Browsing the archives for the Species At Risk tag.

MNR Proposal Abdicates Responsibility for SAR

Green Reality, South March Highlands

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)’s current regime for managing approvals for permits affecting Species-At-Risk (SAR) is already flawed and the proposed changes described in the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry (EBBR 011-7696). make the situation worse – not better.

The current regime is based on providing a process for approving an activity that might harm SAR, or SAR habitat, that is based on an emphasis that mitigates impacts.

  • This is based on a false presumption that mitigation is always possible.
  • Most permit applications are granted if the mitigation for the SAR in question is relocated to a different ecosystem (i.e. moved, transplanted, or seeds replanted).

The existing Approvals process completely ignores the ecosystem implications of a permit by focusing too narrowly on the SAR in question and not on its relationship to the ecosystem it resides in and contributes to.

No vegetation or wildlife (or humans) exist in isolation of other living things.  Each has an impact on the other and within a natural ecosystem, these impacts are beneficial, balanced, and necessary for the whole – otherwise the ecosystem would be different.  Ecosystem change is usually caused by a dis-balance caused by an external event such as human activity, disease, fire, flood, or invasive species.

Instead of (a) requiring a burden of proof that mitigation is possible and (b) ensuring that broader ecosystem effects are included in this process, this proposal makes matters worse by continuing the MNR’s policy of ecosystem piecemealing via regulation.

The breadth of exemptions in the proposal is unreasonably broad because it includes all already approved or planned activities that might damage habitat.

  1. Encompassing all activities is unreasonable in scope.
  2. The proposal does not take into account the fact that approvals (such as a PTTW or CoA) have been granted in the past by agencies without regard to impact on SAR.  These agencies granted their approvals under the expectation that the MNR would fulfill any SAR-related approvals. If the MNR abdicates responsibility, then there is no consideration for SAR under any prior approval granted by any provincial ministry.
  3. The definition is so vague as to allow virtually any activity to quality – for example proposed plans of subdivision approval that have not yet been approved under the Planning Act.  This would remove what little protection exists for all 22 SAR documented in the South March Highlands.

The MNR’s rationale for grandfathering so many activities & exemptions is so dubious as to completely lack credibility.  How will the grandfathering and creation of so many exempt activities that damage habitat contribute to the overall benefit of SAR?

While it is apparent that the MNR seeks to shrink its job in the face of insufficient funding by McGuinty, the creation of so many exemptions will create an unsustainable workload for the MNR to manage the enforcement of compliance with.  Any alleged violation would require considerably further substantiation and validation of prior approvals by other agencies.  In my view, not performing such validation would constitute environmental negligence on the part of the MNR.

The proposed exemptions would also create two classes of SAR (existing and new) which has no reasonable basis in the Crown’s primary obligation to protect all SAR.  This also creates a legal liability for the province in view of recent Federal Court ruling on the fiduciary obligation of the Crown to provide such protection.  Protection of critical habitat is a duty – not a government discretion.

The Federal Court ruling sets a precedent that all levels of government must follow.  In Ontario, this duty is also enshrined in the Environmental Bill of Rights.

The proposed changes amount to abdication, not modernization, and should be opposed.   The Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, Carolinian Canada CoalitionOntario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation have already expressed their opposition to this.

If you also oppose this, please make an individual posting to the EBBR.  Type in the 011-7696 Registry Number in the search box.  Search for and select the proposed change to bring up a description of it.  From there it takes less than 5 minutes to click on the Submit Comment button on the right side of the screen and to fill out the form or to cut and paste your comment.

Feel free to use any or all of the above via cut-and-paste if you wish.

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Will Ottawa’s Home Builders Ever Leave the 19th Century?

Climate Change, Green Reality, Legislative Gaps, South March Highlands

The Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Association (GOHBA) recently published an advertisement that appears to have no basis in any of reason, fact, or good judgement.  In what some may view as an  self-serving editorial, and by others as a not-so-funny comedy of errors, the GOHBA somehow managed to allow publication of an article in which virtually none of its facts were accurate.

This article uses tabs, click on each one to read the full article.

