Browsing the archives for the City Of Ottawa tag.

The City’s Failed Wildlife Strategy

Green Reality, Legislative Gaps

The City of Ottawa’s Wildlife Strategy is a disappointing response to the public and to environmental groups who have been highly critical of the reactive and negative way in which the City responded to wildlife conflicts.

The public has been routinely frustrated that wildlife-related decisions are handled by an inter-agency group that included the City’s by-law department, the NCC and the Ministry of Natural Resources – without any transparency or accountability.

So, without any transparency or accountability, it appears that Mayor Watson has done what he seems to do best, a backroom deal that puts the City’s Wildlife Strategy in the hands of the City’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee – even though this group has no mandate to do this and its chairman, Doug Thompson is an advocate for coyote culls.

Killing wildlife whenever there is conflict may be a strategy, but Mayor Watson is it a good one?

So after more than 3 years of deflection and delay and a 200-page report filled with a lot of empty platitudes, it will be ‘business as usual’ for beavers killed at the majority of conflict sites in Ottawa.  Neither will there be any real help for people experiencing a wildlife conflict.

As for the process, the City’s public consultation created a new low for public participation initiatives undertaken by the City because it was deliberately stalled and dragged out.  Several of the community stakeholder groups resigned because the working group had not met in over 16 months after the draft strategy was released. Nor were any community stakeholders involved in its development.

Meanwhile a parallel and secretive process was running in background between city staff and agency representatives, some of whom had obstructed the process on the working group from the very beginning.  This is the same inter-agency group that operates without transparency and accountability – take for example, the MNR’s arbitrary refusal to allow the Constance Creek Wildlife Centre to open.

According to the mayor, ARAC was given responsibility for City-wide wildlife management in 2011. If this is true it is another example of the secretive way that the Mayor runs the City because there is no public record of approval for it.  The wording in ARAC’s 2011 Terms of Reference with respect to wildlife is identical to that in its 2006 Terms of Reference and both documents explicitly state that its responsibilities do not extend outside the rural boundary.

So why is this committee now responsible for managing wildlife conflict within the urban boundary?

Mayor Watson’s abysmal record on the environment continues to reflect 18th century colonialist attitudes.  Maybe it’s time to

  • dispense with backroom deal-making
  • operate an inclusive decision-making process in the public sunlight
  • establish a balance between the needs of development and nature
  • look for creative 21st century solutions to age-old problems.

We can only hope for a new mayor in the near future actually cares for the environment, public participation, and for implementing democratic process.

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There is no Good Way to Execute a Bad Idea

Green Reality, South March Highlands

It appears that the City of Ottawa has two standards for engaging public consultation – one for East end citizens and another for the West end.

In Navan, the City will engage the public through the consultative Schedule C Environmental Assessment process when a development proposes a major water drainage area diversion across a watershed boundary that threatens environmentally sensitive wetland at Mer Bleue and an important woodland at Notre-Dame-des-Champs.

Yet in an identical situation in Kanata (where KNL is proposing a water diversion that threatens the National Capital Greenbelt, South March Highlands, and the Kizell Provincially Significant wetland) the City has cancelled plans to engage the public through a Schedule C EA, because it will allow KNL to conduct a pre-approved Schedule A/A+ EA involving no public consultation at all.

Worse the City has made this bad decision:

  • Against the professional opinion of 4 licensed water resources engineers who have all recommended that a Schedule C EA be done;
  • Against the objections of the National Capital Commission who is against a water diversion that would impact the nationally significant Greenbelt that lies downstream;
  • Against the objections of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority who is against a water diversion because it is contrary to the official Watershed Plan which is supposed to guide all development in both watersheds;
  • Against the provincial guidelines for development planning and storm water management that state that development should be planned on a watershed basis;
  • Contrary to KNL’s Conditions of Draft Subdivision Approval that requires conformance with the Watershed Plan;
  • Contrary to KNL’s Conditions of Draft Subdivision Approval that requires public consultation prior to any phase of development – which has NEVER occurred;
  • Ignoring the public safety risk to a nuclear isotope processing facility that lies on the floodplain less than 500 m downstream from Beaver Pond Dam.  According to a recent CEAA study, water infiltration is a recognized nuclear safety risk at that facility.

Is the planning department so inept that they seemingly apply two different standards in Ottawa?  Or is there another hand at work behind the scenes that has corrupted decision-making?

How can the City’s Planning Committee, allow such bad decision-making to be perpetuated?  You can ask the Chairperson yourself by emailing Peter.Hume@ottawa.ca .

If Mayor Jim Watson is sincere about improving the City’s consultative process he would ensure that all citizens be treated fairly by his administration.

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Ottawa’s Watergate II – How-To Bury an EA

Green Reality, South March Highlands

What seems to many as a bizarre perversion of the Environmental Assessment (EA) process under the direction of City of Ottawa’s General Manager of Planning & Growth Management, John Moser, continues to unfold in the South March Highlands (SMH).

This is a large post so please click on each tab below to view each section in turn.  The contents tab provides an overview of the other tabs.

C

If you get lost in the acronyms, see the Acronym Soup listed in the left side column under Green Related links.  The first expose of Ottawa’s Watergate was published last year and describes current Storm Water Management (SWM) problems in more detail.

Contents

1 – Introduction & How Drainage Affects Stream Flow

2 – (1906 – 1979) Early History of Flood Control

3 – ( 1980 – 1989) Campeau’s Drainage Concept

4 – (1999 – 2003) Recommendations of Environmental Studies

5 – (2003 – 2005) KNL’s Application for Subdivision

6 – (2005 – 2007) Draft Plan Approval & OMB Appeal

7 – (2008 – 2009) Issues Found with Drainage Concept

8 – (2010) NCC and MVC Concerned About Diversion

9 – MCEA Master Planning and EA Process Explained

10 – (Jan – July 2011) City Declares Schedule C is Necessary

11 – (Jun – July 2011) Attack of the Planners

12 – (Aug – Sept 2011) Public Safety Issues Surface

13 – Applicability of MCEA Schedule Requirements

14 – (Oct 2011) Yet Another Planning Opinion

15 – (Oct 2011 – Dec 2011) City Decides to Flip Flop

16 – (Dec 2011) MoE Abdicates

17 – (Feb 2012) City Buries The EA

18 – (March 2012) First (and only) Public Meeting

19 – Is Secrecy A Good Idea?

20 – Time To Do The Right Thing

1

How Drainage Affects Stream Flow

It appears that City is interfering with the EA process required for Stormwater Management (SWM) infrastructure to placate the developer KNL (a joint venture of Urbandale and Richcraft)  by reducing public scrutiny of a proposed drainage area diversion in the SMH.

  • The City also appears to be ignoring the need to coordinate multiple overlapping environmental studies per the requirements of the EA Act of Ontario (EAA) which requires the City to avoid piecemealing approvals by using a common, Class EA process requiring more public participation.
  • These overlapping studies include the planning for a walkway in and around the provincially significant Kizell wetland, a study of the threatened Blanding’s Turtle, an addendum for proposed realignment of Goulbourn Forced Road (GFR), and the review of the SWM Master Plan for KNL’s subdivision Phases 6 through 9.

Understanding the events surrounding this seemingly dubious course of action by the City requires a basic understanding of how drainage areas affect the flow of water in streams, the history of engineering and planning for KNL’s SWM plans, and how the EA process is supposed to work in Ontario.

Water from rainfall and snow melt is a significant component of hydrologic flow in a watercourse which is comprised of both direct runoff water and the recharge of ground water from precipitation.  The total amount of a stream’s flow is a combination of base flow (from groundwater) and peak flows (from runoff) as illustrated in the figure below (this type of figure is called a hydrograph).

  • “Base flow” is an engineering term that refers to the amount of overall stream flow that is provided by ground water sources.  Peak flows arise from water that hasn’t infiltrated into the ground (e.g. during and after a storm) and is running directly off the land into the watercourse.
  • It is well-understood by engineers that any significant diversion of storm water drainage from one watercourse to another impacts the natural function of rainfall recharge of near-surface ground water and in turn reduces or eliminates the base flow of the watercourse that is being denied this recharge by the diversion.  In other words, if you drain off or redirect water before it seeps into the ground, it cannot recharge ground water sources that ultimately feeds base flow.
  • Since diverted water has to go somewhere else, the addition of diverted storm water to a receiving watercourse also leads to impacts that professional engineers must address if they are to prevent public safety hazards of increased flooding and erosion.

In reading this post, it is important to appreciate that the Municipal Class EA (MCEA) process is a Class EA engineering process established under the EAA and governed by the Municipal Engineers Association (MEA).  Note that Mr. Moser is not an professional engineer (P.Eng.), nor does he appear to be a member of the MEA, and is just a registered professional planner with the Ontario Institute of Professional Planners (OIPP) and a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

One of the many differences between the training of professional planners and professional engineers is that civil engineers study hydrology.  Some civil engineers specialize in hydrology and are referred to as water resources engineers. The less-qualified opinions of a planner should never be accepted over those of a water resources engineer in matters of hydrology and SWM infrastructure planning.

Base & Peak Flow Relationship in Shirley's Brook (Click to Enlarge)

Base & Peak Flow Relationship in Shirley’s Brook (Click to Enlarge)

2

Early History of Flood Control

This 1925-era map of the SMH shows that no lake was present in the Kizell wetland at that time.  Beaver Pond is located at the cross-hairs on the map and the west tributary draining Kizell wetland can be seen at the location of the South March Station adjacent to the wetland area.  The Kizell to both Watt’s Creek and the Carp River are more easily seen in an earlier 1906 map.

1925 SMH Map

In 1964, the Kizell tributary to Watt’s Creek was designated as a Municipal Drain by the Township of March.

In 1965 Bill Teron initially developed the Kanata Beaverbrook community under the concept of creating a lake in the eastern part of the Kizell wetlands.  According to the Kanata Standard, Teron started to create Kanata Lake by clearing trees and attempting to dredge the wetland, however, his equipment started to sink into the swamp and the project was abandoned.

According to the Kanata Standard, in 1970 there was a serious flooding problem in the vicinity of Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL’s facility is now owned by MDS Nordion).  Campeau, who had assumed development rights from Teron, was required to remediate the flooding issues caused by the golf course in Beaverbrook.

  • In 1970, Campeau built a rock weir with a sluice gate at Kanata Lake (now called Beaver Pond) so that the Kizell tributary to Watt’s Creek could be detained during spring snow melt.
  • However, the deeper water in Kanata Lake attracted increased beaver activity which contributed to chronic flooding in the area, including another flood at AECL in 1972.

In 1973,the Kizell Drain was improved under March Township Bylaw 34-73 and consolidated with a portion of the Walter Bowes Municipal Drain to attempt to control the chronic flooding arising from the combination of beaver activity and continued development in Beaverbrook.  The Kizell Drain now extends the full length of the Kizell tributary from Beaver Pond to where Kizell joins Watt’s Creek inside the National Capital Greenbelt.

  • The Environmental Study of the Marchwood Area of Kanata, 1976, describes the majority of Kanata Lake as being at most 2 1/2 feet deep at that time.
  • In Aug 1978, a study by F.F. Slaney, Review of Campeau Lands Within the Proposed South March Highlands Conservation Lands, identified that dredging to a depth of 16 feet would be necessary for improved storm water management and flood control.
  • It appears that it was the possibility of deeper dredging that led Campeau to consider the option of a drainage area diversion to support more extensive development in the area.

3

Campeau’s Drainage Concept

By 1980, continued development in Kanata had caused the Kizell Drain to again become overloaded.  In June 1980 Dillon Consulting prepared a SMW Study for Campeau’s Proposed Marchwood and Lakeside Subdivisions.   No diversion was required by Dillon because this subdivision included only part of what is now KNL Phase 9, and not Phases 6 – 8.

  • Existing open watercourses within the proposed development should be maintained as closely as possible to their natural states.”  … “Since the receiving streams (Kizell Drain and Watts Creek) are already overloaded, on-site control, of excess runoff resulting from the proposed urbanization, is warranted.”
  • When a structure such as a retarding dam or holding pond is installed, hydraulic routing procedures can be used to determine the effect on peak discharges.  However, when a large volume is available for storage, the shape of the inflow … has little effect on the outflow … and is controlled by the hydraulics of the outlet structure.”
  • In other words, the outflow from a large dam is different than smaller SWM holding facilities because its outflow is not affected by sudden changes in inflow.
  • The proposed [reservoir] has relatively large storage volume compared to the volumes of the inflow hydrographs.  Consequently, the outlet structure is the controlling factor in setting the release rates from the storm water detention pond. … A combined overflow weir and outlet pipe [overflow with emergency spillway] appears to be suitable.”
  • The report describes the function of each component.  The overflow weir is intended to control inflows up to the regulated 5-year rate, the reservoir storage is intended to control inflows up to the regulated 100-year rate, and the hydraulics of the outlet pipe and overflow weir control the outflow release rate.  Outflows beyond these levels would be handled by the emergency spillway.

In 1981, as a result of agreeing to maintain a 40% open space commitment, Campeau obtained the right to develop what is now Kanata Lakes and the Marchwood portion of the SMH (now referred to as KNL’s Phases 7-9).

  • Marianne Wilkinson represented the Regional Municipality in negotiating the 40% Agreement in which SWM facilities were included in the definition of open space along with other infrastructure such as the hydro corridor.  However, residents believed that a 40% greenspace agreement had been reached that would protect the unique natural areas in and around the development.
  • KNL’s plan of subdivision is bifurcated by the Kizell Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) which includes the wetlands on both sides of GFR, including the western portion of Beaver Pond.  This wetland has been continuously designated as a Natural Environment Area (NEA) and supposedly protected from development since the 1960s.
  • KNL’s Master Servicing Plan is based on Campeau’s now out-dated concept of diverting surface water drainage from a large area within the headwaters of Shirley’s Brook into headwaters of Watt’s Creek – in other words a major diversion of water across a watershed boundary.
  • The drainage diversion concept was first proposed as an optional part of the Marchwood Lakeside Master Drainage Plan prepared by Cumming Cockburn Ltd (CCL) for Campeau Corp in 1984. CCL identified that the AECL building, located 500 m downstream on Kizell Drain was susceptible to flooding if water quantity was not properly managed.  This building has large, radioactive water tanks on it that are still in-use by MDS Nordion.
  • CCL acknowledged in their study that such a diversion would reduce base flow in Shirley’s Brook but did not model its impact.

In 1985, the consulting engineering firm of Oliver, Mangione, McCalla & Associates (OMMA) was retained to do the detailed design of the Storm Drainage System, resulting in the construction of a 4.5 m high x 170 m wide dam across Kizell stream at Beaver Pond to control the flood risk.

