpose of obtaining Federal approval (as documented in a memo from the General Manager of Infrastructure Projects to City Council). 
    • Is this in any way considered process compliance?
  14. Despite having not really started the part B project until April 6, 2010 (as stated by the General Manager for Infrastructure Planningin his memo to Council in April) project staff now maintain that they started part B in 2003 based on a technicality (amounting to the installation of a few hydro poles) so that they can avoid the 5-year lapse of time deadline imposed by the MCEA. 
    • Is that really in the spirit of process compliance?
  15. This technicality claimed by the City actuallyoccured a full year before the scope of the project was defined and approved by City Council! 
    • That is because the 2004 EA Addendum moved the intersection where the “start of work” was supposed to have occured.
    • How can construction have started a full year before the project was even defined, let alone approved by City Council?
  16. City Council minutes, April 6, 2010,  describe that the General Manager for Infrastructure Planning telling council that the official start of Part A was Feb 16, 2010 and that the tender for Part B was to close April 6, 2010.
    • How can the project staff claim that the start of the project was earlier if the General Manager was telling the truth to City Council?
  17. Now that project staff realize that their failure to adequately plan for the 1370 m diversion of Shirley’s Brook may be grounds for a judicial review causing a halt to the project, they have now changed the impact to a 250 m diversion and still have no plans to issue an EA Addendum reflecting the scope change.
    • The MCEA requires that all changes to project impacts be documented (not just increases). 
    • At a minimum the staff should publish their evaluation of how the 250m alternative is now sufficient when for years they were convinced that nothing less than a 1370m diversion would suffice.
    • So how can the staff claim to be running a compliant process?
  18. At the OFGAC meeting April 26, the project staff now state that Bridle Shiner were found in Watts Creek near the Beaverpond and Kizell Pond and that none were found in Shirley’s Brook.
    • Yet the 2000 EA presents a table that clearly indicates that none were found in the Beaverpond and Kizell Pond and that 4 were positively identified in Shirley’s Brook.
    • Is misleading a City Advisory Committee within anyone’s definition of an acceptable process?
  19. A reveiw of the 1999 Subwatershed study reveals that Bridle Shiner were reported in both Shirley’s Brook as well as in the Beaverpond an Kizzell Pond!
    • Was this information suppressed in the 2000 EA so that re-zoning for development could occur in the Beaverpond area?
    • Why did project staff omit this information when submitting their Screening Study to the federal Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO)?
    • Is suppression of observations of a species-at-risk compliant with the CEAA process?
  20. The CEAA EA for Part B of the road shows that a level grade is planned for the railway crossing at TFD. 
    • Yet the 2005 EA Addendum was prepared on the basis of a raised overpass crossing.
    • How is this change in scope not grounds for another EA Addendum?
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Ontario’s Broken EA Process

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

No Checks and Balances

If the Harper government has their way, the limited responsibility of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) will be downloaded onto the provinces.  In the current budget, the federal government has already done that for all projects funded under the pork barrel commonly known as the Infrastructure Fund.

In Ontario, this means that environmental responsibility will be downloaded onto an environmental assessment (EA) process that the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario  (ECO) has outright declared as “broken”.

Ontario’s environmental protection process is broken in so many ways that a full discussion of these problems is well beyond the scope of this blog.  Instead, we will focus on arguably the most crucial issue – the almost total lack of checks and balances in the EA process.

The Ontario Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) sets out a decision-making process to be used by government ministries, municipalities, and the private sector that is intended to promote sound environmental planning.

The EAA establishes a minimum process for EAs and further defines that Classes of projects that routinely occur (such as municipal roads), can be defined by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) along with a Class EA process that such projects are to follow.

For example, the MoE decided long ago that the Class EA process for municipal projects is defined by the Municipal Class EA (MCEA) process and that the responsibility for the MCEA process was to be downloaded onto the Municipal Engineers Association of Ontario.  This is a professional association of the civil engineers who build municipal roads and infrastructure – having no expertise in ecological or natural environment matters.

Furthermore, since everyone expects that municipalities and provinical government ministries and agencies will act responsibly, the EAA  defines that Class EA projects are to be “proponent-driven”.

This puts class projects into a different league than those done by the private sector.  There are no checks on the Class process followed by a proponent, nor are there counter-balances that can be used to enforce compliance even if process irregularities are reported.  Meanwhile private sector proponents have to implement a process monitored by the MoE, creating a Do As I Say and Not As I Do situation.

This also means that provincial authorities such as the MoE and Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) have actually no authority to tell municipalities how to conduct an EA.  At best, they provide an advisory role to municipalities and, except for their role in granting various permits that may be required for a project, have no authority to tell a municipality to shape up.

For example, the MoE cannot tell the City of Ottawa that the Terry Fox Project is overdue for public consultation and is unable to compell the City to review a decade’s worth of changes to the project with the residents who will be affected by it.

The MCEA process relies entirely on the City determining, on its own, that sufficient changes to project scope or context have occured to warrant the effort of preparing an EA Addendum (which effectively restarts the EA process).

No Public Comment

Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) doesn’t help matters because, under Section 32, ministreies do not have to provide an opportunity for public comment for permits issued to implement a project that has been approved by the EAA.

This means that once an MCEA project is approved by the filing of a Notice of Completion for the EA that was done, there is only a narrow 30-day window in which it can be challenged.

Even though the project may not be implemented for years afterward, or may even be changed in scope subsequently, there is no opporuntity for further public intervention in the process.

Meanwhile a municipality can make significant changes, apply for permits, and obtain approvals for those changes all without public review and comment.  Depending on the permit application involved, there may be a limited window for comments on the application, but this is spotty and relies on public monitoring of little-known registries where these permit applications are posted.

Take the example of permits to take water.  Private-sector proposals to take water from wells, streams or lakes are posted on the Ontario Environmental Registry for public comment in case there may be concerns about significant environmental impact.  If the public continues to have concerns once a permit to take water is issued, the EBR provides the right to request an appeal.  An independent tribunal applies strict criteria to decide whether or not to grant the appeal, hears the case if an appeal is granted, or facilitates a settlement.

But if a municipality wants to take water, it is only required to go through an EAA process and no EBR notice is required.  Hence a change to a project involving the routing of a storm or sanitary sewer can be done silently after the 30-day Notice of Completion window has expired.

The public misses important opportunities to provide input on municipal water-taking approvals even though water quality and quantity issues have been of concern for many Ontarians since the Walkerton incident.

Enter The Clowns

The net result is that:

  • municipalities can and do assert that they are compliant with the EA process when often they are not.  In fact, they can make a total mockery of the process and get away with it.
  • the municipal EA process is effectively regulated by a non-governmental body having no public accountability.
  • there is no ecological natural “environment” expertise mandated in the EA process at all.
  • there are no checks on the process and even if there were, there are no balancing forces to assure the outcome intended by the EAA.
  • there is no tribunal that the public can appeal to when a municipality violates their trust.  Their only recourse is an expensive application to the court system where they will face an opponent funded by their own tax-dollars!

Is this how we want to protect our environment?

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