Misinformation

If that article is any indication of what the GOHBA’s members believe, one might wonder if they believe it is in their best interest to spread what seems to be misinformation about the need to protect endangered species:

  • According to Natural Resources Canada, urban land use in Ontario was already 1000x greater than claimed by the GOHBA over 15 years ago!
  • Not to mention the fact that Blanding’s Turtles were documented in the South March Highlands (SMH) 8 years prior to the Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFDE) proposal in 2000.
  • Ontario’s Endangered Species Act predates the Blanding’s Turtle studies done for TFDE by 5 years.
  • Macro-ecologists proved over 8 years ago that the number 1 cause of species loss is due to destruction of critical habitat because, duh, that species has nowhere left to live, eat, or reproduce.

Common Sense?

It appears that the anonymous authors of that article expect us to believe that Ontario should allow  developers to trash what remains of our environment because some “rural critters” “choose to” “hang out” in cities.  The article calls for, in the name of “common sense”, the abandonment of recent regulations that protect species at risk and in general require developers to behave as environmentally responsible businesses.

  • So was it common sense to build TFDE through the middle of the most environmentally significant area in Ottawa in the first place?
  • Why is the GOHBA quibbling about the cost of a fence when the entire $50 M cost of the road was not justifiable without the use of inflated population forecasts?
  • The Environmental Study Report done for the road in 2000 actually admits that the worst location for the road was chosen from an environmental point of view.  Could it be because that location was of greatest benefit to the handful of developers who needed the road to expand the urban boundary at that time?

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, relentless urban sprawl is a serious problem that does not make for cost-effective cities.   So is it common sense to allow developers to continually push the urban boundary outwards?  Several of the members of the GOHBA recently participated in the expansion of Ottawa’s urban boundary by 1103 hectares – a number nearly 5x higher than originally proposed in Ottawa’s 2009 plan.

Is it common sense for a developer to proceed with early phases of a subdivision plan based on a flawed master storm water servicing proposal?  And after it is discovered that earlier phases of that subdivision’s development are non-compliant with Provincial storm water approvals, is it common sense to allow that builder to continue to deforest the area?

Is an environmental assessment (EA) just red tape in a situation like that?  Is it environmentally responsible for the City of Ottawa to cancel the Class EA that exposed those very problems in the South March Highlands (SMH) in response to what appears to be a request by the non-compliant developer?

Is it common sense to increase flood risk by building storm water ponds in flood plains where these facilities could be submerged when we most need them?  Yet that is what developers appear to prefer along the Carp River adjacent to TFDE.  Even if Provincial authorities stretch the rules to allow them to get away with it, does that make those developers any more environmentally responsible?  Or should they take greater care and perhaps choose to build a few less homes so that those protective facilities are built on solid ground?  Even a subdivision with only a few hundred homes represents $millions in revenue for a developer.

Wildlife Contributes

Science informs us that a healthy climate depends on healthy forests and healthy forests depend on biodiversity. Even common species such as raccoons and porcupines are as important as endangered species when it comes to promoting a healthy environment because they are a major means for circulating a forest’s genetic resources.  Every species has a role to play and the loss of many species in one area inevitably leads to the loss of ecological function.

To portray species trapped within an arbitrarily changing urban boundary as merely “hanging-out” trivializes this essential natural function and suggests that the authors of the GOHBA article may be ignorant of how ecosystems function.  So when imbalances are caused by developers, is it common sense to reduce the protective measures that attempt to restore that balance?  Or does it make more sense to abandon current development in environmentally sensitive areas such as the SMH and to prevent future development in those areas?

In a world that is so obviously threatened by climate change, massive loss of biodiversity, and cancer-inducing pollution, no reasonable person can believe that the status quo is an appropriate response to these challenges.  Even the dimmest among us understands that our weather, crops, and economy are suffering as we pay the price for the excesses of the past.

Greed vs Sustainable

It is possible that a few greedy people may have a vested interest in the status quo which fails to allocate the long-term cost of recklessly exploiting the environment to those same businesses that gain from it in the short-term. However, it is hardly in the common good to continue to subsidize them by not making them do their homework and not requiring them to mitigate the impact of their business practices.

