COMMENT: More oversight needed on Carp River Restoration Plan

Carp River looking west from Maple Grove. Photo by Glen Gower / August 2015

(Above: Carp River looking west from Maple Grove Road, August 2015.)

A couple weeks ago we published an article called “Something Fishy with Carp River pathway plan”, outlining concerns about the design of recreational pathways that are part of the Carp River Restoration Plan (CRRP).

Some readers have told us they are happy the work is finally proceeding. Others say they are concerned about not just the risk of flooding, but other elements of the plan as well.

There’s a broader problem here too: a lack of transparency.

This is an important piece of public infrastructure that’s being driven by the Kanata West Owners Group (mostly a group of land developers) with input from city staff and consultants. The City has committed to covering a third of the cost.

In 2006 the total price tag was estimated at $5-million.  The most recent estimate, based on a preliminary design, was $14.8-million. That’s a bill of around $4.5-million for taxpayers.

As far as I can tell, the last time the public had a chance to comment on the plan was in 2009-2010 during an environmental assessment process. The city says the last time council had a formal update on the plan was in 2012. (Council has authorized budgets for the project since then.) Information about the CRRP on the city’s web site is outdated and incomplete.

In 2004 the vision for the project was to “Restore upper Carp River to riverine wetland with floodplain features and recreational trail system”, “link communities/neighbourhoods, control access to sensitive features, provide education/ interpretive opportunities”.

In 2009 a goal was to improve water quality and habitat “by planting vegetation along the riverbanks, and adding features such as fish habitat pools and wetlands”.

The reality won’t quite match what was originally envisioned. The recreational path will feel like a roller coaster, with tight corners and steep hills. A couple pedestrian bridges have been removed. Most of the originally-planned fish habitat ponds have been replaced by wet meadows. (Mosquitos will probably enjoy this feature.)  The natural features will involve extensive landscaping including the use of fertilizers and herbicides, rather than letting Mother Nature take the lead.

The City calls the changes “minor”, so they don’t require council approval. But when taken together, all the small changes will combine to leave the restored Carp River quite a bit different from what the public and council last saw.

The developers will tell you the CRRP has been approved by multiple government agencies, and that it has been studied to death.

That may be true, but with the problems this project has run into in the past (conflicts of interest, errors in the hydrological model, just to name two)—not to mention the perception that developers hold just a little too much influence at City Hall—the final plan for this piece of civic infrastructure deserved a lot more scrutiny from councillors and the public than it received.


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