  • The outflow from Beaver Pond will be controlled by a new dam and outlet structure…The dam would have an impervious sheet metal piling cut-off driven to refusal with a clay dyke keyed into the bottom behind the metal sheet.” [Storm Drainage Report, page 14, emphasis added]
  • According to former City engineer Guy Bourgon, this facility at Beaver Pond was built in 1987 prior to the passage of the EA Act of 1990 and it is owned and operated by the City. As the City cannot locate a copy of the permit, it is possible that the dam was originally constructed without the necessary approvals under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act.
  • The “Dam & Outlet Structure Operation and Maintenance Manual” prepared in 1990 by OMMA identifies that a permit was obtained under the Water Resources Act.

“[OMMA] designed an earth dam which consists of a sheet pile and clay core, woven filter mat and blasted rock for erosion protection, an outlet structure, an emergency spillway and an outlet channel….Daming [sic] of the creek required a Permit to Take Water.  The permit number 85P4010 authorizes the on-stream storage of water, by ponding, of a tributary to Watts Creek.” [emphasis added]

In 1988 the 40% Agreement was amended to allow Campeau to transfer it and in 1989 Genstar acquired the development rights from Campeau. CCL was retained to undertake the design of several phases of development.

  • In his submission of Genstar’s plan for SWM quality control, Peter Spal, P.Eng., acknowledged on Nov 16, 1994 that “The Kanata Lakes community is a complex development serviced by a comprehensive stormwater management system.” [emphasis added]

4

Recommendations of Environmental Studies

In 1999, the Shirley’s Brook/Watt’s Creek Subwatershed Study conducted by professional engineers at Dillon Consulting recommended that “To minimize the potential for flooding, erosion and environmental problems, every attempt must be made to preserve the existing drainage pattern” because Shirley’s Brook contained Type 1 & Type 2 fish habitat that was highly sensitive to reduced base flow and the Kizell Drain was highly prone to erosion and flooding.

  • Section 3.8.6 states: “Base flow is recognized as an important contributor to the biological habitat quality and to the structure of aquatic ecosystems identified in Shirley’s Brook, Watt’s Creek, and the Kizell Drain.  Groundwater discharge is crucial to the maintenance of base flow and to buffering thermal changes that could otherwise impact aquatic habitat (MOEE, 1991b)” [emphasis added]
  • According to later studies done by the National Capital Commission (NCC), Shirley’s Brook and Watt’s Creek are the only cool water streams left in the nationally significant Greenbelt. Protecting base flow is clearly essential to preserving this unique national feature within the Greenbelt.
  • The requirement to comply with the Subwatershed Study was later incorporated into KNL’s conditions of subdivision approval in 2005 as Conditions #59 and #60.

In 2000, KNL purchased the development rights from Genstar and retained CCL to prepare Master Servicing Plans including a SWM plan.  CCL was merged with IBI in 2004 but the same engineers, including Peter Spal, appear to have worked on the CCL/IBI SWM plans throughout its history.

In 2001, the City’s NEA Implementation Plan for Kanata Lakes prepared by CH2M Hill:

  • Identified that Blanding’s turtle were recorded in Kizell by Brunton in 1992 and by Slaney in 1978.  Blanding’s turtle were subsequently designated as a Threatened Species-at-Risk in May 2005 by the Federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • Confesses in chapter 2 that “The wetland area running west of the Beaver Pond is the evolution of what was formerly a much wetter area but was significantly de-watered when the current Beaver Pond was constructed by digging a deeper pond.” (emphasis added)
  • Reveals in chapter 3 that a comparison of the original diversion area proposed by Campeau in 1984 with the KNL Serviceability Study prepared by IBI/CCL in 2000, found significantly increased drainage area diversion that was not acknowledged by IBI.

“The Serviceability Study does not acknowledge the increased diversion area or the resulting total developed area [draining] to Beaver Pond, nor does it provide any analysis to confirm that Beaver Pond can handle the additional flows”

  • Confirms in chapter 4 that a diversion will have a negative impact on Shirley’s Brook and recommends abandoning it.

diversion of all flows (especially low flows) away from Shirley’s Brook would likely have negative impacts on aquatic habitat.  The headwaters of any stream system represent an important source of base flow to the system, and given that summer dry weather flows in the lower reaches of Shirley’s Brook are less than 10 L/s, any flow reduction due to diversion from the system should be considered a significant loss. The most effective method of mitigating the negative impacts associated with the diversion would involve … abandoning the plans for at least some of the diversion” [emphasis added]

  •  It refers to Beaver Pond as a dam and notes the presence of pollution downstream in Kizell Drain.
  • Identifies that even the construction of recreational pathways may impact storage capacity in Kizell/Beaver Pond and recommends that “floodplain cut-and-fill issues are addressed for any construction within the Beaver Pond Area.”
  • Section 3.2, states that although modifications to a SWM facility is normally a Schedule B Class undertaking, which could be done as a pre-approved activity should a plan of subdivision be approved, but:

For piped utilities all other options should be explored first and piping in the Kanata Lakes NEA should be discouraged and only considered as a last resort.  In cases where this is considered an Environmental Assessment [Schedule B or C] should be done and to consider the short and long-term impacts and recommend mitigation measures for both the permanent installation and the construction techniques to be used.” [emphasis added]

In 2003 the MoE published the SWM Planning and Design Manual to provide environmental design criteria for engineers in the design of SWM systems that effectively preclude drainage diversion projects from good engineering practices.

  • Section 4.1 states that SWM plans “will meet the criteria established to ensure that: groundwater and base flow characteristics are preserved; water quality will be protected; the watercourse will not undergo undesirable and costly geomorphic change; there will not be any increase in flood damage potential; and ultimately that an appropriate diversity of aquatic life and opportunities for human uses will be maintained.”

5

KNL’s Application for Subdivision

In April 2003, KNL formally applied for permission for subdivision development in the SMH.

  • The fact that KNL required its own subdivision approval speaks to its distinctiveness from the earlier Campeau approvals.  Furthermore, a drainage area diversion was only optional in the Campeau plans due to 50% lower proposed density compared to KNL’s plan.

On April 13, 2004, Ned Lathrop, General Manager for Development Services presented a staff report to the City Council’s Planning Committee that recommended approval of the plan of subdivision and acknowledged:

  • “The Council approved Shirley’s Brook, Watt’s Creek Subwatershed Study (September, 1999) requires the protection of Shirley’s Brook, using a 30 metre wide buffer. The brook is situated within the development area north of the Kizell Pond EPA. Shirley’s Brook has been identified as fish habitat along its entire length within the subdivision area. Under the Federal Fisheries Act, Shirley’s Brook must be protected.”
  • The “EPA” boundaries include provision for stormwater management, some existing trails and the space required for new trail alignments on both sides of Kizell Pond and on the north side of Beaver Pond. The south side of Beaver Pond is already developed and contains a pedestrian pathway. The new recreational trail alignment was designed to protect the more sensitive environmental features while providing the desired social experiences that could be achieved within the “EPA”.
  • “Mississippi Valley Conservation has taken the following position with respect to Kizell Pond: … Among other functions, this wetland area temporarily stores water that then contributes to the base flow of Kizell Drain in dryer periods. Substantial sections of Shirley’s Brook dry up in the summer months.”
  • MVC further states: … The western limit of the KNL ownership is also very close to the split in watersheds between the Kizell Drain and Carp River. The low lands to the west of Kizell Pond are not available as an alternative stormwater outlet as it would mean diverting drainage from one watershed to another. Diversion of flows from one watershed to another is generally discouraged because of its negative environmental impacts on both watersheds. This is reinforced in the Council approved Shirley’s Brook/Watts Creek Subwatershed Study which recommends that no diversion of drainage can be undertaken as it would have negative impacts on base flow and fisheries within Shirley’s Brook.”
  • … to the east of the Second Line Road allowance [i.e. downstream from KNL's plan of subdivision], Shirley’s Brook and Kizell Drain were included in the Environmental Protection Area designations associated with Trillium Woods and Beaver Pond.”
  • Shirley’s Brook was identified as fish habitat in the Council approved Shirley’s Brook/Watts Creek Subwatershed Plan. The report classifies Shirley’s Brook within the development as Type 1 habitat. Mississippi Valley Conservation and Department of Fisheries & Oceans conducted a further review of the fisheries resources within Shirley’s Brook. Field investigations conducted by both agencies verify that Shirley’s Brook constitutes fish habitat within its entire length of stream …”
  • The proposed Draft Plan of Subdivision therefore conforms with … the [NEA] designations of the Regional Official Plan.” thereby maintaining continuous protection of the Kizell wetland natural area.

In 2005 Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement came into effect and is intended to guide planning decisions and approvals.

  • Section 2.2.1, states: “Planning authorities shall protect, improve, or restore the quality and quantity of water by: (a) using the watershed as the ecological meaningful scale of planning; (b) minimizing potential negative impacts, including cross-jurisdictional and cross-watershed impacts;…

In January 2005 the City of Ottawa published its position paper for the SWM Strategy that it was developing as a consequence of its Infrastructure Master Plan of 2003.

  • “… the need to protect the natural functions of watercourses has led to significant changes in how municipalities plan and practice stormwater management. Evolving stormwater management practices reflect a more balanced approach that considers the protection of natural systems and associated fish habitat as well as people and property.
  • “Small or low order streams typically represent a high percentage of the total stream length in a watershed. The loss of  these streams on a site-by site basis can lead to significant cumulative impacts.”

6

Draft Plan Approval and OMB Appeal

KNL’s subdivision proposal  received draft plan approval on March 1, 2005 and IBI again reworked the Master Servicing Plan which includes SWM.

  • The June 2006 version of KNL’s Master Servicing Plan supposedly reduced diversion of the major system (i.e. flows greater than the storm sewer capacity) but not the minor system (i.e. the rainfall trapped and channeled into storm sewers).  The prior versions of the plan proposed to divert both the major and minor systems.
  • This revised version features “surface ponding” that will be provided via sawtooth street design (i.e. flooded streets) so that “major flow trapped in the street low points will be released into the minor system via catchbasins” (i.e. ultimately diverted)
  • Since page 6 states that “with the on-site detention scenario, the majority of total effective runoff is ultimately conveyed into the minor system, and to the Beaver Pond” it is unclear how much reduction in major system drainage diversion is actually achieved by the revised plan.

In March 2005 Kanata residents objected to the draft approval and Kanata Beaverbrook Association (KBCA) and the Greenspace Alliance appealed to the OMB on the basis of protecting the unique NEA values of the area, asking that “open space” be interpreted only as “greenspace” for the purposes of subdivision planning under the 40% Agreement.

The Greenspace Alliance also challenged the expansion of the urban boundary in the area but was forced to drop its appeal to the OMB due to lack of legal resources.  On Dec 5, 2005, in the absence of any opposition, the OMB approved an expansion of the urban boundary to the proposed Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFDE), and re-designated the NEA lands as Urban Natural Area (UNA).

The OMB also ruled on February 6 2006 that:

  • City of Ottawa planning policies adopted after 2003 did not apply to KNL, but provincial and municipal policies and regulations in effect prior to April 2003 did.  Both the Planning Act and Condition #86 of subdivision approval provides for the City to apply new standards or request new studies that it deems appropriate for KNL to comply with at any time prior to final approval.  KNL must clear all conditions to obtain final approval.
  • KNL could proceed in accordance with the development rights in the 40% Agreement it inherited from Campeau because the plan of subdivision respects NEA requirements and boundaries.
  • The OMB was satisfied with the testimony of Robert Wingate, P.Eng. for CCL that an extension of existing servicing could be accomplished “… in an orderly and cost-efficient manner and that it follows the master servicing strategy put into place when the entire parcel was first developed in the 1980s.

In 2007, the City of Ottawa published its Stormwater Management Policy to consolidate policies of former municipalities.

  • This policy states that management of storm water should occur on a watershed basis in accordance with the Provincial Policy Statement.  It also states that the City will promote the preservation of low order and headwater systems (such as Kizell and Shirley’s Brook).

7

Issues Found With Diversion Concept

In 2008, CH2M Hill was again retained by the City to provide an independent professional engineering opinion on SWM development approvals in the SMH and on June 13, 2008, CH2M Hill’s water resources engineer, Eric Emery, P.Eng., issued a statement of opinion that:

  • The [IBI/CCL] Serviceability Study did not acknowledge the increased diversion area or the resulting total developed service area to the Beaver Pond.  It also did not provide analysis to confirm that Beaver Pond could accept the additional flows
  • The diversion of all flows (especially low flows) from Shirley’s Brook could have a negative impact on fish habitat.  It is commonly understood that the headwaters of stream systems represent an important source of base flow to a system downstream, and … any flow reduction due to diversion from the system would be considered a critical loss.” [emphasis added]
  • A Schedule C Class EA was required according to the MCEA and harmonization with Federal EA process may also be necessary to protect fish habitat in downstream federal lands.
  • we recommend that the City undertake a new Class EA following Schedule C.” [emphasis added]

On October 9, 2008, Spal identified that IBI had subsequently eliminated diversion of most of Phase 8′s drainage to “maintain the natural equilibrium on a subwatershed basis“.

  • According to KNL’s Serviceability Study, the controlled inlet capacity of the minor SWM system is 85 L/s/ha and the minor system will still divert approx 150 ha of drainage.
  • In other words,  KNL’s “minor” system has the capacity to divert up to 85 x 150 = 12,750  Liters of rainfall per second that would otherwise drain and recharge to Shirley’s Brook.
  • According to the Subwatershed Plan survey done on Shirley’s Brook, table C.7 shown below, at no time during the year is the flow through the portion of Shirley’s Brook within KNL’s subdivision greater than 30 L/s!
  • With KNL capable of diverting 425 times that amount, it appears that there is a legitimate risk that this may significantly de-water, and may even entirely dry up, the portion of Shirley’s Brook that flows through the subdivision.  It is difficult to fathom how this could possibly “maintain the natural equilibrium” in Shirley’s Brook!
Streamflow in Shirley's Brook (Click to Enlarge)

Streamflow in Shirley’s Brook (Click to Enlarge)

8

NCC and MVC Concerned About Diversion

On July 16, 2010, according to an email released under Access to Information, the Mississippi Valley Conservation (MVC) agency’s water resources engineer, Doug Nuttall, P.Eng., wrote to the City expressing the MVC’s position that their clearance of Conditions 59 and 60 requires no diversion of either major or minor systems:

My position would be that to clear the one condition, I’d need to see a [SWM] report that does what the 1999 SB study presents – which is pretty clearly no diversion of major or minor events.” [emphasis added]

August 2 2010, the KBCA, KLCA and SMHCRC public interest group met with City planners and expressed concern that the proposed deforestation of Beaver Pond forest by KNL’s Phase 9 would create increased runoff that might exceed the capacity of Beaver Pond.