Fortunately a majority of industries are realizing that conducting business in a sustainable manner is not only socially responsible – it is also a more cost-effective and sensible way of doing business. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has been lobbying our reluctant federal government for years to implement a carbon cap and trade system.  Modern businesses are realizing that their social license to operate depends on recognizing that the economy cannot be separated from the environment within which it exists.

A recent example is Imperial Oil that recently developed oil sands technology that has comparable carbon footprint to the extraction of conventional oil and is significantly better than the carbon footprint of extracting heavy oil in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela.  To quote Imperial Oil:

“Certainly it is Imperial’s belief that to gain and maintain a social license to operate and to grow, the oil sands industry needs to present a compelling case in how it’s addressing environmental challenges of oil sands development.”

While the oil sands industry has much further to go in becoming environmentally friendly, it is encouraging to see them making progress down that path.

Perhaps it is also possible that the less arrogant members of the GOHBA are embarrassed that the oil sands industry appears to be miles ahead of them when it comes to environmental responsibility.

In any event, why should Ontario tolerate less environmental responsibility from the industry that develops subdivisions? Is it so that a greedy few can continue to prosper at the expense of the common environment that we all must share?  The entire construction industry contributes less than 5% to Canada’s GDP and home building is a fraction of that number.  Where is the common sense in that?

If the green advertising of the members of the GOHBA is to be seen as more than superficial features in the houses they build likely depends on whether each builder is willing to make a meaningful commitment to improving our environment by conducting its business in a sustainable manner.

We can only hope that the more responsible home builders who may be members of the GOHBA will rapidly distance themselves from the colonial, 19th century style of thinking presented in that article and if necessary establish a more credible association that chooses to acknowledge that we all currently live in the 21st century and that the survival of our society depends entirely on our environment.

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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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Offer to Purchase Sent to Urbandale

South March Highlands

December 30, 2010

Mr. Sachs & Ms. Jarvis,

Since it is now evident that Ottawa City Council is currently unwilling to add any value in protecting the South March Highlands, we are extending this offer to work directly with you in this regard. The South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc. is the legal entity that represents the interests of over 6,000 individuals who are committed to being stewards of Ottawa’s Great Forest – the South March Highlands.

We suspect that you may not have been fully aware of the environmental significance of this area when you originally purchased the lands north of Kizell Wetland and Beaver Pond from Genstar in Sept 2000. We are confident that by working together, we can create a win-win solution to this situation.

By now you are no doubt aware that the South March Highlands is an old-growth forest, home to 20 documented Species-at-Risk, has the highest floristic diversity and densest bio-diversity in Ottawa, and contains several archaeological sites that are twice the age of the Egyptian pyramids. You are also aware that there is substantial community resistance to your development plans and that Algonquin spiritual leaders consider this area to be ancient, unique, and a very special sacred space.

According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, unlike the tax provisions for donating land directly to a municipality, an individual or corporation that donates land to a charitable land trust may obtain a tax credit equal to 100% of the market value of that land.

We are willing to establish a charity for that purpose if you are willing to donate all remaining undeveloped land that you own in the South March Highlands. At the point when you are ready to wind up the corporate operation of KNL, any remaining tax credit may be fully monetized by selling the corporation to a third party, such as an income trust looking to shelter earnings as they roll-over into a corporate entity.

Furthermore, we propose to name the resulting park, the “Urbandale Conservation Forest” (or a similar name of your choosing) so that you may leverage significant, positive, and very green, branding benefits in recognition of your generosity. Our marketing experts will work with you on signage and branding opportunities accordingly. We will also support you in a media campaign to ensure that branding benefits are maximized. When leveraged into our existing Stewardship Plan for the area, which emphasizes eco-tourism involving an audience measured in millions of people, we believe that this will be of significant branding value to you.

Should you wish to monetize some of your current investment now, we are also prepared to optionally enter into a long-term purchase agreement for “Phase 9.” This would enable you to obtain a tax credit for donating land west of Goulborne Forced Road (GFR) as described above, as well as receive annual payments for the land east of GFR and north of Beaver Pond.

