(Lookout over the marsh at the head of Poole Creek, along the Trans Canada Trail just west of Stittsville. Photo by Glen Gower.)
There has been much controversy over the years on the establishment of the boundaries for wetlands within the Goulbourn Wetland Complex (GWC) and it has proven to be a many faceted issue — property designated as a wetland is limited as to how landowners can use their land and is a deterrent to future development.
The City of Ottawa is poised to add new wetland areas to the Goulbourn Wetland Complex after the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) approved Official Plan (OP) and zoning amendments revising the Complex’s boundaries. These new wetland boundaries are the result of the Flewellyn Special Study Area that took place from 2017 to 2019, and Goulbourn Wetland Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment.
(This map illustrates the 2016 Goulbourn Wetland mapping performed by Dillon Consulting for the City of Ottawa. The mapping was completed as a requirement of the Flewellyn Special Study Area (3.2.5) of the Ottawa Official Plan. The map shows the 2008 Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) Boundaries, as previously identified by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). It shows the new and confirmed wetlands identified by Dillion Consulting in 2016, and approved by the MNRF. It shows areas of former wetland that have been removed from the PSW.)
The move follows more than a decade of exhaustive research and public discussion, driven by the Government of Ontario requirement that municipalities protect provincially significant wetlands and prohibit development or site alteration on them. City-led studies of the area concluded that the wetlands are natural, long-standing features and that man-made causes, such as changes to drainage or improper ditch maintenance, did not add to the wetlands.
In the City staff report to the ARAC, staff stated, “The Province of Ontario requires municipalities to identify and protect ‘provincially significant wetlands’ from ‘development and site alteration’. The City of Ottawa meets this requirement by designating ‘significant wetlands’ in its Official Plan and giving those wetlands protective zoning that restricts almost all development (but allows existing agricultural uses). Under a decision by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB, now the Local Area Planning Tribunal), the City has six months to designate significant wetlands, once the province has identified them.
The City needs to designate the lands as wetland in the Official Plan and the Zoning By-law to be compliant with provincial policy and the Official Plan, and to preserve their environmental benefits. While the wetlands designation prohibits future development, existing uses on those lands, such as agriculture, can continue.
Ken McRae, local ardent environmentalist, has stated, “Time is very short between now and the February 12 City Council meeting. I’ve written to the Kemptville OMNRF DM, Scott Lee, Scott Smithers, and Mary Dillon about this ARAC action. I asked what is the position of the OMNRF on the ARAC’s amended recommendations to full City Council to have the City limit its Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments to only the OMNRF approved changes to the boundaries of the PSGWC within the FSSA? I also suggested that if the OMNRF disagrees with the ARAC amended recommendations, that it make the City aware of that before the February 12 City Council meeting as doing so might save all of us a lot of time, trouble and expense.”
(Environmental activist Ken McRae. Photo: Glen Gower)
In the latest move to develop a new mapped area for wetlands, the City received comments and inquiries from 28 property owners and interested parties regarding the proposed Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments. The majority of the inquiries sought clarification on wetland boundaries for specific properties. Others sought information on how a significant wetland designation and zoning would affect land uses or development of their properties.
This new mapped area affects three Wards 5, 6 and 21. Of the three Ward Councillors for which this new mapping affects the landowners and the GWC, only Councillor Gower addressed the issue in the City’s report. Councillor Glen Gower is also the Vice-Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and the Ward 6 Councillor. Ward Councillors El-Chantiry, Gower, and Moffatt are all aware of the report.
(Newly designated wetlands by the City of Ottawa for the Goulbourn Wetlands resulting from the Flewellyn Special Study Area that took place from 2017 to 2019, and Goulbourn Wetland Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment. Map: City of Ottawa.)
When contacted by Stittsville Central, Phil Sweetnam local Stittsville businessman, had this to say about the proposed wetland boundaries for the FSSA, “It is important to stop the loss of wetlands! Before development occurred, 60% of Ontario was wetland. Now with modern drainage techniques less than 40% of the land is wetland! If landowners do not ensure the good drainage works are not impaired by beaver dams or poor maintenance of drainage ditches on private and municipal lands in a short time formerly good well-drained land can again be wetlands.”
(Stones blocking the culvert under the Trans-Canada Trail. Photo: Phil Sweetnam.)
At a 2018 meeting of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RCVA), steps were taken and the RCVA Board of Directors passed a motion to protect the destruction of Provincial Significant Westland (PSW) that has been identified prior to 2008. Albeit this will not be applied retroactively to already damaged wetlands. A new PSW identified by the OMNR in 2017, won’t be protected until it is identified in the City’s Official Plan. Until that time, the RVCA’s motion falls outside of any control.
Aware of the past history and the intricacy of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex, Councillor Gower provided the following comment in the City’s report, “I attended a public meeting in June 2016 when staff presented the findings of the Flewellyn Cumulative Effects Study. I remember clearly the complexity and conflict of trying to establish wetland boundaries for zoning and planning purposes. Wetlands are in constant change and you can’t just draw a line on a map and expect wetlands to comply.
The policies that govern this process are clear and simple: Under Provincial policy, the City must identify and protect provincially significant wetlands from development and site alteration. Over the past 15 years, staff have made every effort to ensure that this process has been fair and transparent.”
These proposed changes go to full City Council for acceptance on February 12, 2020.
Wetlands are crucial to our environment — considered the cradle for biodiversity. They provide a home for vast numbers of plant life and animal species. They purify our water, control erosion and provide flood control in our creeks and rivers. As we see wetlands decline in various regions, the maintenance of our wetlands is important as without them our ecosystem will be compromised.