August 9 2010, according to minutes obtained under Access to Information, an inter-agency meeting was held between the City, MVC, DFO, MNR, and NCC which records:

  • MVC’s position is that if the channel and flood plain of both watercourses can be shown to have the capacity for the change in flows without causing an impact on flooding, erosion, pollution, or the conservation of land, we can consider the diversion.  It should be noted, however, that it is practically impossible to make a significant change in the flows and not cause an impact on these issues….In general,… MVC would not support a diversion of any watercourse into a different watershed.” [emphasis added]
  • A major landowner downstream, NCC, has indicated that they do not want to be deprived of water.  Per Common Law, it is possible that NCC can demand that the flow regime in Shirley’s Brook be effectively unchanged.  This means that some portion of the tributary area to Shirley’s Brook that is intended to be diverted, must not be, and that peak flows must be attenuated to below pre-development levels.” [emphasis added]

In October 2010, the City published Notice of Commencement of a SWM Master Plan EA study to examine the impact of KNL’s proposed water diversion on the City’s existing storm water management infrastructure in Beaver Pond.  This study was to be led by the City’s water resources engineer, Darlene Conway, P.Eng., and contracted to AECOM for completion in two phases:

  • Phase 1, completed in 2011, to understand existing conditions and assess the ability of Beaver Pond to meet existing water quality and flood control targets as a result of KNL Phase 6 and to assess the impact of developing KNL Phase 9 as planned.
  • Phase 2, nearing completion, to create a hydrologic model for both Shirley’s Brook and Watt’s Creek and to identify potential SWM solutions for KNL Phases 7 – 9, including Beaver Pond capacity constraints.

On December 16 2010, the City confirmed that the intent of the AECOM study was to assist in the determination of whether KNL’s diversion proposal should be pursued further as a Schedule C Class EA or whether an alternative SWM approach that precludes diversion should be pursued.

  • The City properly elected to conduct this study as a Master Plan EA process given the complexity and widespread impact of the proposed water diversion beyond the boundaries of KNL’s plan of subdivision.
  • A Master Plan EA process is intended to be used as a “front-end” to create a common framework for a series of related projects that participate as part of an overall system such as storm water or waste water management.  According to Section A.2.7.1 of the MCEA, this process requires public consultation: “It is imperative that public and agency consultation take place during each phase of the study process“.  [original emphasis]

9

MCEA EA Process Explained

The MCEA identifies that the primary basis for the selection of the appropriate process (i.e. Schedule) is the extent of impact and complexity that the proposed undertaking may have.

  • Municipal Class EA processes are streamlined versions of the Individual EA process which are much more involved and are to be followed by private corporations (other than subdivision developers).  The different MCEA Schedules (A, A+, B, C) range from a Schedule A & A+ processes which are pre-approved and have little to no public participation, to progressively more involved processes that provide for formal public participation and appeal.
  • In the cases where a project is initiated as a result of an approval under the Planning Act (such as subdivision development), any of these Schedules can be optionally integrated with the planning processes and approvals under the Planning Act in projects where the developer is the proponent for a project.  ”Regardless of the approach taken for any undertaking subject to this Class EA, the proponent is responsible for ensuring that the requirements of this Class EA and principles of its application are met.” [original emphasis]
  • The pre-approved Schedules A and A+ are supposed to be used for routine subdivision projects where the impacts are “limited in scale” (e.g. contained largely within the scope of a developer’s plan of subdivision) and have “predictable outcomes” performed in compliance with the requirements of the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement.

The most significant difference between Schedule A-B projects and a Schedule C project is that the requirement to document alternatives, environmental impacts, and mitigation measures in an Environmental Study Report (ESR) only applies to a Schedule C undertaking.

With the integrated approach the proponent can be the applicant under the Planning Act. It is worth noting that when the proponent is a private sector developer, Ontario Regulation 345/93 of the EA Act applies and only Schedule C projects associated with residential developments are subject to the EA Act. All other projects where the private sector is the proponent are exempt from the EA Act.” [MCEA section A.2.9 emphasis added]

This has the effect that Schedule A/A+ projects are pre-approved under the EA Act and Schedule B projects are exempted from the EA Act, so that subdivision development is subject only to approval by the subdivision approvals process (as well as whatever other approvals may also be required under the Drainage Act, Endangered Species Act, Water Resources Act, etc.).  The only exception is for Schedule C and Master Plan projects where public participation and creation of an ESR is mandatory.

Whether a developer or the City is the proponent for a Class EA can be significant, since the EA process is proponent-driven – meaning that the proponent makes all the decisions about the content and sufficiency of the activities performed as long as they follow the appropriate Schedule process.

  • As was revealed by the legal challenge made to the Terry Fox Drive Extension EA Addendum approval process, this can sometimes mean that process steps can be done out of sequence, years apart, and still be approved.
  • It is also possible for both the developer and City to be co-proponents on a project.  But given the City planning department’s apparent pre-disposition to pushing subdivision approvals through over the objections of the public, this alternative doesn’t seem to be too different than letting the developer drive the process outright.

The difference in process phases is illustrated below:

MCEA Phase Requirements for Different Shedule Processes

MCEA Phase Requirements for Different Schedule Processes (Click to See Entire Figure)

10

City Declares Schedule C Is Required and MoE Agrees

On January 20, 2011 the NCC”s study of Watt’s Creek revealed that:

  • “The NCC views the stream a valuable geological and ecological feature to the National Capital and as such any detrimental impact is of concern.”
  • “The Study also noted that Watts Creek maintains cooler temperatures (17 C) than the Kizell Drain (22 C).  This difference in temperatures has been attributed to factors such as the warming effect of the beaver ponds situated on the Kizell Drain, the lack of shade, and the warming effect of stormwater runoff from large pavement areas.”
  • NCC should request the MOE for changes to the [Beaver Pond] CoA to include complete and exhaustive sets of quality and quantity monitoring…. Actively participate in the planning process [for KNL's subdivision] and if necessary appeal to the OMB.”
  • Kizell Drain was measured on July 20, 2010 as having a stream flow of 25 L/s, compared to the allowed flow rate of 20 L/s established by the Subwatershed Study.

On April 15, 2011 the Ministry of Environment’s (MoE) Regional Manager, Bruce Hawkins, confirmed that the City of Ottawa is the correct proponent for the Master Plan EA and that the City had previously concluded that a Schedule A process was inappropriate:

The City commented that the ‘integration provisions’ in section A.2.9 [of the MCEA process] are not applicable to the types of undertakings anticipated, and therefore the [Schedule A] integration process will not be followed for this Class EA project.” [emphasis added]

In May 2011, Phase 1 of the City’s Master Plan EA exposed that KNL appears to have compromised regulatory approvals when developing Phase 6.  As detailed in a previous post, according to AECOM’s engineers, KNL made existing conditions 4 times worse than allowed by the Certificate of Approval (CoA) for Beaver Pond.

  • The Kizell wetland lacks 74,000 cubic meters of storage capacity assumed by KNL
  • Beaver Pond lacks 50,000 meters of storage capacity assumed by KNL
  • Beaver Pond water level and flow rates set by the CoA are exceeded when a major storm event occurs
  • Beaver Pond dam will over-top should further development of Phase 9 proceed
  • Nearly two years later, as of Jan 2013, no remediation has been done to rectify existing flood risk caused by its construction of Phase 6 because the City continues to contemplate a drainage area diversion that would enlarge the capacity of Beaver Pond.

On June 21, 2011, (according to a letter obtained under Access to Information) the City’s senior water resources engineer, Darlene Conway, P.Eng., issued a letter of opinion to KNL’s legal council, Alan Cohen, stating that KNL had previously confirmed their acceptance that a Master Class EA was necessary to explore alternatives to a diversion and, if as a result of the Phase 2 study a diversion was still the best alternative, It is the City’s position that such a diversion represents a  Schedule C undertaking ”.

11

Attack of the Planners

It seems that KNL solicited the opinion of two external professional planners, neither of whom are professional engineers, in what appears to be an attempt to overcome Conway’s engineering decision:

  • On June 27, 2011, Derek Coleman at Ages Consulting, who appears to have no formal training in either hydrology or engineering, asserted that the diversion provision of the MCEA refers only to diversion of a watercourse and that some diversion of drainage is commonplace in subdivision development.
  • On July 21, 2011, Pamela Hubbard, asserted in her “expert opinion” that the diversion provision of the MCEA refers only to diversion of an entire watercourse and that the diversion of flows in the definition does not include overland flow.
    • Since KNL’s SWM plan purports not to redirect major (i.e. overland) flows, it appears that Hubbard may not comprehend the full complexity of the drainage diversion.

Neither Coleman nor Hubbard indicate that they reviewed the Shirley’s Brook Watt’s Creek Subwatershed Study.  This appears to be an egregious oversight given that the Provincial Policy Statement requires that environmental planning in Ontario be done on a watershed-scale basis.

It appears that neither Coleman or Hubbard were advised of, nor did they enquire into,  the collateral impact of the proposed diversion on the NCC, or of the MVC’s opposition, or the downstream risk to the Nordion nuclear facility.  Nor does it seem that they were advised that KNL’s development of Phase 6 had caused the CoA to be exceeded and that remediation would likely require changes to a dam and possibly to a municipal drain.

It is not evident that either Coleman or Hubbard have any expertise in hydrology given that the credentials they cite are only as registered professional planners. They do not appear to appreciate the hydrologic relationship of storm drainage to base flow in a watercourse, nor the negative impacts that can result from drainage area diversions.

In contrast to urban/environmental planners, all civil engineers have some training in hydrology and water resource engineers (such as Conway, Nuttall, and Emery) have made hydrology their specialty and are experts in it.

  • So it is not surprising that planners would be ignorant of the hydrologic relationship between storm water, groundwater recharge, and base flow in a watercourse.

What is surprising is that the planners’ apparent lack of expertise in hydrology did not seem to prevent them from limiting their professional opinion to matters within their training.  Furthermore, it seems that they did not fully review all relevant documents pertaining to the matter on which they rendered their professional opinion.

  • Whether this fails to meet the standard of professional care expected from them as registered professionals, or not, is a matter for the Ontario Institute of Professional Planners to decide.
  • Whether or not their “professional” review of these engineering opinions and expression of opinion in an engineering activity which may impact public health and safety (i.e. increased flooding and erosion) constitutes a violation of the Professional Engineers Act of Ontario is a matter for the Professional Engineers of Ontario to adjudicate.

12

Public Safety Issues Surface

It appears that throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2011 the City stonewalled public access to the May AECOM draft report despite repeated requests to the City for its release.

Meanwhile, an impact analysis conducted by City engineers in July 2011 (obtained under Access to Information) confirmed that 8 homes in Kanata could be at risk of flooding if KNL were allowed to proceed with any further development under existing conditions.

  • City engineers identified that further engineering analysis was required to assess the fact that the minimum safety margin would be compromised.

Clearly public safety is a legitimate concern in the event of further modification to water flows in the area.

According to minutes published by AECOM, on August 15 2011, John Moser convened a private review of the AECOM findings for KNL – a meeting in which Conway, the project manager for the study, was notably absent.

  • IBI adopted the position that “the EA process being undertaken by the City is not necessary and that a suitable SWM strategy should be determined through the current development process“.
  • Working solely within the development process would mean that the EA would be replaced by the subdivision planning approvals process and hidden from the public because KNL’s draft plan of subdivision is already approved – even though it is based on what appears to be an increasingly problematic, out-dated, diversion concept.
  • This is the same subdivision approvals process, as administered by the City’s planning department, that enabled the SWM problems in Phase 6 to develop to the point of apparently contravening Condition 60 of subdivision approval that requires compliance with the CoA.
  • Changing to a Schedule A would also put KNL in greater control of the process since the developer becomes the proponent responsible for conducting the pre-approved project.

On August 26, 2011, the SMHCRC advised the NCC of concerns by KBCA about the potential impact of flooding of the MDS Nordion nuclear processing facility that is a riparian landowner downstream on Kizell Drain.  Some of the buildings on that property are on the Kizell floodplain.

  • According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission report August 8, 2005, MDS Nordion’s radioactive liquid containment protocol depends, as a last resort, on Nordion’s ability to block Kizell Drain in the event of a problem with its holding tanks accompanied by a compromise to radioactive water containment.
  • MDS Nordion stated that there are two storage tanks within the building that would capture water from the active areas for sampling before release. MDS Nordion explained that it could retain millions of gallons of water inside the facility if needed before releasing it. In addition, MDS Nordion stated that it could temporarily block the Kizell drain if necessary to increase the on-site containment.”
  • It is not apparent how MDS Nordion can legally block the Municipal Drain, even in the event of an emergency, given that doing so might flood upstream properties with radioactive water.  It is also not evident how much blockage would be necessary in the event of a flood condition and whether sufficient materials are at hand to do so quickly, or whether doing so to contain a radioactive spill might contaminate nearby properties.
  • In any event, MDS Nordion clearly needs to be kept advised of potential flood levels and flows in Kizell Drain to avoid safety measures from becoming out-dated.  According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission should also be advised of any changes that may affect safety at this nuclear processing facility.

According to City Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, the designation of Kizell wetland and a portion of Beaver Pond as a provincially significant wetland (PSW) in September 2011 now precludes a drainage diversion into these wetlands because they are now provincially protected.  KNL  Phases 7 & 8 must now provide greater onsite detention and water quality control before dumping storm water into the Kizell wetlands.

On Sept 30 2011, the MoE District Engineer, Charles Goulet,  P.Eng., concurred  that a Schedule C process was necessary from an engineering perspective. In his letter to the City of Ottawa, he notes:

  • construction of storm sewers to divert flows … constitutes a Schedule C undertaking under the MEA Municipal Class EA
  • site preparation methods recently employed by Ottawa by construction contractors in the presence of uneven bedrock surface also lead to the diversion of interflow and percolating waters destined for groundwater recharge, a matter which is environmentally significant” – in other words, blasting for subdivision creation in the SMH is a concern because it can also cause unintended diversion of ground water.
    • Such an incident previously occurred during construction of nearby Morgan’s Grant subdivision.