In this scenario, we would establish the charity so that it can receive community donations, and pursuant to the 40% Agreement which runs on title with the land, purchase the 60% of developable land at fair market value and the 40% at no cost (as you did when you purchased the lands). You would facilitate this purchase via a vendor-take-back mortgage at 6% over 30 years.

Since some lead time would be necessary to establish the cash flow for the charity, depending on the agreed purchase price, the first couple of annual payments may need to be balloon payments. Nonetheless, since city records show the assessed value of the land for tax purposes is only $6 million, it is evident that KNL paid less than that for that land and you would receive more than double your investment plus the 6% payout.

If you wish to explore this option, we can provide further details of how we will raise the funds for purchase and we can discuss the methodology for fair market valuation.

We believe that the above represents a fair outcome for you in what otherwise is an increasingly difficult situation. We hope that in considering this offer, you reflect on the merits of taking a long-term view of the benefits from enhancing your eco-stature and brand over a status quo course of action that appears likely to significantly damage it. We believe that you will conclude that it is better business to work with a community than to continue to fight against it and we trust that, together, we can both start the new year on a positive note.

Sincerely,

Paul Renaud
South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.

3 Comments

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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Species Loss in South March Highlands

South March Highlands

Species-at-Risk (SAR) are classified based on the risk of extinction due to declining population within geographic areas.  As populations decline and vanish, the species’ classification increases until the species is either recovered (saved) or ultimately goes extinct.

This is not a theoretical risk.  According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), there are 13 species that once existed in Canada and are now extinct and a further 23 species that no longer exist in the wild in Canada (but exist elsewhere).

The loss of bio-diversity can readily be seen in the South March Highlands (SMH) as evidenced by the SMH Conservation Forest Natural Environment Assessment [Brunton 2008].

Click on the tabs below to see how real the risk is and why it the SMH should not be further developed.

Extirpated

The following 11 species are already believed to be extirpated (previously observed and no longer present in the SMH) as a result of development that has occured to-date in the SMH:

  1. Cathcart’s Woodsia
  2. Oregon Woodsia
  3. Spiny Coon-tail
  4. Adder’s-tongue Fern
  5. Back’s Sedge
  6. Large Duckweed
  7. Long-spurred Violet
  8. Showy Orchis
  9. Southern Arrow-wood
  10. Strawberry-blight
  11. Virginia Spring Beauty

Endangered

The following 3 species have been observed in the SMH and are Endangered both provincially and nationally:

  1. American Ginseng (a plant known to exist in SMH and once thought to be extirpated, subsequently re-discovered in 2009 when surveying for Terry Fox Drive Extension and subsequently extirpated in 2010 to make way for the road)
  2. Butternut (the SMH is one of the few locations in North America with some healthy, disease resistant trees)
  3. Loggerhead Shrike (possibly extirpated as there are no recent observations of this bird)

Threatened

The following 8 species have been observed in the SMH and are Threatened:

  1. Blanding’s Turtle (Ontario & Quebec)
  2. Whip-poor-will (All provinces east of Alberta)
  3. Golden Winged Warbler (Ontario & Quebec)
  4. Western Chorus Frog (this species is listed Federally for Ontario & Quebec but not yet listed under Ontario SARO)
  5. Eastern Musk Turtle (Ontario & Quebec and possibly extirpated in the SMH as there are no recent observations)
  6. Olive Sided Flycatcher (All Provinces)
  7. Chimney Swift (Ontario)
  8. Bobolink (Ontario)

Special Concern

The following 9 species have been observed in the SMH and are of Special Concern:

  1. Bridle Shiner (a small fish observed in Shirley’s Brook and Kizell Pond)
  2. Short Eared Owl
  3. Black Tern
  4. Common Nighthawk
  5. Snapping Turtle
  6. Eastern Milksnake
  7. Monarch Butterfly
  8. Bald Eagle
  9. Red Headed Woodpecker

SAR Candidates

These additional 18 species have been observed in the SMH and are on the COSEWIC Candidate List for Ontario:

