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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.
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.
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.
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.
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”