Grassy meadow no replacement for a wetland, says Campbell River environmental organization

A city environmental organization is unimpressed with a remediation plan for the Jubilee wetlands, damaged during construction near the Maryland subdivision.

A report from McElhanney consultants, hired by Parkway Properties Joint Venture, which has taken responsibility for the damage, reveals a remediation plan that involves turning the altered wetlands into a grassy meadow.

That plan was submitted to the city on Nov. 30 – the deadline that council had given Parkway to provide a remediation report after extending the original deadline from Oct. 23.

Dan Samson, president of Parkway Properties, told council that consultants previously hired by Parkway had missed several deadlines and requested the extension from council in September. Samson also told council that none of the parties involved had any ill intentions and thought that where they were dumping soil was simply a depression with poor drainage, similar to a wetland in the Maryland subdivision that the city had approved for elimination during the first phase of subdivision construction.


Problems begin

The movement of soil began in 2007 and ended in early 2014 and resulted in the disturbance of the habitat in 2.2 hectares of fen – a marshy area of land that frequently floods – within the Parkways property, roughly 150 metres south of Jubilee Parkway. That disturbance altered the local hydrology, including lowering the water table.

The McElhanney report, authored by biologist Ross Murray, suggests restoring the hydrology – in order to support remaining fen on a neighbouring property – by infilling the ditches and regrading and stabilizing the area where soil was deposited.

“Grading will be completed to provide a broad shallow depression leading drainage to the remaining fen,” Murray writes. “Grading will include infilling any remaining ditches and grading all previously ditched areas.”

The plan further calls for a 30-metre vegetation buffer to protect the remaining fen – a buffer stabilized by planting native grass and sedge seed mix prior to tree planting.

The final piece of the remediation plan calls for hydro seeding to stabilize the graded portion of the damaged fen and turn it into a grassy meadow, that, according to Murray, will create a foraging area for wildlife.

“Open meadows or grasslands are uncommon around Campbell River,” Murray writes in his report. “Raptors are particularly common in the Campbell River area and a meadow habitat supporting small mammals would provide a beneficial hunting ground for raptors.”

But Greenways Land Trust, an environmental stewardship organization, said a remedial action requirement ordered by the city on July 21, 2015 clearly states that Parkway needs to remediate the damage and McElhanney’s plan does not cut it.

“This report does not constitute a plan for remediation and restoration of the Jubilee Parkway fen,” writes Sandra Milligan, president of Greenways Land Trust in a letter to city council and shared with the Mirror. “While the report does provide some mitigation of the damage caused by Parkway by buffering, but not legally protecting the remaining wetland, no restoration of the fen is proposed. The plan recommends creation of a grassy meadow where a rare fen wetland existed. Grassy meadows are not native habitats in the Campbell River area, they are not rare, and they do not contain rare wetland species, which is what was lost from the site.”


Recovery unlikely

Murray, in his report, said it would be difficult to recover the wetland.

“Vegetative communities that could be targeted for restoration are slow growing and may be vulnerable to being overtaken by faster growing invasive plant species that were absent during the natural development of this fen,” Murray writes. “Based on these considerations, it is very unlikely that an effort to re-develop the fen within the disturbed area on the property would succeed.”

Milligan disagrees, writing that fen restoration has been successful throughout North America, as documented by Thomas Biebighauser, a wetland restoration specialist, in his Wetland Restoration and Construction – a Technical Guide.

“Restoring a fen on a site where one used to exist, and is contiguous to remnant wetland habitat, is…likely to be successful,” Milligan writes. “We urge the City of Campbell River to continue to pursue an ecologically appropriate remediation of the Jubilee wetland site.

“We would also like to urge council to ensure that the remaining wetland is protected as soon as possible,” Milligan continues. “It is necessary to proceed as soon as possible to fill the ditches and to monitor whether this is having the intended effects so that the hydrology of the site can start to be re-established and the remaining wetland protected.”

The city, meanwhile, has again extended the deadline for a remediation proposal until March 15, 2016. That proposal will then be reviewed by the city, as well as the province which has since gotten involved, and must include a timeline for remedial action.

In addition to the remediation plan, Parkway has also been in discussion with the city to provide some form of compensation. Options for compensation include the following:

n Remediating a former wetland, east of the bridge over Willow Creek, that was adversely impacted by construction of Jubilee Parkway.

n Enhancing lands located at the southwest corner of Parkway’s property, which would enhance the water flow and habitat of Woods Creek.

n Dedicating additional lands adjacent to Willow Creek in order to enhance the park network and protect the creek.