  1. Evening Grosbeak (high-priority)
  2. Eastern Wood Peewee (high-priority)
  3. Wood Thrush (high-priority)
  4. Bank Swallow (high-priority)
  5. American Bullfrog (mid-priority)
  6. American Kestrel (mid-priority)
  7. Belted-Kingfisher (mid-priority)
  8. Eastern Red-Backed Salamander (mid-priority)
  9. Field Sparrow (mid-priority)
  10. Blue-Spotted Salamander (low priority)
  11. American Toad (low priority)
  12. Bluntnose Minnow (low priority)
  13. Boreal Chickadee (low priority)
  14. Killdeer (low priority)
  15. Midland Painted Turtle (low priority)
  16. Northern Two-Lined Salamander  (low priority)
  17. Green Frog  (low priority)
  18. Wood Frog  (low priority)
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Terry Fox Drive & South March Highlands Overview

South March Highlands

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

SMH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFD 2000-2005 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFD 2006-2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mitigation Denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Citizen Article Whitewashes TFD

South March Highlands

On April 17, 2010,The Ottawa Citizen published an article called  “Critter Patrol on Terry Fox“.

Unfortunately this article presents a one-sided and whitewashed description of what is really going on.    Here is some important errata:

  1. It presents information from “The experts….”, creating the impression that there is no expertise among the hundreds who oppose this road. In fact, there are many experts in opposition including well-known botanists, biologists, turtle experts, civil engineers, etc.  All of the expert scientific information about this area, conveniently suppressed by City, raises signficant concerns about any development in this area has been compiled by eminent regional experts. The article is an insult to all of those experts.
  2. It fails to highlight that there are in fact 17 Species-at-Risk identified as being impacted by this road and nowhere in the article is the environmentally sensitive nature of this area discussed. 
    • The City’s own South March Conservation Plan states that this is the most densely bio-diverse area in the City of Ottawa and that  “The Conservation Forest represents one of the most important reservoirs of ecological potential in the City of Ottawa, providing resources for the renewal of depleted natural areas elsewhere as well as encouraging diversification within established habitats.”
    • In addition to providing habitat for 17 Species-at-Risk, it is home to 423 native species of vascular plants, including 41 Regionally Significant species, 134 bird species, over 50 fish & mammal species, and uncounted reptiles and insects.  These “critters” depend on over 30 differentiated ecotypes of vegetation that comprise 10 distinct habitats – all packed into an area less than 6 square Km – and all within City limits. 
    • The bio-diversity of this area has been designated as a Provincially Significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources.
  3. It quotes the project manager, Mr. Mike Flainek, whitewashing history by stating “The City of Ottawa from Day 1 has made some very conscious decisions to make sure that environmental impacts have been, first of all, managed, and second of all, reduced.”. 
    • The Citizen did not question how this statement could be true when at the outset of planning the road the City selected the worst possible routing for it as measured by environmental impact (based on the City’s own evaluation of alternatives).   The route chosen is in fact 5x worse than the environmentally best alternative which is simply to fix up Goulbourn Forced Road.  Using GFR instead of bulldozing a Conservation Forest for TFD will save $47 M in taxpayer’s money since the upgrade work for GFR is already scheduled at a cost of $18 M. 
    • The Citizen also did not question why the City is building a 4-lane road when a 2-lane road will suffice (assuming that the current routing).  According to the planning assumptions used for this road, employment growth for the West area was to more than double between 2001 and 2011. 
    • In reality, the employment numbers available in North Kanata between the 2001 and 2006 censuses reveal employment growth has been less than 20%. With the recession and troubles in the high-tech sector, there would have been no where near the anticipated employment growth since 2006.  The extra $10 M in cost and environmental impact of a 4-lane road is not necessary.
  4. The “experts” are quoted as saying, “When the turtles come out of hibernation over the next two weeks …”.  How can these “experts” not know that the turtles are already out of hibernation and have been seen basking in the sun for several weeks?  Perhaps these photos taken on the Easter weekend in the South March Highlands should be added to the identification wall of their trailer.  There is a photo of a Blanding’s in the photoset.
  5. Evidently we are to believe that “The fencing around the construction site … should keep the Blanding’s turtule out during road work.”  A visual inspection of the area readily identifies many gaps in this Maginot Line that turtles will never cross.
  6. A more serious inaccuracy is the assertion that “To help protect the turtles in the longer term, a permenant fence will line both sides of the roadway throughout the forested area.”  In reality, the CEAA Screening Study states that the fence is only on one side of the road because the forest will be destroyed by development on the other side.  The Citizen also did not question how this fencing will be used to prevent turtles from crossing at intersections or on the transecting collectors such as GFR and 2nd Line where there are no fences planned.  Perhaps the City is planning to train the turtles to use the culverts, but I doubt it.
  7. The article states “…they’re a threatened species protected by provincial law” but fails to mention that both the turtles and their nesting sites are protected by both provincial and federal law.  The Citizen did not question how the City will avoid destroying nesting sites when they have not taken the time to do a turtle study to determine where those sites are. 
  8. One has to wonder about how the City has chosen the location for the environmental crossings discussed in the article when, according to minutes of the City transportation committeee, the only wildlife movement study done by the City was a 3-month long winter study.  Those “experts” must be really smart to be able to use a study done when both frogs and turtles are hibernating.
  9. The article observes that the City may be chasing $32 M in federal funding.  It is too bad that the Citizen didn’t note that federal funding still comes out of the same taxpayer’s pockets as municipal.  Left pocket or right pocket, the buck stops with the taxpayer.

