Developers of Maryland Estates have come under fire from the city for altering wetlands near Jubilee Parkway.
Council has ordered the developers – Parkway Properties Ltd. – to either remediate the wetlands or pay some form of compensation to make up for the damage caused by dumping soil on the property.
The movement of soil began in early 2007 to make way for development.
Dan Samson, director of Parkway Properties, said all parties involved in the development are Campbell River residents who had no ill intentions and didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong.
“When we looked at the property route, Willow Creek Road south of Jubilee, there was a depression. We checked the area and there was no fish habitat, no inlet or outlet involved,” Samson told council at its meeting Monday night. “In our opinion this was simply just another depression with poor drainage. There was a similar-sized wetland in the Maryland subdivision that the city approved for elimination when the first phase of that subdivision was approved. We did not think the area that we were continuing to fill was any different. On that basis, we made the decision that as we developed the northern portion of the property, we would excavate at the same time, the poor material from this wetland with the good materials so it’d make a suitable road base. We started this work in early 2007, we basically finished in 2012.”
Samson said he wasn’t aware anything was amiss until he got a call from the city on March 14, 2014 requesting immediate cessation of moving further materials from the north portion of the property to the south portion.
“We were surprised at the call as we were not aware we were doing anything incorrectly,” Samson said. “Nevertheless, we consider ourselves good corporate citizens and agreed there would be no more movement of soil.”
And that’s when it appears a misunderstanding took root.
City issues cease and desist letter
A letter from the city’s former planning manager, Ross Blackwell, states that “such deposition shall not be resumed unless/until a development permit has been applied for and issued and further that a soil deposition permit has been applied for and issued. Failure to do so may result in the city taking further action, including legal action.”
Samson then replied in an email to Blackwell that Parkway did not intend to move any further material but confirmed it would apply for the permits should it wish to do so.
Samson said after that, Parkway heard nothing from the city until it received a letter on May 28, 2014.
Contravening Local Government Act
That letter, also from Blackwell, accuses Parkway of “altering the subject land” and being in “contravention of the Local Government Act and the Offence Act.” Blackwell then wrote that the city was prepared to consider, on a without-prejudice basis, a retrospective application for a development permit and soil deposition permit. Blackwell also ordered Parkway to deliver a report from a qualified environmental professional stating the former and present environmental characteristics of the site, the changes and impacts, and a plan of remediation.
Samson said Parkway, after receiving the letter, moved to meet the demands of the letter and met with city staff.
“At this meeting, one of the things discussed at length was compensation for the loss of the wetland in the event remediation was not practical,” Samson said. “City staff agreed that was a viable option and said it did not necessarily have to be within our property. They also mentioned this compensation could be financial contributions to organizations that do environmental work in our community.”
Consultant takes the reins
Samson said in August, 2014, Parkway hired a consultant to come up with a remediation plan. The city decided to hold off until November 20 to give the consultant time.
But in a letter to Samson dated March 11, 2015, the city’s Amber Zirnhelt, who took over for Blackwell, writes that progress has been slow and tries to push the issue along.
“While you have cooperated with the city’s requests on this matter, progress has been slow and deadlines have been missed,” she wrote, noting that an engineer hired by Parkway to survey the area revealed that “drainage patterns have been altered, with deep ditches draining both surface water and groundwater, with the effect of lowering the water table.”
Zirnhelt wrote that the city “expects, therefore, that remediation will involve reversing the illegal drainage work, such that the site can retain water.” She also requested in that letter that the city receive a comprehensive site restoration plan by Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
Samson responds in a letter hand delivered to the city on May 12, 2015 that “Parkway Properties acknowledges that we have made changes to this area and has no intention of ignoring any of its responsibilities.”
He added that, “the work required in exploring all the alternatives is complicated and a time consuming process requiring at least six months to complete.”
But city staff appeared to be losing patience and in a June 15 in-camera report to city council, staff said that their attempts to work with the owner of the property have not resulted in “satisfactory progress. Formal action is therefore considered necessary to bring this issue to resolution.”
Remediation order issued
On July 21, 2015, solicitors for the city delivered a Remedial Action Requirement (RAR) to Parkway Properties ordering remediation be performed by Oct. 26 or the city would take legal action.
Samson said the delay was not the fault of Parkway but rather the consultant’s who promised he would have a remediation plan completed by April, 2015 only to later tell Parkway he would need until December, 2015. Samson said on May 12, 2015 Parkway ended its relationship with the consultant.
“Any deadlines missed were not the result of Parkway dragging its feet but rather the result of short deadlines that the various consultants either would not, or could not, meet,” Samson said at Monday’s council meeting. “Needless to say, we were extremely shocked and disappointed to be served with the July 21, 2015 RAR when we had received no communication from the city since our May 12, 2015 letter.”
On Monday before council, Samson requested council grant an extension on the remedial action plan until November 30.
Weighing its options
Currently, Parkway is considering four different options.
Option one is remediation of the previous wetland, which according to a biologist’s report, has seen vegetation removed, soil deposited, and ditches excavated. As a result, the original plant community and drainage patterns have been altered.
“If the current wetlands are to persist, drainage from the site must be slowed dramatically,” wrote biologist Michele Jones of Mimulus Biological Consultants. “This would include the complete blockage and filling of all ditches within the site.”
Option two is to remediate a former wetland that was adversely affected by construction of Jubilee Parkway, just east of the bridge over Willow Creek.
Option three is to enhance lands located at the southwest corner of Parkway’s property, which would enhance the water flow and habitat of Woods Creek. That option, however, requires the cooperation of TimberWest which currently owns the property.
And finally, option four involves dedicating additional lands adjacent to Willow Creek in order to enhance the park network and protect the creek.
“Two of these options would enhance Woods Creek and introduce red-listed plants that were destroyed – sedge, trembling Aspen and the Pacific crab apple,” Samson said.
Council, after listening to Samson’s presentation agreed to the deadline extension. Coun. Larry Samson, who is related to Dan Samson, did not vote as he excused himself from council chambers before Samson’s presentation began, citing a conflict of interest.
“I believe the delegation is sincere in delivering a solution which is a win-win for their development, the community and the environment,” said Coun. Ron Kerr.
Mayor Andy Adams said he believes the Parkway crew means well.
“We appreciate the initial comments you began the presentation with, both you, Mr. (George) Stuart (president of Parkway Properties) and Mr. Samson, have been components to the development of Campbell River and we are very appreciative of that,” Adams said. “I think that’s important. We look forward to a resolution to this.”
“Hopefully we will have a solution that can be endorsed by both parties,” Samson said. “We do not believe that the best result can be achieved for any of us through legal action and we would like to avoid this.”