13

Applicability of MCEA Schedule Requirements

KNL’s proposed water diversion appears to match several of the criteria requiring an elevated schedule:

  • If no further development were to proceed, remediation of existing conditions to bring Phase 6 back into CoA compliance would trigger at least a Schedule B Class process to pursue any of the following potential solutions:
    • find more storage or enlarge existing SWM detention at substantially the same location (e.g. adding a berm in Kizell to create more storage would be a Schedule C undertaking);
    • increase capacity to handle outflow and erosion downstream, which might include modifying existing water crossings for flood control;
    • increase channel capacity downstream for the purposes of flood control (this would also trigger the Municipal Drain process);
    • construction of additional spillway facilities at Beaver Pond;
    • etc.
  • The drainage diversion requires the construction of a new sewage system with outfall to a receiving water body (Beaver Pond) that exceeds the rated capacity of existing facilities as determined by the applicable CoA.
    • According to the MCEA Glossary, the term “Sewage” is the same as “Wastewater”  which “Means liquid waste which may be sanitary waste, combined sewer flows, drainage, storm water, commercial wastes, or industrial waste.”;
    • Reconstruction of an existing weir or dam at the same location where the capacity is changed is a Schedule B Class project unless additional land is required, which elevates it to a Schedule C.
  • The Beaver Pond facility is a dam constructed in the western headwaters of Watt’s Creek to control flooding.  Existing problems with this facility have significant consequences downstream and any remediation may affect 3 separate subdivisions that are adjacent to its reservoir (Kanata Lakes constructed by Campeau, Rockeries constructed by Teron, Marchwood in-progress by KNL).
  • KNL’s  proposed wastewater sewage facilities in Phases 7 – 9 are completely independent of existing servicing and would require completely new piped facilities in an area where such facilities are known to be problematic.
  • KNL’s SWM facilities also will be built within the larger context of a recreational trail system and affects Beaver Pond that has abutting residential properties, and is accompanied by significant community concern over downstream flood risk and damage to the natural environment.  This perfectly fits the example provided in Appendix 1 of the MCEA as being a legitimate Schedule C Class EA.

..dams and weirs … are flow control structures located within a watercourse.  [SWM] facilities, whether located within a watercourse, or not, would not [necessarily] be considered a dam or weir [for the purposes of the MCEA].  Take, for example, the expansion of a water storage facility in an existing utility corridor … is a Schedule A+ project.  However, if the utility corridor contains recreational trails and has abutting residential properties it is possible that the construction could have significant community impacts and as such should perhaps be considered as a Schedule B or C project.” [original emphasis]

  • It will construct a [storm] “sewer for the purpose of diverting flows from one watercourse to another” – including both base and peak water flow.
    • The MCEA Glossary defines a “Watercourse” as “Meaning flowing water, though not necessarily continuous, within a defined channel and with a bed and banks that usually discharges itself into some other watercourse of body of water.”
    • The MCEA only refers to the “diversion of flows” (such as base flow) from one watercourse to another and not to the diversion of the entire watercourse or even the diversion of an entire flow.
    • As a result of the 2005 MoE SWM Design Guidelines, most subdivision SWM plans are designed to drain within the same subwatershed with only very minor diversion of  minor system flows into an adjacent subwatershed, if at all.  But KNL is proposing to divert the drainage of 150 ha (roughly the size of the community of Rockcliffe Park) and both the MVC and IBI/CCL have previously acknowledged this will impact base flow and is contrary to the applicable Subwatershed Plan.

KNL should not be the sole proponent for a reconsideration of the Master Plan because

  • It studies the impact on a 25-year old, City-owned dam, and
  • Remediates a CoA issued to the City, and
  • Affects existing subdivisions created by 2 other developers (Teron and Campeau), and
  • It has far reaching impacts downstream that is well-beyond the scope of KNL’s subdivision.

Regardless of the EA, any potential modification to the Kizell Municipal Drain is subject to the municipal drains process which protects riparian landowners such as the NCC and MDS Nordion.

KNL’s SWM appears to be full of engineering complexities and is not a localized undertaking having predictable outcomes that should be pre-approved via integration with the Planning Act. One might also imagine that IBI’s engineers might be concerned about their own potential professional liability if a Schedule C Class EA is not done by the City in the event that KNL decides to pursue the drainage area diversion.

14

Yet Another Planning Opinion

Even though every water resources engineer who is independent of KNL and who has professionally assessed this situation concurs that the proposed diversion should require a Schedule C EA, in response to the planning opinions provided by KNL the City’s legal counsel, Tim Marc, apparently felt it necessary to solicit another opinion from yet another planner, Janet Amos.

In her letter of opinion dated October 6, 2011:

  • Amos opines that the City should not be the proponent for the EA because KNL will transfer ownership of completed facilities to the City after they are built, and that integration of new and existing SWM ponds is not sufficient to warrant a Schedule C.
    • However, according to the list of documents she reviewed, she only reviewed the AECOM presentation and not the full Phase 1 document.
    • Two of the major differences in these documents is that the summary presentation does not highlight the need for a major expansion of the  facilities in Beaver Pond nor that the flows are in excess of the amount regulated by the CoA.
    • Neither document describes the impact of Phase 7 & 8 development and only considers Phase 9.
    • Amos, who appears to be a resident of Bracebridge Ont., may not have the same contextual knowledge as Ottawa residents about the magnitude of public concern about KNL’s subdivision development, or the existence of the recreational trails within Beaver Pond, or the protected status of the Kizell wetland.  There is no indication of what attempts she made to understand the local context prior to rendering her opinion about a distant environmental setting.
    • She did not identify that modification to the capacity of a dam, in the presence of significant public concern, should not a pre-approved activity according to the example in the MCEA.
  • After reading “excerpts” from the applicable subwatershed study she affirms that “Condition #59 of KNL’s draft approval requires that the Shirley’s Brook/Watt’s Creek Subwatershed Study (1999) be followed as the guiding document for the design of the storm water management facilities with no diversion.” [emphasis added]
  • Amos appears to not fully appreciate the impact on Shirley’s Brook and Watt’s Creek as she does not further discuss the potential impact of the diversion on either base flow in Shirley’s Brook, or Kizell stream temperature downstream in the nationally significant Greenbelt, or the potential for increased flooding and erosion.
    • She appears to be unaware of the Watt’s Creek Study done for the NCC that states that even if water quantity and quality are better controlled upstream, water temperature changes caused by KNL’s development in the headwaters of both Shirley’s Brook and Watts Creek will negatively impact fish habitat in the Greenbelt.
    • There is no evidence that the City advised her of the significant population of Blanding’s turtle in the SMH, including the Kizell PSW, or of Blanding’s nesting sites adjacent to Shirley’s Brook.
    • Nor is there any evidence that the City advised her that the radioactive water holding tanks located downstream were designated by previous studies as flood susceptible infrastructure.
  • It appears that Amos established her opinion that KNL’s SWM facilities should be pre-approved, because she may be unaware that such facilities may have widespread impacts downstream that are hardly local in scope.
  • Amos asserts that the diversion of flows is “incidental to the provision of storm water management facilities” which appears to be applying the dubious principle that the end justifies the means.  The MCEA provides examples where an elevation in Schedule should occur due to complexity, scope of environmental impact, or need to promote public consultation. The added complexity of a drainage diversion causing significant downstream impacts is far from being merely an incidental consequence to the provision of SWM facilities.
  • Referring to KNL’s Condition #59 of subdivision approval (Compliance with the Subwatershed Study) she acknowledges that, “According to staff meeting notes, it has become clear that MVC will not clear this condition without significant changes to the plans.”

Amos cites her expertise as a registered planner and as an “EA practitioner” but appears to have no formal training in engineering despite her participation in MCEA working groups.  In fairness she appears to be the most diligent of the planners that submitted letter opinions, but also appears to be unaware of the full complexity of the situation possibly because of the incomplete nature of the information presented to her by the City, or what appears to be lack of engineering training.

The complexity of this situation is precisely why a Schedule C Class EA is required for any future SWM activity and why this determination should be made by a licensed water resources engineer.

15

City Decides to Flip-Flop

On October 25, 2011, the NCC’s principal planner, Sandra Candow, wrote to the City requesting an update on the SWM Master EA Study, noting that it affected watercourses that are within Federally designated National Interest Land Mass (NILM) and thus considered to be of national significance.  Her letter states:

“As previously indicated at the meeting convened by MVC on August 9, 2010, NCC staff continue to have concerns with the proposed diversion and the impact it will have on the Kizell Drain and Watts Creek corridors within the Greenbelt.”

Yet in response to what seems to be KNL’s preference to make the EA disappear from public view, it appears that the City’s planning department ignored the agency objections from the NCC and MVC, and seemingly dismissed the professional opinion of the 3 water resources engineers most expert in the situation: the CM2H Hill consulting engineer, the City’s own engineer managing the study, and the MOE’s District Engineer responsible for this area.

  • The question of whether or not this seemingly dubious decision by the City’s General Manager for planning constitutes a breach of the Professional Engineers Act of Ontario is a matter for the Professional Engineers of Ontario to investigate.

On December 5, 2011, the City asked the MoE for its concurrence on the application of the integration provisions of the MCEA to drop the Master Plan EA process and to treat any subsequent water diversion as a pre-approved Schedule A instead of a Schedule C Class undertaking.

This resulted in a teleconference on December 12, 2011 between the City and MoE’s EA Approvals Branch.  It is unclear whether City engineers or the MoE’s District Engineer were in attendance, however, based on the list of information provided by the City to the MoE (enumerated in the MoE’s response letter) it appears that:

  • Hydrologic issues affecting Shirley’s Brook and Watt’s Creek were not presented,
  • Engineering concerns over the capacity constraint in Beaver Pond were not presented,
  • Environmental impact on the Kizell PSW, Blanding’s Turtle, and Type 1 fish habitat were not presented,
  • Letter opinions of engineers were not presented,
  • Phase 1 findings of the AECOM study were not presented – only the workplan for the study
  • Agency objections of the MVC and NCC were not presented
  • But the the letter opinions of the 3 external planners were presented.

It appears that the art of perception management via selective information suppression has become highly advanced during Mayor Watson’s administration of City affairs.  Or could this simply be another indication of what appears to be incompetence by planners regarding matters of SWM engineering?

  • The City’s planning department also oversaw the non-conforming SWM approvals for KNL Phase 6 and the debacle of SWM planning in the Carp River development of Kanata West.

16

MoE Abdicates

On Dec 21 2011, the MoE agreed that the City could apply the integration provisions, clearing the way for KNL to proceed with any subsequent diversion as a pre-approved undertaking.

  • Based on the casual reference to Beaver Pond capacity in the MoE’s letter, it would appear that the MoE was also NOT advised by the City of capacity constraints in Beaver Pond that surfaced during the Phase 1 Study, or that KNL does not seem to be in full compliance with its planning approvals having compromised the CoA.
  • If KNL’s development did not require a water diversion and if it did not depend on an increase in capacity in Beaver Pond, then it is easy to understand why the MoE Approvals Branch concurred that the creation of SWM facilities is a straightforward Schedule A undertaking.
  • But since KNL’s SWM plan does require a diversion of water from an area that is highly sensitive to base flow reduction and into an area that is highly prone to erosion and flooding, with the collateral impact of requiring a significant upgrade of an existing dam not owned or created by KNL, and has collateral impact on fish habitat and species-at-risk, it is apparent that not all the engineering issues were fully presented to the Approvals Branch to consider.
  • It appears that the City may have also downplayed the extent of the area being diverted as the MoE’s letter refers to 100 ha being diverted when in fact diversion of 150 ha is proposed.  The difference of 50 ha is 3 times the size of Parliament Hill.
  • It appears that no one compared the impact of the drainage diversion to the size of Shirley’s Brook.   It is difficult to imagine that a drainage mechanism that is 425 times larger than the base flow in Shirley’s Brook will have any predictable outcome other than the destruction of aquatic Type 1 cool-water habitat via diminished base flow and temperature change.

When challenged about the decision, the MoE abdicated its responsibility stating that EAs in Ontario are “proponent-driven”; with the apparent interpretation that a municipal proponent can write its own rules.  Consequently they are predisposed to allowing a municipality significant latitude in the management of municipal class EAs.

  • Without without even cursory public engagement, such as requesting comments via the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry or soliciting input from registered persons of interest, no information contrary to the City’s objective is ever presented in such cases. Thus a decision to allow the City to do whatever it asks for is almost a foregone conclusion.
  • Asking a provincial authority to download responsibility on an issue is a well-known tactic by the City.  The City has employed this strategy at least twice previously on matters affecting the SMH in order to claim legitimacy when ignoring provincially mandated responsibilities to protect the environment or cultural heritage.

According to its December 21 response letter, the MoE’s only concern was that proceeding under the subdivision development process would have insufficient public engagement to satisfy the obvious need for public consultation.

… it is not clear to MOE staff what other opportunities for public involvement in the planning and decision-making for this project are available through the Planning Act process, or other planning processes.”

17

City Buries the EA

On Feb 13 2012, the City’s planning department advised the MoE that the City would treat KNL’s drainage area diversion as an undertaking that would be integrated with the subdivision approvals process, but that it would still complete Phase 2 of the AECOM study outside of the EA process.

This decision by the City appears to be in conflict with Section 8.1 of the Code of Practice for Preparing Class EAs in Ontario:

It is important to recognize that there should be flexibility within a process to be responsive to specific project complexity. For example, while a project may be on a schedule that is pre-approved without any further assessment required and there is significant public interest in the project or there is the potential for significant negative environmental effects, a proponent may find it prudent to subject the project to some higher level of investigation in order to assess alternatives, environmental effects and public, Aboriginal communities and government agency issues and concerns. While this is not a requirement, a proponent may wish to do this in order to avoid significant concerns at the end of the planning process.” [emphasis added]

Doesn’t the possible risk of flooding of people’s homes and other impacts on downstream properties qualify as having a “potential for significant negative effects”?  Let alone the possible destruction of:

  • Type 1 & Type 2 cold water fish habitat within the subdivision as well as habitat downstream
  • Blanding’s turtle habitat, a semi-aquatic Species-At-Risk (SAR) known to be present within the drainage area
  • Other aquatic and semi-aquatic SAR habitat in the nationally significant Greenbelt lands downstream.

According to the City’s letter to the MoE on Feb 13, 2012, the City acknowledges that there is significant public interest in this undertaking.

Section 4.3 of the Code of Practice spells out the need to engage the general public and other interested parties when establishing the terms of reference for a class EA.

