(PHOTO: Ken McRae says he believe some landowners on Flewellyn Road are dumping fill into wetlands to avoid Provincially Significant Wetland designation. Photo by Devyn Barrie.)
A local environmental activist believes some Goulbourn property owners are taking advantage of a regulatory loophole to destroy wetland on their property.
Ken McRae says he’s seen dump trucks delivering fill to a property on Flewellyn that he believes is being dumped into wetland.
“I couldn’t see any heavy earth moving equipment from the roadway because the tall vegetation along the roadway… but I could hear at least one bulldozer that would be being used to grade the fill being brought in by the dump trucks,” he wrote in an email last month to StittsvilleCentral.ca.
The City of Ottawa recently wrapped up a survey to update the boundaries of Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) in what’s known as the Flewellyn Special Study Area. A map of the new boundaries was posted online earlier this year, and property owners have until the end of the 2018 growing season to contest the new boundaries.
New wetlands identified in the survey won’t be formally designated as PSW until the City passes an amendment to the City’s Official Plan, likely in late 2018. Until then, there appears to be no legal mechanism to protect them.
The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority agrees some wetland is likely already being filled in. Terry Davidson, the RVCA’s director of regulations, would not confirm specifics but said they are aware of wetland manipulation in the area.
“It’s obvious, let’s put it that way,” he said. Evidence can include new gravel and dirt in laneways, drainage features being installed as well as an abundance of dump trucks and heavy grading equipment for no apparent reason.
The RVCA is responsible for regulating wetland in the Flewellyn area, but their board decided in 2006 to only enforce their regulations on wetland that is designated under the city’s official plan. Because the city hasn’t done that yet, Davidson said there’s nothing they can do.
“If the land isn’t designated, there really isn’t anything anyone can do,” he said. “The minute it’s in the official plan we’ll be doing it [enforcing regulations].”
There is precedence for prosecution of wetland meddling in the Stittsville area. For example, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority took a company, its director and a contractor to court in 2015 after they damaged a PSW on Rothbourne Road. They were fined and a judge ordered them to fix it.
A wetland designation can be a black mark for some property owners because they believe it makes it their land difficult to develop and therefore worth less.
Michael Erland, another Flewellyn property owner, had plans to build a residential subdivision on his 49-acre parcel scuttled by the wetland issue. He’s tried to sell the land, but nobody wants it.
“As soon as people find out (about the PSW designation), they say ‘I’m not going near that’,” he told StittsvilleCentral.ca in 2014.
He’s looked at the new map released by the city but isn’t sure what to make of it because he said the city hasn’t shared enough information.
“Can you show us the work that’s been done, please?” he asked in an interview.
The City’s website says landowners can dispute the findings of the survey by hiring their own surveyor to re-evaluate the land and submit the results to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Erland likened this to being “guilty until proven innocent.”
He said the city rushed the survey and some of the land may not contain true wetland.
“Would I dispute whether wetlands exist in the area? I don’t know, maybe they were artificially created,” he said. “A lot of this water in this area, it’s not natural.”
As for the next steps, he wasn’t sure but said he thinks most landowners have something up their sleeves yet to try.
“It’s not that landowners are trying to be difficult,” he said. “We’re trying to be fair.”
Wetlands are about more than whether someone gets to develop – there’s real environmental value for the community, says Ken McRae.
“For one thing, a number of those wetlands, they have species at risk in them,” he said, such as Blanding’s and snapping turtles.
They also reduce odds of flooding by storing water and maintaining water flow, reduce potential for fires to spread and act as a carbon sink.
“They absorb and hold… greenhouse gas emissions,” McRae said.
He said the RVCA has the ability to punish anyone destroying wetlands, even pre-designation, but is choosing not to.
“The RVCA aren’t applying their (regulatory power) to any PSW that hasn’t been recognized in the city’s official plan,” he said.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry may also be able to step in if it turns out endangered species are being affected, he said.
“They’re [the RCVA] acting as if nothing can be done,” he said.