WETLANDS: A regulatory loophole you can drive a dump truck through

Environmental activist Ken McRae says he's seen dump trucks delivering fill to a property on Flewellyn Road that he believes is being dumped into wetland.

(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.

This map illustrates the 2016 Goulbourn Wetland mapping by Dillon Consulting on behalf of 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. It also shows two altered wetland areas currently subject to a court restoration order, which remain part o the PSW. The map is provided for information purposes and should not be relied upon for planning applications. The full size map is available here: http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/environment/flewellyn-special-study-area-and-goulbourn-wetland
This map shows the proposed changes to the Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) boundaries southwest of Stittsville in the Flewellyn Special Study Area. Once approved, areas in red would have PSW designation removed, and areas with blue diagonal stripes would be added.  The full size map is available here. 


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.


9 thoughts on “WETLANDS: A regulatory loophole you can drive a dump truck through”

  1. How unfortunate that most landowners refused access to their land when the evaluation was conducted. Why not let the facts speak.

    The City is violating its own policy. During this interim period (between the Ministry’s finding and adoption in the Official Plan) it is supposed to treat the land as Significant Wetland (ref. s. 3.1.2(8) of the Official Plan). Dumping should therefore not be allowed.

    Why must we rely on citizens like Ken McRae to sound the alarm bell hoping to have officials do their job and enforce the law?

    1. Here are some facts. Drainage issues were proven. Increased water amounts identified by Robinson Consultants. Water from HWY7 expansion , quarry dewatering, and development north of here.
      MNR removed PSW designations because they were wrongfully applied. Carleton University THESIS report identifies no wetlands exist in the area.
      When a 7′ diameter culvert under Fernbank Rd is full to capacity in the spring run off or a heavy rain, all this water is expected to go through a 3′ culvert along side Flewellyn Rd. Not difficult to figure out where the water ends up. Adequate water outlets have not been created for all this extra water. Artificial flooding of private property persists. You don’t flood private property then call it a wetland.
      We wish City officials and the conservation authorities would do their job and stop the flooding issues as per their mandate.
      This is a small start to the facts.

  2. Where are these city folks who want to protect wetlands when the said lands are up for sale? Why not gather up the swamp lovers who have decided to live in concrete and paved jungles, take their property and turn it into wetlands? Or better yet charge them an eco fee based on their dense urban lifestyle?

  3. The lessons learned in Houston where massive flooding has occurred because wetlands were destroyed in favour of development should send a strong message here. Other cities, like London Ontario, are moving rapidly ahead to protect wetlands, understanding the substantial economic and environmental benefits of green infrastructure.

  4. Hey Mr. Mcrae,
    If the wetlands have value to the community, maybe the community should compensate landowners who are about to get screwed over by the city?

  5. When lands ate taken for the public good, property owners should be compensated. We cannot keep expecting rural property owners to bare the cost of maintaining wetlands in return for significantly lower property value. If designating the land in in the public good then the public must pay including those urban and sub-urban ratepayers currently living on land that used to be wetland. This in fact is what the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of appeal ruled in Lynch v St John’s. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/expropriation-lynch-court-windsor-lake-watershed-1.3963602

  6. If Mr McRae Is concerned about the blanding turtlers maybe he should buy up this land and make it a preserve. Nature has a way to preserve species and let other s go as a natural process.

  7. Property owners to the west of us applied separately for their building permits over a number of years. Under city rules, only the site under immediate application is looked at, so they were able to persuade the authorities that each part of the wetland was too small in itself to be worth its continuing protected status. I’m sure this is very common. Yes, the land should be purchased for a fair price by the province to be maintained for the valuable & essential function it has, but not at the price developers would pay. Most owners either bought the land on speculation that it would be made available for development, or inherited it. We don’t bail out people who’ve gambled and lost at the casino or the stock market. Why should we over-compensate people who’ve gambled on land value?

    1. Because the land is being devalued by official plan designations and statute law not by changes in the market. Property owners should not be expected to endure permanent interference with the use of their land that caused a significant diminution of its market value in order to serve the greater public good.

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