Wetlands destroyed by developers near Jubilee Parkway could take several decades to show signs of recovery, according to environmental consultants.
Documents uncovered by the Mirror through a Freedom of Information request to the city reveal that remediation efforts could take years to bear fruit.
“Wetlands often take 30 to 50 years to show substantial recovery,” wrote biologist Ross Murray in a March environmental report done by McElhanney Consulting Services for the city. “On average, restored wetlands remain 25 per cent less productive than natural wetlands, even after 100 years.”
Parkway Properties Joint Venture has taken responsibility for altering the wetlands during development of the subdivision on the north side of Jubilee Parkway. Over a seven-year period, from 2007 to early 2014, the developer used its property on the south side of Jubilee to store mineral soils. In the process, they disturbed 2.2 hectares of fen – peatlands that have formed in depressions supplied with groundwater and surface runoff and which contain organic soils and deep deposits of peat.
The McElhanney report, which was given to the Mirror as part of the Freedom of Information request, states that as a consequence, the fen area was drained of water through the installation of ditches which changed the hydrology of the area.
The report also reveals that, “fen vegetation was stripped and removed (and) with the exception of a small area, all organic soils and peat were removed from the fen basin” which changed vegetation composition and invasive species. According to Murray, a small portion of those soils were stockpiled and remain on the site which is located 150 metres south of Jubilee Parkway and roughly 1,500 metres west of Highway 19.
Furthermore, “the fen was infilled with mineral soils excavated from a neighbouring property.
“The result was that for almost the entire extent of the fen within the Parkways property, all features of the fen were fully removed,” Murray wrote in the McElhanney report. “The work was completed without proper approvals.”
As a result, in the summer of 2015 the city slapped Parkway Properties with a Remedial Action Requirement.
City takes action
The city ordered Parkway to restore the ecological quality and quantity of the area to its condition prior to the disturbance, if possible.
To date, the city has given Parkway several deadline extensions to present a viable remediation plan. A proposal to turn the altered wetlands into a grassy meadow was shot down by the city last November. That followed an extension to an October deadline given because consultants previously hired by Parkway had missed several deadlines, Dan Samson, president of Parkway Properties, told city council last September.
At that meeting, Samson said Parkway had no ill intentions when it moved soil onto the wetlands.
“We checked the area and there was no fish habitat, no inlet or outlet involved,” Samson said. “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.”
Samson wrote in a hand delivered letter to the city in May, 2015 that Parkway “has no intention of ignoring any of its responsibilities.”
Remediation options offered
McElhanney’s most recent remediation report, prepared in March, includes three options that the city is continuing to mull over. The options involve rehabilitating the disturbed fen area by using existing peat.
Parkway is also proposing an offering of forested developable land as compensation for areas of disturbed fen that cannot be recovered.
“We respectfully request the city consider our proposal,” wrote George Stuart, principal of Parkway Properties in a letter to the city dated April 20, 2016. “We have been working toward a suitable solution with the city through McElhanney for more than a year now, and feel that we have made great strides toward a positive outcome for all.”
For more on this story, including the city’s response to Parkway’s proposal, see next week’s edition of the Mirror.