  • Changing the terms of reference behind the back of the general public is hardly consistent with the Code of Practice.
  • Changing the Class EA schedule to be followed, or changing the proponency of an EA, is a change to the Terms of Reference

Section 6.2.5 of the Code of Practice is prescriptive about the requirement for public consultation when changing the process being followed for a Class EA.  Since changing the Schedule removes entire activities from the process, a change in process is a major amendment:

A major amendment could include the removal of certain project activities from the class environmental assessment, moving project activities into a category where a lower level of assessment is required or the inclusion of a new group of project activities.”

As a registered party-of-interest in the Master Plan EA, I can attest that the public was neither informed, nor consulted, prior to the City’s decision to drop the Master Plan EA process.  There is also no evidence that the City consulted with any aboriginal community prior to making this decision.

18

First (and only) Public Meeting

Despite having reviewed the Phase 1 findings with KNL on August 9 2011, the first public meeting was to discuss the Phase 1 findings was not held until 9 months later on March 26, 2012  during which:

  • The City confirmed that existing conditions were worse than allowed and the City committed that no further development or tree removal would be permitted prior to the submission of a revised, acceptable SWM Plan by KNL.
  • The City also identified that while the AECOM study was now proceeding under the integration provisions with the subdivision approvals process, and depending on the outcome of the AECOM Phase 2 study, a decision on whether to continue under an elevated EA schedule would be made.

Yet the MCEA states that all stakeholders should be treated equally and that the most restrictive schedule is to apply whenever multiple schedules overlap.    It also states that a pre-approved schedule process is intended to be used only for projects that are limited and scope and when the outcome is predictable.

  • Since the City admits that more than one outcome exists depending on the findings of the Phase 2 AECOM study, clearly the outcome is not predictable.  To-date, the City has not been able to explain their rationale for this.

The City also disclosed during the meeting that a significant population of Blanding’s turtle has been found within the drainage diversion area.

  • Blanding’s are designated as a Threatened SAR protected under the Ontario Endangered Species Act, and are sensitive to even a 1% increase in mortality rate (which is why it has become Threatened).
  • As a hybrid aquatic/terrestrial species, any change to base flow or wetland hydrology in either Kizell or Shirley’s Brook may have a negative effect on individuals and ultimately the entire population.
  • According to slide 8 presented by the City’s senior environmental planner at the meeting, Nick Stow, the City does not believe that the proposed development can proceed without harm to the turtles.
  • Consequently KNL will require permits issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Under Section 17 of the Endangered Species Act, the MNR will require mitigation by KNL to ensure the maintenance of a viable population of Blanding’s Turtle, as well as measures which will improve its habitat.
  • For some mysterious reason, the City Planning Department would have the public believe that all this is merely a “business-as-usual”, pre-approved factor within the subdivision’s SWM planning process – with no opportunity for public comment on mitigation measures.
  • However, this constitutes a significant change to environmental setting that was seemingly NOT previously disclosed by the City to the MoE or to Amos.  According to the MCEA, a significant change in environmental setting is supposed to trigger a re-evaluation of the terms of reference and process schedule being followed.  Nearly a year later, the City has not responded to why this has not occurred.

The next public meeting, to disclose Phase 2 findings and an update on the ongoing, independent Blanding’s study, was scheduled for Jan 30, 2013 but appears to have been postponed by the City so that further exploration of  the drainage area diversion project can continue in secret.

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Is Secrecy A Good Idea?

Without a well-defined Schedule C Class EA process to follow, the City’s planners could be characterized as “winging-it” with no legally defined process by which it can engage the riparian landowners downstream that would be affected by KNL’s drainage area diversion – creating a potential legal liability for both the City and KNL in the event of future damages.

  • A Drainage Act process is required to engage riparian interests only if changes to the Kizell Municipal Drain are contemplated.

The lack of a well-defined process for public consultation, no assurance, nor any requirement for the City to continue to hold public meetings significantly undermines both the spirit of, and the guidelines of conduct for EAs in Ontario.

  • Why has City Councillor Marianne Wilkinson apparently failed to impress upon the Planning Department that a Schedule C Class process must be followed in recognition of the widespread community concern about the recognized problems with KNL’s existing and future SWM plans?
  • Why is the Planning Department apparently catering to KNL’s desires, at the expense of the broader public interest, by not asserting the City’s legitimate right to conduct a Master Class EA process to re-evaluate what seems to be a messed-up situation that affects residents in multiple subdivisions as well as riparian landowners downstream?
  • Why does the Planning Department seem to put more weight on the opinions of unqualified planners over those of licensed professional engineers when making decisions in engineering matters related to public health and safety?

With no defined public disclosure and feedback process, what will occur if the subsequent engineering studies continue to bring into the sunlight more embarrassing facts?  A Schedule A or A+ process will allow KNL and the City planning department to keep these facts hidden from public view.

  • Is this the model of public transparency that should exist in Ontario?

Allowing a subdivision approvals process to steamroll ahead regardless of environmental, health, and safety issues is a disservice to the citizens of Ottawa and contrary to the intent of provincial law.

  • Meanwhile, the public continues to find gaps, inconsistencies, and errors as information about subdivision approvals continues to slowly be disclosed.  These range from conflicting engineering assumptions about the size of a critical culvert under GFR, to missing approvals.
  • The root cause for these gaps appears to be apparent lack of due diligence in fact-checking KNL documents compounded by the apparent rush by planners to push development approvals through the process.

Shouldn’t Mayor Watson be concerned when planners and lawyers apparently meddle in engineering decisions already made by qualified professional engineers – especially if it is to avoid embarrassment?

20

Time To Do The Right Thing

It is not too late to do the right thing by ensuring that this Master Plan Class EA be completed as originally commenced under a well-defined Schedule C process, led by qualified engineers who are independent of KNL, and conducted as a model of open and transparent decision-making in the sunlight of public engagement.

In view of the overwhelming problems associated with the drainage area diversion, why is a diversion being considered any further?

  • Any diversion will require adding over 124 Million Liters of capacity to Beaver Pond to replace missing capacity documented by the 2011 AECOM Phase 1 study.
  • According to the 2001 NEA Implementation Plan, deepening Beaver Pond reservoir will de-water the PSW just as it did the last time the reservoir capacity was increased.  In addition to compromising riparian rights of adjacent landowners such as Teron, it will also require approvals under the Ontario Water Resources Act.
  • According to the 2010 TFDE CEAA Part B section 11.3.5, any blasting in the SMH releases contaminants into nearby wetlands and risks fracturing the bedrock, causing unintended groundwater flows.  This may increase base flow in Kizell Municipal Drain.
  • The Provincial Policy Statement Section 2 states in no-uncertain terms that development is not to be permitted in significant natural areas and that planners are supposed to protect surface and ground water.

The questionable handling of this EA process highlights the need to limit interference by unqualified staff in the regulated activities of professional engineers.

  • The Professional Engineers Act of Ontario requires that only licensed professional engineers may legally conduct or direct work that affects public safety.
  • Registered planners are not licensed engineers and the apparent failure to separate their respective duties within the City’s Planning department appears to be risking public health & safety.

To deal with what appears to be the underlying problem of systemic interference in SWM engineering activities, a comprehensive review of the organization of and responsibilities within the City’s Planning & Infrastructure Portfolio should be conducted to assure that:

  • All engineering-related planning approval work is conducted only by engineers in a manner that is free from any interference by less-qualified planning staff.
  • All SWM engineering work and the discretion to direct engineering work is in fact under the control of a qualified water resources Professional Engineer who is professionally accountable for its results.
  • Safeguards and process checks are in place to identify and prevent piecemealed planning approvals that are a chronic problem in Ottawa.

Public participation should also be promoted in the conduct of environmental assessments including obtaining public input on the selection of appropriate EA Schedules; as well as open public access to  engineering documents submitted by developers.

1 Comment

Why is Ottawa Overpaying Developers for Land?

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The City’s scarce environmental purchase funds appear to be used to overpay Urbandale and other developers when buying lands designated Urban Natural Area (UNA).

According to the Oct 12, 2012 staff report to the City’s Finance Committee, the going price for environmental land acquisition is $160 K / acre which is up 50% over the originally budgeted amount in 2010.

Considering that UNA lands are already undeveloped and cannot ever be developed, you have to wonder how this exorbitant price increase was justified over only 2 years.

Even if staff are using recent price increases for developed land, the math doesn’t work.

  • According to the Ottawa Real Estate Board, the average price of resale homes in Ottawa increased only 2.3% in 2012 over 2011 compared to 7.7% in 2011 over 2010.
  • Inflating the 2010 budget estimate of $101, 250 / acre x 1.077 x 1.023 = $111,554 / acre  in 2012
  • So why are staff agreeing to pay $160,000 / acre?

But is it even believable that land price increases for developed real estate should be used to justify massive increase in value for land that can never be developed?  On what basis would any reasonable person expect there to be any increase in value at all beyond inflation?

  • Allowing for inflation results in only a compounded increase of only about  4%

So how can a price increase of 50% be rationally justified?

  • It seems that either the process is corrupt  or the City managers that are responsible for these funds are so incompetent that they should be dismissed.

A review of land acquisitions from 1998 – 2010 reveals that the most that the City ever paid in the past was only $86 K /acre and that the only transaction in 2010 was at $71 K / acre.

What seems particularly odious is that the same staff were busy justifying a price ranging between $231 K /acre t0 $363 K / acre in Nov 2010.  The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands asked the City to purchase 74 acres of KNL’s land in Beaver Pond Forest prior to it being clear-cut:

  • KNL Phase 9 is 110 acres of which KNL had already agreed to convey 40% to the City for free as UNA
  • City staff had estimated the value of the remaining 66 acres at $18 M or $231 K / acre for unserviced land that had previously been designated as NEA prior to granting Campeau development rights in the SMH
  • Note that KNL is a joint venture between Urbandale and Richcraft.  It seems that Urbandale has remarkably good fortune in extracting top-dollar from the City for land acquisitions and that City staff are often willing to pay it.

Since UNA land cannot be developed, and tax assessments are supposed to be never more than 3 years out of date, why does the City ever pay more than the assessed value of the land for taxes multiplied by the appropriate inflation adjustment?

So it appears that staff has misled Council on several occasions:

  • By using an estimate of $100 K /acre in the 2010 budget when the City had only paid $71 K / acre that year
  • By reporting to City Council  in 2010 that a fair price was effectively $231 K / acre or higher when Council was deliberating on the Beaver Pond Forest acquisition
  • By consistently overpaying developers by 50% when acquiring UNA land post-2010
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Has the Ottawa Citizen Become a Blogspaper?

Economic Reality, Financial Crisis, Political Reality, South March Highlands, Virtual Reality

Today, Jan 12 2013,  there is no news article to be found anywhere on today’s front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s print edition.  The only article is a columnist’s opinion piece.

The Ottawa Citizen, which has recently been steadily displacing news with opinion on its front page, appears to have taken another step in a transition from being a reputable newspaper to being primarily a compendium of opinion articles – in effect a blogspaper.  Actual reporting of news appears to have become a scare commodity on the front page where opinion-based articles written by columnists appear to be increasingly crowding-out fact-based news.

The reason for this is probably economic as more and more people rely on Internet news sources than print sources.  I’ve been told by former Citizen reporters that fewer than half the reporters that worked at the Citizen in 2005 remain due to rounds of budget cutbacks.  Many of the columnists employed by the Citizen are syndicated across more than one newspaper to reduce costs.

The need to protect non-subscription revenue – i.e. advertising – appears to explain why news reporting over the past few years at the Citizen seemed to become skewed, by what appears to be selective editing, in favour of the interests of its largest sources of ad revenue: new home sales, real estate, car sales, and city notices.

Selective editing is invisible to those not intimately familiar with an issue being “reported”.  It wasn’t until I participated in the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands that I personally realized the extent of news that simply was not being reported in the Citizen.

  • For example, on more than one occasion I or someone else in the Coalition would be interviewed by a reporter, only to see the Coalition’s perspective omitted or under-represented in the subsequent article.
  • Other media (TV, radio) would report our perspective in a more balanced way, but compared to the print space allocated to support a developer’s or the City of Ottawa’s perspective, it appeared that an editorial slant was silently at work.
  • From discussions with spokespeople for other environmental groups in Ottawa, it appears that selective editing is widespread.  One can only wonder if it will naturally lead to selective reporting by reporters who will see the futility in reporting more than will ever be printed.

I also see the same signs of lack of depth & balance in the reporting of the Idle No More movement that I also have first-hand knowledge of.  For example, prior to running sensational headlines about the audit at Attawapiskat, did the Citizen bother to investigate the other side to the story?

  • How many qualified accountants even exist within a 1000-mile radius of a tiny, isolated, northern community in which few have any opportunity for post-secondary education?  Attawapiskat has an on-reserve population of less than 1,600 people and 1/3 of them are under the age of 19.  Most of its 1000 adults are unemployed, living in crowded, substandard, housing with no running water.
  • As for education, the state of deteriorating buildings caused the elementary school to be closed in 2000 and replaced by crowded portables which hardly promote a positive educational experience in the average -30 C weather during the school year. The space in those portables is only 50% of the standard that is supposed to be funded by the Federal Government.
  • So is it surprising that record-keeping is not to the standard expected by Certified Public Accountants?  There isn’t even a doctor in Attawapiskat, so why would anyone expect to find a professional accountant in a warm and comfy office diligently recording receipts?  The real story is that the Chief’s husband upgraded his accounting skills in a best-effort to try to improve financial accountability and, according to the audit, this resulted in fewer audit concerns.  Much has been made of the daily rate charged for this service, but has anyone inquired into how many days he billed?
  • More to the point, is there actually any evidence of misappropriation of funds?  Or is it possible that it was more expedient for the Citizen to run a story that required less investigative journalism?

The Federal government, who does not advertise much in the Citizen, appears to be the main target for investigative news which provides the illusion of continued balanced reporting to many.   But with fewer reporters on payroll, how long will even this continue?

Today may be remembered as a day of infamy for journalism as no news content at all was reported on the front page.  Headlines and a columnist’s article do not make much of a newspaper – especially for the advertising enriched weekend edition.

There once was a time when the Ottawa Citizen won awards for the high-quality of its investigative journalism.  Sadly those days appear to be gone, and so now I personally rely on the Globe and Mail for old-fashioned, real “news”.  Most bloggers like me are not trained journalists.  Some of us, like some of the columnists in the Citizen, try to present facts along with opinion but our primary service is to share our fair comment on the news – not report the news.

As the Internet inevitably eviscerates the Fourth Estate and replaces it with the Fifth Estate, I for one will miss its professionalism.  Meanwhile I still subscribe to the Citizen because my wife enjoys its extensive funny papers.

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Illegal Lot Creation?