Notwithstanding the whitewash, it’s time to stop this madness and revisit the real question of (a) is this road still needed at all, and (b) if so is it in the right place?

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Harper Owes Us Minimum EA Standards

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)  proposed by Harper will withdraw or limit the Federal government Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency from mandating or participating in a wide range of Environmental Assessments (EA).

Since the federal government will not require EAs on a broader range of projects, this creates a vacume of responsibility that effectively hands over more responsibility to the provinces for assuring that EAs are actually done.

While we should question the wisdom of a federal retreat on EAs, we must absolutely insist that if the government wants to retreat, then they must ensure that a higher minimum standard is in place to be enforced by other levels or branches of government.

There are many holes in the current set of provincial standards as is well evidenced by the current Terry Fox Road fiasco in Ottawa.

For example, current code of conduct for EAs:

  1. Do not require species impact assessment to be performed when species-at-risk are threatened by a proponent of a project.
  2. Do not identify hard minimium criteria for when mitigation alternatives must be considered by a proponent.
  3. Do not require that effectiveness assessment be performed for proposed mitigation measures when the are intended to protect endangered species.
  4. Do not require a proponent to specifically address the issues raised by public consultation – they only require that public consultation occurs.
  5. Do not provide a minimum standard of practice to be used when evaluating alternatives. For example, there is no requirement to prioritize criteria nor is there a required code of practice for evaluating alternatives.
  6. Do not identify hard criteria to guide the selection of scope for an EA. Existing guidance varies by province and uses woolly terms such as “project complexity” which is to be interpreted solely by the proponent.
  7. Do not require minimum criteria to ensure provincial oversight of the EA process. The Class EA process in Ontario, for example, is a proponent-driven process with little involvement from provincial authorities to ensure that it is properly completed.
  8. Do not identify hard criteria for determining when an EA Addendum is required due to changing project circumstances. As an example, the City of Ottawa took the position that it did not need to file an EA Addendum even though it’s project planned to divert the only tributary that drains a sub-watershed.
  9. Do not require proponents to publish and entertain feedback on planned environmental measures.
  10. Do not provide a basis for appeal after completion of the EA process when new information arises that contradicts the assumptions made during an EA. For example, a poorly executed study may fail to identify species-at-risk during the EA process. Subsequent discovery should be basis for appeal.

There are many, many other improvents that can be made to the EA process. If Harper wants to retreat, then he should strike a royal commission to assemble minimum standards to be left in his wake.

Please post your own suggestions for minimum EA standards.

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