(PHOTO: Stones blocking the culvert under the Trans Canada Trail, October 2014. Photo courtesy of Phil Sweetnam.)
City officials want to know who keeps plugging up a culvert under the Trans Canada Trail, and why they’re doing it.
“We initially thought it was just kids throwing stones in,” says John Kukalis, Manager of Surface Water Management for the City. “Somebody keeps going back in there and blocking the culverts up with stones and trying to create an impoundment of water.”
The culvert runs under the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) just over a kilometre west of West Ridge Drive, next to an observation deck. It’s part of the larger Hazeldean Road Municipal Drain that helps manage stormwater for lands along Hazeldean Road and the trail. A portion of the drain runs through provincially significant wetland.
The problem with the rocks has been happening for months now. Someone – or several people – have been placing rocks in front of a metal gate on the north side of the culvert. When the culvert is blocked, the water level rises on the north side of the trail.
Under Ontario’s Drainage Act, the City is responsible to keep the culvert clear from debris. Last fall, the city extended the pipe and cleaned it out after nearby landowners complained about flooding and high water levels. They also cleared out the creek on the south side of the TCT and removed some beaver dams.
They hoped the fixes would solve the high water problem, but they’ve had to keep going back ever since.
“The roads operations staff go by during their patrols and they’ll discover it (the rocks blocking the culvert). What we hear anecdotally is that it’s been as much as twice a week. Sometimes it’s three rocks, sometimes it’s 30 rocks,” says Kukalis.
A camera was installed on the look-out deck in June to identify who was placing the stones.
“We wanted to see, is it well-meaning folks, is it kids? But they vandalized the camera. We found the camera wrecked. It doesn’t seem like it’s simply kids. Someone is intentionally going in and blocking it,” says Kukalis.
Kukalis wonders if the person responsible might be a well-meaning resident who’s concerned about the water levels in the marsh on the north side of the trail.
“When they start doing this stuff, while well intentioned, they’re violating the Drainage Act. Experts have looked at it [the culvert] and decided this is the way it should be. If you have a disagreement with that [this is] not the right avenue,” he says.
Bylaw staff are also assisting by adding regular patrols on the trail. They’ve been talking with residents and individuals, asking if they’ve seen anyone tampering with the culvert.
Kukalis insists that at this point the city has no interest in prosecuting whoever’s involved.
“How far do you take it? do you hire a private investigator? There’s an expense and it leaves a foul big brother taste in your mouth. It’s not like someone is destrying the culvert, in which case you might call the police. In this case we’re very much looking at it like finding who’s doing it, and do some investigation.”
“It’s probably a well-meaning but ill-directed individual. We’ve been treating it more as almost an investigation or study, more than an enforcement,” he says.
Ken McRae grew up in Stittsville and describes himself as “an unpaid concerned citizen advocate for protection of wetlands and fish habitat for the past 25 years”.
Along with other local residents, he’s been keeping close watch on the wetlands and waterways adjacent to the Trans Canada Trail and has spoken out several times with concerns about nearby land use and enforcement. (He runs a web site about the issue at stittsvillewetlands.wordpress.com) He says he is opposed to the culvert work done last fall because the resulting lower water levels could harm wildlife in the wetland.
McRae says his group has been aware of the camera since July 8. A week later, they noticed that it had been spray painted with black paint and taken down, although later replaced.
McRae says he doesn’t know who is blocking the culvert with rocks, but suspects it’s someone who’s not happy with the work the city has done on the culvert and creek downstream.
“The city’s draining of the wetland on the north side of the TCT has significant negative wildlife impacts by removing habitat for fish, turtles and various bird species,” he says.
“Myself, and others, see the camera as being a positive as it could take photos and perhaps video of wildlife that go into the camera’s view,” he says. “We’re not there 24/7 to be able to observe and document wildlife, but the camera could do that within its limited field of view.”
He also thinks that the camera could be useful for monitoring how the city is going about removing the rocks from the culvert. He’s concerned that heavy equipment such as a backhoe could hurt wildlife habitat.
“City staff have at times operated heavy equipment inappropriately on the TCT and between the lookout and the culvert to remove insignificant small rocks dams that could have easily been dealt with by hand instead,” says McRae.
We’ll have more about the group’s environmental concerns in an upcoming article on StittsvilleCentral.ca.
A reader contacted us with concerns about the privacy aspect of having a surveillance camera at the observation deck.
“I would think this goes against privacy issues if it is in fact a working camera/recording device of some kind, yet there is no notice advising people of same. This used to be a great spot to observe turtles and other wildlife, so I would imagine I’m not the only one getting close to the water there. And I would imagine there are often kids there looking for frogs and turtles too – are they also being recorded?” she wrote in an email.
John Kukalis says that privacy implications have been considered. He says that there’s no intention to publish or share the images, and that they’ll only be used to help identify who may be blocking the culvert. He says the city does not plan to use the footage captured for prosecution.
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