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The planned 73% increase in the water and sewer rate over the next 10 years so the City can play catch-up with repairs and replacement of crumbling infrastructure is especially in the ironic in the context of the “Choosing our Future” report which advocates strongly for sustainable development.

TFDE

To see just how mis-managed infrastructure is in Ottawa, let’s examine the saga of infrastructure planning in the South March Highlands (SMH) on the west side where it meets the Carp River.

In 2010 the South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation (SMHCRC) non-profit launched a Judicial Review of the Terry Fox Drive Class Environmental Assessment (EA) with the hope the construction of the $48 Million road project subsidized by the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund (ISF) would be better mitigated considering its massive impact on the diverse and unique habitat of the South March Highlands, as well as on the Carp River floodplain.

The judicial panel decided not to examine technical evidence in which they had no expertise, and instead deferred to the Ministry of Environment’s support of the City’s decision not to issue an EA Addendum –  despite significant changes to project and environmental setting that actually reversed the mitigation measures that had been reviewed with and accepted by the public in 2004.

Basically the MoE stated to the Court that the EA Process is a “proponent-driven” process and therefore an Addendum to the Class EA was not required if the proponent didn’t believe an Addendum was required – even if the project’s eventual environmental mitigation is the opposite of what was proposed during the original EA process.

However when we look at just how fiscally responsible the City of Ottawa, as proponent, was we see that $Millions from the ISF program were spent on Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFDE) would have been better directed towards fixing crumbling infrastructure.

For example, in 2010, the City spent $48 M of public funds on a road based on a 2001 population and traffic forecast that was subsequently found by the Auditor General in 2007 to be completely unfounded.

In short, there was no valid economic justification for that spending at all.  Yet at no time in the planning process was Council advised of the need to revisit the economic justification of the TFDE spending.

Floodplain

Having decided to build a road that was not needed, the City continued to spend $Millions acquiring property on which to undertake floodplain compensation work – that could have been avoided in the first place by just keeping the road out of the floodplain in the first place.

When TFDE was first approved by the Region back in 2000, it only skirted the floodplain. It wasn’t until Ottawa City Council approved an Addendum to Class EA in 2004 that the road was shifted further out into the floodplain where it has been constructed with infrastructure money that would have better used to upgrade crumbling infrastructure.

If we are to believe what is written in Committee Reports, a memo  by the Deputy City Manager to the Chair of the City’s Transportation Committee explained to Council was that the westerly shift was to avoid a recently constructed barn valued at $60,000.  This is described in detail on page 34 of the 2007 EA Addendum.

To protect that barn, the developer of the Richardson Subdivision asked that the road be shifted into the floodplain – and agreed that he would be responsible for the extra flood mitigation costs:

Looking at the Richardson Ridge Subdivision, it appears that the developer’s request to move the road into the floodplain has resulted in about an extra 40 units being able to be built.  If these lots are were sold at an average of $500 K each, the developer’s revenue would be increased by about $20 M.

Of course the $60,000 barn will be torn down anyway as it is not shown in the plan of subdivision and is likely to be inconsistent with a suburban housing development.  It isn’t too difficult to imagine that planning staff could have foreseen the fate of the barn!

It is possible that the barn may have been deliberately constructed to justify a westward expansion of the developable land.  Aerial photos published in the Oct 2000 Environmental Study Report for the road shows that there is no barn in the path of the road.

By 2002, aerial photos show that the barn had been built even though the landowner was apparently aware of the planned road.  Appendix A of the 2000 ESR identifies that landowners, including the Richardsons, were directly notified and that they also attended the public workshops for the road.

Property Acquisition

In Ontario, the development of infrastructure in a floodplain requires “floodplain compensation” which involves creating additional flood capacity to make up for what is lost in building the infrastructure.

The 3 property acquisition reports(Broughton, Richardson, Cowick) show that, to avoid the $60 K cost of replacing that barn, the City paid  $1.73 Million just to purchase the property on which it undertook the floodplain compensation on the west side of the Carp River.  Do City managers need remedial training in financial cost/benefit analysis?

On top of the property acquisition costs, there were all of the costs associated with the excavation to compensate for the loss of floodplain storage from all of the fill that had to be placed to create the road embankment.

During the TFDE Judicial Review the City described the extra costs to build a proper road foundation for the road because of the poor soil in the floodplain. It is quite possible that for every dollar spent on purchasing property, there were $2 or $3 more dollars in extra construction costs – all costs that could have been avoided if the road wasn’t built in the floodplain.

According to the committee minutes cited earlier, the landowner agreed to pay the additional costs of shifting the road further into the floodplain.  Since the request to shift the road came from the landowner, they should have been held accountable for 100% of the floodplain compensation costs.

Yet none were assigned because the entire TFDE project was ISF funded by taxpayers at 3 levels of government.  Land acquisition costs are not eligible for that funding, but floodplain compensation costs are.

Even if the floodplain compensation costs were split 50-50 (because some of the original roadway would have impacted the flood fringe), it’s quite possible the developer’s share of costs could have been $2-2.5 Million, or more.

Instead, taxpayers subsidized more than $60,000 in costs for each additional unit of the 40 units the developer could build.  It appears that taxpayers have paid 40x over for the cost of that barn while simultaneously enabling the developer to increase revenue by $20 M!

This lack of fiscal accountability in the City’s planning department is atrocious.  If City management were held accountable by the Mayor for such bad business decisions we wouldn’t be in a situation today where taxes must be increased to pay for crumbling infrastructure.

Lot Creation

Sadly the saga of mismanagement continues and from looking at the City’s zoning webpage, it appears that two new parcels of land were created on the west side of the Carp River floodplain where the City acquired land to undertake the floodplain compensation (these are the parcels of land the City purchased from the Richardson property and from the Richardson-Cowick property).

How could these lots could have been allowed to be created in the floodplain in the first place? Creating lots in the floodplain is clearly inconsistent with the Provincial Policy Statement.

Despite moving the road into the floodplain at the request of the developer, there was absolutely no mention of the need to create lots in the Committee Report for the zoning bylaw for the Richardson Subdivision.

Under Section 50 (3c) it’s possible for the City to acquire property outside of a Plan of Subdivision or Consent process (processes that would at least require some transparent / public process):

“Subdivision control

(3) No person shall convey land by way of a deed or transfer, or grant, assign or exercise a power of appointment with respect to land, or mortgage or charge land, or enter into an agreement of sale and purchase of land or enter into any agreement that has the effect of granting the use of or right in land directly or by entitlement to renewal for a period of twenty-one years or more unless,

(a) the land is described in accordance with and is within a registered plan of subdivision;

(b) the grantor by deed or transfer, the person granting, assigning or exercising a power of appointment, the mortgagor or chargor, the vendor under an agreement of purchase and sale or the grantor of a use of or right in land, as the case may be, does not retain the fee or the equity of redemption in, or a power or right to grant, assign or exercise a power of appointment in respect of, any land abutting the land that is being conveyed or otherwise dealt with other than land that is the whole of one or more lots or blocks within one or more registered plans of subdivision;

(c) the land or any use of or right therein is being acquired or disposed of by Her Majesty in right of Canada, Her Majesty in right of Ontario or by any municipality; “

However before the City can go ahead and create lots in the floodplain (in this case, without a public consultation process), it’s decision has to be in compliance with Section 3.(5) of the Planning Act, which states:

“Policy statements and provincial plans

(5) A decision of the council of a municipality, a local board, a planning board, a minister of the Crown and a ministry, board, commission or agency of the government, including the Municipal Board, in respect of the exercise of any authority that affects a planning matter,

(a) shall be consistent with the policy statements issued under subsection (1) that are in effect on the date of the decision;”

“Section 3.1.2 of the PPS:

3.1.2 Development and site alteration shall not be permitted within:

d) a floodway regardless of whether the area of inundation contains high points of land not subject to flooding.”

Definition of floodway in Provincial Policy Statement:

“for river, stream and small inland lake systems, means the portion of the flood plain where development and site alteration would cause a danger to public health and safety or property damage. Where the one zone concept is applied, the floodway is the entire contiguous flood plain.”

Definition of Development in Provincial Policy Statement:

“Development: means the creation of a new lot, a change in land use, or the construction of buildings and structures, requiring approval under the Planning Act, but does not include:

a) activities that create or maintain infrastructure authorized under an environmental assessment process; “

Misleading or Illegal

According to the property acquisition reports for the Richardson and Richardson-Cowick properties, the City’s Director of Real Estate claims that Public Consultation was completed during the TFDE Class EA process.

Yet there is no basis on which such a claim can be made – as an example, have a look at the City’s study area map for the TFDE Class EA. The location where the lots were created are on the west side of the Carp River that are clearly outside the primary and secondary study areas of the Class E process.

Furthermore, in our Judicial Review, SMHCRC combed through ALL TFDE Class EA materials and nowhere is there any  mention of the need to create those lots – let alone public consultation on them.

This appears to be a serious breach of both municipal process and ethics.

The Planning Act is prescriptive about notification requirements – mail outs to landowners within prescribed distances of applications, posting signs and advertisements about process etc.

The City appears to have created lots in the floodplain without any required process under the Planning Act, with what appears to be a contravention of Section 3 of the Planning Act – seemingly so that taxpayers would effectively subsidize a $60,000 /unit cost to create the 40 units on the Richardson Ridge Subdivision?

Furthermore, it appears that Council was repeatedly misled by staff on the lack of both process, spending impact, and lack of public consultation.

It was only recently that the City advertised a Zoning Bylaw Amendment to change the floodplain overlay on the Richardson Ridge Subdivision and the TFDE floodplain compensation lands – as part of the rezoning associated with the Carp River Restoration Plan:

During the TFDE Judicial Review, the City successfully argued that it did not need to coordinate the floodplain impact assessment of the TFDE with resolution of the Minister’s Order about the Carp River Restoration Plan – yet when the City finally gets around to completing a transparent Planning Act process related to the floodplain compensation – the City decides to lump it in with the Carp River Restoration Plan – as required by the Minister’s Order.

How can both statements be true?

There is no evidence that a Planning Report was ever prepared by a qualified land use planner in support of the lot creation in the floodplain on the Richardson, and Richardson-Cowick property.  Nor was the proper public consultation process followed in accordance with the Planning Act.

In a recent public statement, the Chair of the Planning Committee publicly appealed to developers to be more professional when dealing with the City on Planning Matters.  Why shouldn’t we also expect the planning department act professionally by making sound business decisions, following proscribed municipal process, transparently present cost impacts, and report truthfully to Council and the public at all times?

Why should members of the public believe the contents of Committee Reports, in particular when a memo is written by a Deputy City Manager to the Chair of a Committee in which it is stated that a developer has agreed to certain costs – but there is no disclosure that actually the developer is the beneficiary of $Millions in subsidy and incremental revenues?

Is this the transparent and open government that the citizens of Ottawa deserve?

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Is the City Engineering or Politicizing Public Safety?

Green Reality

According to the Ottawa Citizen, on Jan 13, 2012, the City of Ottawa issued the following public statement to the media:

“As indicated in the Phase 1 Aecom Study the City commissioned, the City shares the community’s concerns with regard to the further utilization of Kizell and Beaver Ponds from both a capacity and environmental impact perspective as a stormwater management outlet for future phases of the KNL subdivision.  There will be no further development on the KNL lands until a satisfactory stormwater management solution for the remaining phases of the draft approved subdivision is found.

Additional stormwater management ponds are a potential solution but further study of the area is required before that determination can be made. KNL does not dispute the need for a stormwater solution and have concurred with the findings of the Phase 1 Aecom report.

The City has conducted additional analysis of the existing water levels in Beaver and Kizell Ponds and confirmed that though they exceed peak flow and original design targets there is no risk of flooding to the existing community. As mentioned above, no further development flows  will be permitted to drain to these areas pending the additional study required and the determination of an overall stormwater management solution. The next phase of the Study will commence this month.” (emphasis added)

According to the definitions section of the Ontario Professional Engineers Act:

“practice of professional engineering” means any act of planning, designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising that requires the application of engineering principles and concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment, or the managing of any such act;” (emphasis added)

To be compliant with the Ontario Professional Engineers Act, the “additional analysis” referred to above must have been performed by, or signed off by, a professional engineer – BEFORE it was released.  To do otherwise would be a violation of the Ontario Professional Engineers Act, Section 12:

12.  (1)  No person shall engage in the practice of professional engineering or hold himself, herself or itself out as engaging in the practice of professional engineering unless the person is the holder of a licence, a temporary licence, a provisional licence or a limited licence.

(2)  No person shall offer to the public or engage in the business of providing to the public services that are within the practice of professional engineering except under and in accordance with a certificate of authorization.

(3)  Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to prevent a person,

(b) from doing an act that is within the practice of professional engineering where a professional engineer assumes responsibility for the services within the practice of professional engineering to which the act is related;” (emphasis added)

In the interest of public safety, why won’t the City release to the public the “additional analysis” that was performed as well as disclose the Professional Engineer that signed off on it?

Is it because no professional engineer signed off on a statement concerning the public safety of engineering works?  Where is the Professional Engineers Society of Ontario?

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No Bottom Line for the South March Highlands

Legislative Gaps, South March Highlands

The City of Ottawa is slowly moving towards a sustainability mindset. According to its Director for Community Sustainability, the City is considering wider application of so-called “Triple Bottom Line” decision-making.

Sustainability

Classical decision-making in the previous century viewed the economy in isolation of the rest of society and in a context that ignored the environment. As illustrated below, interrelationships between these 3 dimensions were rarely considered.  Limited consideration was given to overlaps between 2 of these dimensions and even more rare was a sustainability mindset in which all 3 were included.

Sustainability thinking is based on traditional North American Indian philosophy that situates the person within the environment and views the ecosystem around the person as a great circle encompassing both animal life as well as the different communities of man.  This philosophy is traditionally symbolized by a Medicine Wheel as illustrated below.

<<Note that this article uses tabs, click on each tab above to see all of it.>>

TBL

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a term coined by John Elkington in his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. TBL is a concept that similarly situates economic decision making within a societal context, which in turn is situated within an environmental context.

A sustainable mindset acknowledges that our society exists within the environment and not independent from it. Similarly, our business decisions exist within the society that defines the economics for them.

Consequently we need to consider intangible value as well as tangible value in making sustainable decisions.  This is illustrated below:

Considering the intangible helps avoid the trap of McNamara’s Fallacy, however, it is still possible for businesses and governments to fall into the fallacy by relying only on measurable indicators when performing a TBL analysis.

An example of falling into the trap can be seen in the Australian Government’s TBL analysis of 135 sectors of the Australian economy.  Notice the reliance of only measurable indicators when assessing intangible factors — a classic symptom of falling prey to McNamara’s Fallacy.

