From the Ottawa Citizen website today:
OTTAWA — A wetland in northwest Kanata that’s connected to the South March Highlands forest is provincially significant, the Ministry of Natural Resources has decided, in a ruling that will certainly delay and could theoretically halt contentious development plans for the area.
The Kizell Drain Wetland Complex, which feeds into a large pool called Beaver Pond east of Goulbourn Forced Road, is home to “threatened” Blandings turtles, says an evaluation produced by the City of Ottawa and now approved by the ministry. The turtles are enough to meet the standard for provincial protection, the city says and the province agrees.
This matters because property developers aren’t allowed to use provincially significant wetlands to drain run-off from land they plan to build on. And the Kizell Complex is part of the drainage plans for the South March Highlands projects of KNL Developments (a joint venture of Urbandale and Richcraft), plans for which part of a KNL-owned forest was razed last winter.
Reaction from those who protested the clear-cut last year was exuberant: “If the city were to respect provincial environmental protection laws, this would stop KNL cold,” wrote South March Highlands activist Paul Renaud in a letter to supporters. “KNL cannot proceed with any of the subdivision development phases without dumping more storm water into either Beaver Pond, or Kizell.” If the city had properly monitored the situation last year, he wrote, the cutting would have been stopped.
At City Hall, the response was more subdued.
“Some of the residents think this will stop it cold. I don’t think it will,” said Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, who represents the area where long-term plans call for 3,000 homes to be built. But she said, “at this point, they can’t go ahead.”
Instead, KNL will have to devise a new drainage plan, probably using the nearby Shirley’s Brook, Wilkinson said. That’ll likely be a pain for the builders (“The area’s a bit tricky for drainage anyway,” she said), but still possible.
Beaver Pond and its immediate surroundings are being given to the city as part of a long-standing deal — reached by the former city of Kanata when Wilkinson was mayor, long before KNL bought them — to trade 40 per cent of a large piece of privately owned land to the local government in exchange for the right to develop the other 60 per cent. “The actual wetland was being given to the city anyway, so that doesn’t change,” Wilkinson said.
The Citizen’s call to Mary Jarvis, the director of planning for Urbandale and the lead spokesperson on the development project, wasn’t immediately returned.
Correspondence between the city planner doing the wetland evaluation, Nicholas Stow, and provincial environment official Shaun Thompson, does show a significant disagreement on certain details. In Stow’s reckoning, the wetland would still qualify for provincial protection even without the turtles, but only barely: without the turtles, the property scores exactly 600 points on the 1,000-point scale the province uses, and it takes 600 points or more to meet the standard.
Thompson doesn’t agree, revising downward several of Stow’s scorings. Stow awarded points for the interest in the area expressed lately by Algonquin aboriginals; Thompson wrote to the city that he couldn’t confirm any details with the Algonquins of Ontario and takes the points away. He also takes nine points off as a result of “minor errors” in calculating the wetland’s hydrological importance. On the flip side, he finds that Stow didn’t give enough points for the turtles, though the “special features” category allows a maximum of 250 points and the Kizell Drain Wetland got 250 points anyway. In the end, the only difference between the two evaluations is whether the wetland is provincially significant without the turtles.