Ottawa's 4BL

With the caveat to be wary of McNamara’s Fallacy, TBL is certainly a step in the right direction towards sustainable decision-making.

Curiously the use of TBL in a municipal setting involves consideration of 4 (not 3) dimensions (4BL):

  1. Economic
  2. Environmental
  3. Social
  4. Cultural

The addition of a cultural dimension extends the influence of social factors.  The rationale for this is tenuous and appears to have originated in New Zealand.  In Canada, the concept seems to be gaining favour among various municipalities, including Ottawa.

According to the authors of the 4BL model, it was attractive to incorporate the 4 directions of the traditional medicine wheel as an aspect of their sustainability framework.  Evidently, there is much to be learned about sustainability from First Nations – even when it comes to creating a model for thinking about it in a holistic way.

Unfortunately, in the 4BL case this has been done in a way that hi-jacks traditional values and re-casts them in a way that inserts “money” at the expense of wildlife.  This recurring type of hi-jacking and revision of native symbols and philosophy is one of the causes of cultural genocide – and in this case is being done in the name of promoting culture!

Rather than re-invent a tried-and-true concept that has served First Nations well for thousands of years, perhaps it would have been better to centre the concept entirely on traditional concepts of stewardship and respect for Mother Earth.

As an example, a direct application of traditional values by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation results in a rather sensible Principles of Development.

NBL for SMH

Unfortunately the City is not even close to applying TBL or 4BL criteria to the South March Highlands:

  • Neither Council or Staff took the opportunity to explore the economic benefits of green infrastructure and the Stewardship plan that was prepared as an alternative – even though it would have generated $25 M /annum in economic benefits to the city;
  • Continued development in the SMH is an environmental disaster that no one denies – yet no one at city hall does anything to prevent. Compounded by the continued wilful blindness to environmental problems caused by SWM piecemealing, water diversion, fragmentation of habitat, and extirpation of 20 species-at-risk.
  • At a social level, every community association in Ottawa endorsed protection for the SMH – yet the infrastructure staff plows forward in the face of opposition from 15,000 people.
  • The complete disrespect for the cultural heritage of first nations in the SMH is shameful. The refusal to accommodate even a reasonable request for an unbiased archaeological study is indefensible and a violation of the Canadian constitution.

Clearly there is no bottom line thinking (NBL) in the City at all when it comes to the South March Highlands.

Although Ottawa is starting to move in the right direction with sustainability thinking, it will take much more than the creation of a quad-focal “lens” and the self-congratulation that will no doubt accompany the City’s self-assessment process to implement a sustainability mindset in Ottawa.

Growing Gaps

Completely missing from the City’s implementation approach is ensuring that there is an opportunity for public participation in ALL key decisions affecting Environment, Social, and Economic dimensions.

Instead of closing this gap, the lack of acceptance of public review as an integral part of sustainable decision-making appears to be growing.  Some recent examples of a growing gap include:

  • Refusal by the City to make public review a part of any future lifting of holding conditions for lands formerly zoned as environmentally significant in the SMH;
  • Failure by City staff to bring final EAs and EA Addendum to City committees for public review and Council approval prior to issuing of Notices of Completion.  This has occurred recently for Kanata West and for the Glen Cairn Flood Investigation.
  • Issuing key technical documents less than 3 days prior to a City committee vote on the subject so as to curtail any opportunity for public review.  This occurred recently on the decision to allow a municipal drain to be constructed in the provincially significant Poole Creek Wetlands in Stittsville.

Talk and intentions are cheap and meaningless without changing how the City operates.  Not only is the current non-sustainable mindset entrenched, it appears to be  incorrigible.

As a case in point, the infrastructure approvals staff actually declared that they considered it necessary to raze Beaver Pond Forest in Kanata, just so that they could understand where the watershed boundary was!  Evidently it was not possible for them to see the watershed for the trees.

Changing how the City operates will require deep changes to management within the infrastructure approvals division.   Otherwise using the words sustainability and development in the same sentence in Ottawa will continue to be an oxymoron.

Time to walk the talk by doing the right thing!

So far Mayor Watson has done nothing to improve the situation and in fact has made matters worse by not promoting public participation as a fundamental pre-condition for sustainable development in Ottawa.

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You Can’t Eat Money

South March Highlands

Urbandale Protest Demonstration

On January 8, 2011 a public demonstration was held in support of Grandfather William Commanda’s letter of protest to the City of Ottawa.  The 97 year old spiritual Elder for the Algonquin First Nation attended the rally and delivered prayers in 3 languages despite the snowstorm that surrounded us.

Grandfather Albert Dumont opened the proceedings with a prayer for peace and I then spoke the following to the 100+ people in attendence:

Message from South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.

When people form coalitions so that they can speak louder, it is a sign that their government isn’t listening.

When people take their government to court, it is a sign that their right to fair government was violated.

When people take to the streets in protest, it is a sign that their government is failing them.

We are here to tell our governments that their failure to protect the South March Highlands is irresponsible government!

How is it possible for any responsible government to knowingly allow the destruction of the most bio-diverse area in their city and in their national capital?

We have documented 675 species of life in the South March Highlands and are still discovering more because there are well over 1,000 to be found.

  • Of these no fewer than 20 species are officially designated as species-at-risk of extinction.

So what does our government do?

  • It builds a road that they acknowledge will sever the eco-connectivity of this area, choking off the natural function of wildlife.
  • Just take a look at the Berlin Wall on Terry Fox Drive and you will understand why we needed to appeal our court case.
  • And like a robot, our government continues to allow the ongoing destruction of this great forest with one subdivision after another.

The place where you are standing [Holy Trinity High School in Kanata] was once a natural part of the South March Highlands.  Yet, in spite of 20 years of protest and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, our government has allowed this destruction to proceed because they lack the political will to stop it.

This place wasn’t always called the South March Highlands.

A long time ago, the Anishinabe people saw an island that looked like a great turtle rising from the sea and from that point forward they understood that the turtle was an integral symbol of creation.

10,000 years ago, when the waters of the Champlain Sea receded, this highland area was also a freshwater island surrounded by a salt water sea.

  • There are no fewer than 3 species of turtle among the 20 species at risk in this area.
  • Do you think that this is symbolic of how our modern society has become so disconnected from creation?

We have found evidence that the Anishnabek, who are the ancestors of all the First Nations in eastern Canada and USA, lived here 500 generations ago:

  1. The archaeological survey done by the City for Terry Fox Drive called for a follow-up study that according to the Ministry of Culture was never done.
  2. Just down the street from here on Richardson Ridge, the archaeological survey done by the developer found conclusive evidence of a tool-making site that was estimated to be 10,000 years old.
  3. This study was confirmed by world experts but rejected by the developer who is now in court for not having paid the archaeologist. Meanwhile the area has been clear-cut and blasted to the extent that they had to close Kanata Avenue last fall.

  4. On Huntmar Ridge, last July we reported the finding of another tool-making site that was similar to the one on Richardson Side road.
  5. But the City has yet to find $25 K to hire an archaeologist to investigate because they are too busy wasting millions on Landsdowne Park.

  6. According to Dr. McGhee, former president of the Canadian Archaeological Society, the archaeological survey done for Urbandale’s subdivision was fatally flawed because it failed to adequately consider native use of the area prior to the arrival of Europeans.
  7. Recently we reported finding a site that may be a medicine wheel in the Beaver Pond Forest. As a result of a meeting with native people and Urbandale measures may be taken to safeguard it.

What else has been missed and why has the city not required Urbandale to do a proper study in view of all this overwhelming evidence that this entire area is possibly a national historic site?

The great spiritual elder of the Algonquin, Grandfather William Commanda, reminds us that beyond its archaeological history, the South March Highlands are, and I quote,

[a] living temple, a place of Manitou, a special place of nature
and that this precious reality also demands immediate protection and reverence
.

We have much to learn from the native people to lived here long before us.

I’d like to read some of the words spoken by the Medicine Man Kitchi Makwa / Great Bear to Urbandale this week:

We the Anishnabek Peoples of this Land are very close to Nature, in fact we ARE part of nature.

This vision enables us to live harmoniously with Nature!

We are One with Nature and can only live in Peace when our actions are based on love and compassion for ALL living beings, including Nature!

When we live in this harmony with Nature, we become aware of past and present echoes of the forest.

My heart cries that future generations may not have this opportunity to know this forest.

Sadly, like us, many indigenous people have been recently removed from the energy and heritage of the forest. For many years our society has erased their history, art, and culture to the extent that they are almost invisible within our capital city.

But we represent the new voice of Canada.

  • A voice that says that the protection and preservation of native heritage is important because it strengthens us all and teaches us many things.
  • A voice that says that our society must return to what Grandfather Commanda calls a “sustainable relationship” with all living beings – regardless of colour, creed, and culture, and with respect for all species of life.
  • A voice that says that we too are an integral part of this natural ecosystem. We do not walk on it, we exist within it, and we are only alive because of it.

Today we carry our voices to Urbandale to remind them that we have offered them a responsible way forward in this situation. A way forward that preserves the forest and compensates them fairly. We will remind them that greed is no substitute for responsibility.

I hope that all of you will also individually carry your voices to our government representatives and ask them to join us in this new 21st century of reconciliation with nature. Also to request that native culture and rights be respected and that this forest be protected.

As the native people of this area say:

When the last forest is gone, people will learn that you can’t eat money.

IT’s NOT TOO LATE TO DO THE RIGHT THING!

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Understanding The Terry Fox Drive Decisions

South March Highlands

On Dec 14, 2010 the Ontario Divisional Court gave judgement  in a judicial review of the Terry Fox Drive Extension environmental assessment process.  This decision, for which leave to appeal may be sought, appears to be precedent-setting and has significant implications in Ontario.

1. Despite the City’s attempt to challenge the standing of the South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.(SMHCRC), the court ruled that the SMHCRC:

(a) has a genuine interest in the matter;

(b) that there is a serious issue to be tried; and

(c) there is no other reasonable and effective manner for the issue to be resolved.

This appears to be an important precedent that will assist other public interest groups assure their standing before the courts.

2. Despite the City’s assertion that the Minister of the Environment as well as the City of Ottawa should have been a party to the case, the court ruled that the City on its own exercised a statutory power of decision that was subject to judicial review.

This aspect of the decision appears to indicate that municipalities will be held accountable for the effect of their own decisions, notwithstanding the involvement of other authorities.

3. Despite the City’s assertion to the contrary, the City’s decision to proceed with construction of the road is a statutory power of decision and thus subject to review.  Furthermore, the City’s decision to proceed without filing an Addendum that was available for public review has broad public interest implications because of the lack of opportunity for public review.

This appears to indicate that municipalities who decide to proceed with projects without filing an Addendum that was available for public review are subject to judicial review by the courts.

4. Despite the City’s assertion that the situation was moot because the road was near completion, the court agreed that it is not too late to address items such as whether the environmental mitigation is appropriate.

This means that it is not too late to do the right thing.

5. With regard to whether the City of Ottawa was required to file an Environmental Assessment (EA) Addendum the court determined that it could not conclude that the City’s decision to proceed without filing an Addendum was unreasonable.

This aspect of the decision appears to raise a number of questions which require careful consideration by members of a broad community of interest. 

In summary the SMHCRC successfully defended itself on several legal challenges made by the City of Ottawa on questions of legal standing, applicability, mootness, and the extent to which the City was subject to judicial review. 

The SMHCRC now has 15 days to consider whether it should request leave to appeal on the remaining aspects of the decision.

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Open Letter to Mayor Watson

South March Highlands

Dear Mayor Watson,

 According to the City of Ottawa Official Plan, the city is obligated to protect and acquire lands having significant natural heritage.  I am glad that city council is finally addressing its fiduciary obligation in this respect by referring to committee the problem of financing such acquisitions.  This is an important problem for you to solve.

A closely related problem is the urgent need to protect the South March Highlands.  The recent clear-cutting by Regional Group in the South March Highlands is a regrettable  environmental disaster in an area that has 20 documented species-at-risk.  Don’t allow another one by allowing the Beaver Pond Forest to be similarly destroyed.

Under the terms of the 1988 amendment to the 40% Agreement, the responsibilities assumed by Campeau flow on title to any new landowner such as KNL/Urbandale.  There is no violation of the agreement when the land is purchased, the responsibilities simply flow to the purchaser of whatever portion is sold.  Thus the city can and should acquire the Beaver Pond Forest without violating the agreement.  This also applies to a forced sale via expropriation – an option that I urge you to consider.

In recognition of the need to be fiscally prudent, the community has put forward an innovative development proposal which will generate significant economic benefits to all parts of the city.  Known as the Stewardship Plan, this proposal keeps the forest intact and delivers in perpetuity a much higher return to the city than Urbandale’s current development plan.  I urge you to fully explore the opportunities enabled by this proposal and to allow the community the opportunity to work with the city and council committees. 

It is evident that the Urbandale project is not ready for subdivision development – several environmental assessments are not done, the archaeological assessment has been discredited and serious concerns over flooding in Kanata have not been resolved (you should be aware that the South March Highlands is the aquifer for north Kanata and there is a long history of flooding caused by water management in Beaver Pond dating back to the 1960s).  In fact Urbandale’s recycled Campeau development plan may not even be sustainable by modern standards.  It would be irresponsible for the city to allow this bad plan to rush forward.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.  You have a well-earned reputation for doing the right thing.  Now is your chance.

If you support this letter, please copy/paste it and send it to jim.watson@ottawa.ca with your own name and address.

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The Full News on 12 Acres in Beaver Pond Forest

South March Highlands

When the Ottawa Citizen printed “City of Ottawa, developers agree to preserve 12 acres of Beaver Pond Forest” (2010-11-12) , a cynic might believe that they only printed the part of the story that makes Urbandale and City staff look good.  That same cynic might observe that both the City and Urbandale advertise heavily in the Ottawa Citizen.

What the Citizen didn’t disclose is that the City and Urbandale are discussing acquisition of allof the Beaver Pond Forest and some people might believe that Urbandale is dragging its feet on reaching a deal in what might appear to be a tactic to get a higher price. 

Click on each of the tabs below to get the full news.

Swap Details

The Citizen didn’t disclose that City staff originally identified that roughly 1/2 of the 73 acre area could be obtained via land swaps if the City were to consider all available land for a swap – not just land within the South March Highlands. 

Some of the available City land, such as at the Kanata Town Centre, is already serviced and worth considerably more to a developer than unserviced land since the developer would not need to spend the extra time and cost to service it. 

However, according to Marianne Wilkinson, Urbandale declined these other swaps and agreed only to swap unserviced open space west of Goulbourn Forced Road (GFR) for the 12 acres of unserviced land east of GFR.

The implication of this is that acquiring the remaining land will need to financed through a future purchase at taxpayer expense.  Those who oppose protecting the forest are possibly hoping that the new City council will balk at the higher price.

Although swapping green land to protect green land is odious, the Citizen is accurate in reporting that this part of the swap is a good deal.  The land being swapped west of GFR is currently cleared farmland that is slated to be used as soccer fields if the Urbandale-Richcraft consortium (KNL) is allowed to proceed with development.  With the upcoming construction of the nearby Kanata North Recreation Centre, these playing fields would be unnecessary.  So swapping them to save old growth forest east of GFR is a no-brainer that even City staff can figure out.

Busby's Quote

The one line quote at the end of the article attributed to Chris Busby pales in comparison to what he actually said:

Does the Richcraft-Urbandale consortium think it is offering the citizens of Ottawa an early Christmas gift by agreeing to a land swap to save 12 acres of the Beaver Pond forest?

Seems more like a cruel Halloween trick.  

 There is an unprecedented level of community support for the protection of the Beaver Pond forest. And that energy has generated the Stewardship Plan, which was presented to City Council October 6 by Councillor Wilkinson.

The plan proposes to create, among other things, a centre for ecotourism for this environmentally highly significant old-growth Canadian Shield upland that will be responsibly managed by the community itself—if the land can be put into public ownership.

I have only one Christmas wish: for Urbandale to see the light, as did Ebenezer Scrooge, and join the effort to ensure that the Beaver Pond forest becomes the great gateway to the spectacular South March Highlands, Ottawa’s own Algonquin Park.

If Ottawa’s developers want us to believe in them, they should give us–and our children’s children–something significant to believe in.”

Fair Price

A previous blog posting has already questioned the fairness of Urbandale’s expectation of being paid $18 Million for 110 acres of land that has been only appraised at $5.9 M for tax purposes.

And another blog posting described how deducting the 40% allowance and other requirements for open space means that 110 acres contains only 74 acres of developable land.  Deducting the land swap of 12 acres leaves 62 acres of developable land in Beaver Pond Forest.

If, as the Citizen article suggests, Urbandale is paid $18 M for the 62 remaining acres, this will represent a $290 K price per acre!

According to an unpublished appraisal conducted for the City, a  fair market price for unserviced land inside the urban boundary is closer to $200 K per acre.  Hence the fair market price for buying the remainder of Beaver Pond Forest is approximately $12.4 M.

$12.4 M financed at 6% interest via a debenture which is paid off over 30 years works out to annual payments of less than $1 M per year.

What the Citizen didn’t tell you is that an $18 M price is barely justified even if the City were to expropriate the land in the scenario where negotiations with Urbandale cannot agree on a price. In a similar case, 747926 Ontario Ltd. v. Upper Grand District School Board, the developer received less than 1.5x market value as a result of an expropriation.

If Urbandale is dragging its feet on a sale price for the remainder of Beaver Pond Forest in expectation of triggering a much higher expropriation price, they are playing a risky hand.

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Taxpayers Pay For Free Rides On Terry Fox Drive

South March Highlands

Did you know that major developers in the South March Highlands are paying proportially less in property tax than you are on your residential city lot?

Ever wonder how developers can afford to hold large blocks of land for years in order to speculate on possible land development opportunities?

All this is done throught the magic of preferential rates for agricultural property taxes!  Click on each of the tabs below to read the details.

Property Tax Rates

You can see this for yourself by comparing the tax classes for property on the City’s property tax website.  If you look up the Urban tax rate for Farmland, you’ll see that the rate is 0.230158% which for some inexplicable reason is actually lower than the Rural tax rate for Farmland (which is 0.244291%).

You will also see a low-cost entry for forest land that is only taxed at 0.230158%.

Most residential property owners are paying based on a rate that is over 4x more (1.090539%).

The purpose of a lower tax rate for farmers is to encourage vital agricultural production.  A lower property tax rate recognizes that many acres of forest and farmland are integral parts of working farms that cannot be taxed at the same rate as a suburban lot without bankrupting farmers.  Legitimate farmers need this tax break – however land speculators and developers clearly don’t!

However, to assist developers who have to re-zone lands from rural to urban in order to develop them, the City of Ottawa has for years gratiously allowed agricultural property taxes to be paid on lands zoned for urban development. 

This allows a developer to buy-out a legitimate farm, survey it for a subdivision, apply for a draft plan of subdivision, clear-cut and change the grading of the land, build and sell houses, etc. without ever changing the tax rate until you or I buy a house from them.

2 Examples in the SMH

At least two classic examples of this can be found in the SouthMarch Highlands.  According to the Consent to Enter Agreements executed by the City between Richardson Ridge (owned in part I believe by Regional Group) and Uniform Developments (according to their web site partially owned by John MacDougall who also appears to have an interest in Richarson Ridge since he signed both these agreements) which both state:

The City of Ottawa agrees that should use of the Land … result in a change to the current assessment of the Land, which is currently based on a rural farmland use, the City of Ottawa agrees to make appropriate representation to assist Richardson Ridge/Uniform in its appeal to any change in the assessment to the land which is claimed to be a result of [constructing Terry Fox Drive].

Should Richardson Ridge/Uniform fail in such appeal, the City of Ottawa agrees to pay Richardson Ridge any increase in taxes that result from the foregoing.”

What a sweet deal for these developers!  Even though these lands were rezoned in 2004 and upheld in a 2006 OMB ruling as urban, these developers have been paying preferential property taxes as if they were the same struggling farmer that they bought the land from.

Not only that, the City of Ottawa will ensure that they never pay a dime more – no matter how much these lands are developed in future.  Heck we’ll even refund them if anything slips through the cracks in the deal.

There is no Consent to Enter agreement for Urbandale since the conditions of subdevelopment approval require them to convey land for TFD to the City at no cost (since all these developers benefit from and in fact require this road to make their subdivisions viable).  So we can’t easily determine whether or not Urbandale is benefiting from preferred taxes for farmland and forests, but it would seem unlikely that they would not also want to take advantage of the City’s largess with our tax base if they could too.

What You Can Do About It

Most of us would expect that the tax break for farmland is available for only lands that are zoned rural (RR, RU), regardless of whether they are within the urban boundary or not. 

Part 13 of the current Ottawa Zoning By-Law only provides for rural zoning in the Greenbelt and Rural Area.  What city allows for farms within its Urban Boundary?   This makes sense since what city-dweller wants to live next to cows and pigs?  The farms that are already within the Greenbelt are already designated as being outside of the Urban Boundary, so the current By-Law already protects legitimate farmers.

The loophole can be plugged by removing  farm and forest preferential tax rates from the Urban property tax ratings since they are not required (by legitimate farmers) within the Urban Boundary.  If there are any freak cases of where an individual farmer, who is not a commerical organization, actually has a producing farm within the Urban Boundary, then the By-Law can be amended to allow for a rural zoning of that land.  However, if that land is ever re-zoned as urban (a precondition for development approval), then the full tax rate should apply.

The time has come to plug the loophole that allows developers to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes! Perhaps we wouldn’t be hearing excuses from Larry O’Brien for not meeting  his previous campaign promise of not raising taxes if everyone were paying their fair share.

Why don’t you write an email to Larry O’Brien and ask him if he wouldn’t have found it easier to balance the City’s Budget during the past 4 years if everyone were paying their fair share of taxes?  And ask him why we should believe him that he can manage our tax base if re-elected when he has let millions of tax dollars slip through this loophole in the past?

You can also email to Jim Watson and Clive Doucet who are running for mayor and ask them if they will plug this loop hole if elected.    While you’re at it, you might want to ask Jim Watson if he is still accepting campaign donations from Urbandale.  (Clive Doucet is the only mayoralty candidate who doesn’t accept donations from developers.)

It’s time to send the message that the average taxpayer will no longer tolerate free rides for developers in the South March Highlands or anywhere else in Ottawa!

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It Costs Only $23 Million To Protect the SMH

South March Highlands

According to the 2006 Kanata Lakes North Servicability Study, the KNL subdivision is intended to proceed in 4 phases:

  1. The area south of the Kizell Wetland (currently in progress).
  2. The Beaver Pond Forest north of Beaver Pond and south of the rail line
  3. The Richardson Forest north of Kizell Wetland and south of the rail line
  4. The Trillium Woods west of the protected portion, north of the rail line and south of TFDE.

For some inexplicable reason relating to the subphasing of Phase 1, the 2nd phase is currently being referred to as Phase 6 by KNL.  To avoid confusion, we will refer to the original phases in this article as illustrated below (click to see larger map):

 
KNL Subdivision Phases

The 2006 Serviceability Study also provides details of the exact size of the drainage areas within the subdivision.  From this information, we are able to calculate the exact size of the developed portion of the subdivision.

This information is important to calculating the fair value of the land to KNL because KNL paid nothing to acquire the open 40% portion of the subdivision, nor is KNL able to sell lots on land zoned as Institutional within the developed portion (unless the school boards decline the use of the land).

Based on this information we are able to calculate the developable size of each phase as follows:

  1. Phase 1 is not applicable since it has already been destroyed by development.
  2. Phase 2 is 29.81 hectares (73.63 acres)
  3. Phase 3 is 59.86 hectares (147.8 acres)
  4. Phase 4 is 33.81 hectares (83.51 acres)

The total area is 123.48 hectares or 304.94 acres.

The going rate for unserviced land in North Kanata is $75,000 an acre, so the fair price for purchasing the KNL development is just under $23 Million.

The City of Ottawa is planning to spend over $129 M to refurbish Landsdowne Park, so any protestation that they have no money to acquire the central portion of the South March Highlands is preposterous!

The time has come to DEMAND that the Mayor do what is right and expropriate the KNL development to protect the South March Highlands.

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City Auditor Finds That Staff Is Soft On Developers

South March Highlands

Misquoted

The Ottawa Citizen completely mis-quoted my letter to the City of Ottawa’s Auditor General.

The Citizen’s headline “No audit for South March development” is inaccurate –development in the South March Highlands has already been audited as part of the AG’s review of the Development Review Process and the City’s performance has already been found questionable.  The real headline should have been the one I used for the title of this blog posting.

City Management in agreeing to pull up its socks has effectively admitted that City staff are soft on ensuring that developers meet the pre-conditions of subdivision development.

In my letter to the city Auditor General, I did not (as misquoted by the Citizen) “charge that the developer was refusing to meet a number of required conditions” even though that may be true with respect to conditions applicable prior to starting any phase of development or construction. 

I questioned why it took 1,567 signatures on a petition and a motion by City Council to require staff to do what they should already have been doing all along – enforce oversight on a developer meeting the pre-conditions of subdivision development.  I charged that planning staff were lax in the oversight, validation, and verification of conditions of subdivision.

I pointed out that the City’s Greenspace Master Plan identifies this area as one of the most significant natural areas of the City and that anything less than strict attention to the conditions of subdivision approval and applicable environmental studies would be irresponsible as well as in violation of the City’s Official Plan.

I stated that this situation was far from acceptable and questioned by the Mayor has not held the City Manager accountable for this incredible and ongoing failure.  The Auditor General replied that his audit of the Development Review Process had already turned up similar issues and that Management had agreed that these needed to be addressed.

In my follow up letter to the Auditor General I asked that the results of his audit and that the improvements being made by Management be made public.

The full text of my original letter and my follow-up letter can be found on the other tabs of this post.

July 28 Letter To AG

Mr. Lalonde,

The Planning Act requires municipalities to oversee development applications for subdivisions.  Yet 1,567 signatures on a petition were required to ensure that City Council passed a motion on July 14 to direct staff to do what they should already have been doing all along – enforce oversight on a developer meeting the pre-conditions of subdivision development.

At a public meeting held the following night, it was obvious that planning staff had not read in detail the preconditions of subdivision development, nor could they explain why so many conditions were unmet given that the developer has already developed prior phases.  Staff were unable to produce any details or copies of the documents that were supposed to be approved, nor were they able to identify which plans must have updates prior to each phase of subdivision, nor could they identify the approval status of the storm water management plan.

Furthermore, it appears that City staff have become so lax in the oversight, validation, and verification of conditions of subdivision, that the developer, KNL/Urbandale,  has become upset about the City starting to exercise their duties and has filed a complaint with the OMB.

In conversations with city staff and with city councilors I am told that this lack of practice is to commonplace as to be accepted as normal business as usual.   Yet it is far from normal, and it is even further from being acceptable.   It is a mystery why our Mayor has not held the City Manager accountable for this incredible and ongoing failure. 

The area where this subdivision development is occurring is identified in the City of Ottawa’s Greenspace Master Plan fieldwork study as containing 3 of the most significant natural areas in the City.  Anything less than strict attention to the conditions of subdivision approval and to the applicable environmental studies (such as the Special Study conducted by the City in 2004) and subwatershed management  plans would be irresponsible, as well as being in violation of the City’s Official Plan and the City’s statutory obligations.

The area is so sensitive, and residents are so opposed to its development, that this subdivision has a special condition (Condition 11) that requires the developer, prior to each phase of development,  to produce and maintain a communications strategy regarding development plans, schedule, and status.  This condition has NEVER been met and staff cannot explain why they have allowed any development to proceed to-date without it having been met to the City’s satisfaction.

Will you conduct an immediate operational audit of this situation?

Regards,

Paul Renaud

July 30 AG's Response

Good Afternoon Mr. Renaud

 Thank you for your email and your interest in this file.

I have reviewed your concerns.  In our audit of the Development Review Process, we have identified similar issues to yours.  My understanding is that Management is addressing them.  Finally, all my resources are currently assigned to complete my 2010 audit plan.

For these reasons, I do not plan do conduct an operational audit of the project.

Respectfully,

Alain Lalonde CIA, FCGA
Auditor General
City of Ottawa

July 30 Follow-up

Mr. Lalonde,

How may I obtain a copy of your findings and the steps that Management claims to be taking to address them?

We are obviously concerned about the possibility for gaps between the audit of the overall process and the failures of this project to-date.  Since you do not intend to conduct an operational review of this specific project, it is only by comparing the project issues that we have encountered to the results of your audit that we can be assured that further gaps do not exist.  For example, as they might arise in the handling of environmentally sensitive development projects.

Also, understanding the remediation plan proposed by Management is important to satisfying the concerns of citizens that the steps Management is taking will be sufficient as measured in terms of this environmentally sensitive project.

Regards,
Paul Renaud

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