By Tim Seburn
Already known for its activism over Marcy Woods and most recently its hospital closing, controversy is once again brewing in Fort Erie.
The latest burning issue is the Canadian Motorsports Speedway (CMS) proposal targeting 823 acres of mostly prime agricultural land in the heart of this town. The one mile oval and two and one-half mile road course are planned to open in time for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812. A local newspaper has called those opposing CMS backwards facing. Now the nature club returns the aspersion, setting the scene for yet another interesting battle in this border town.
The town’s time-honoured Nature Club, named after Bert Miller, a prominent 20th century naturalist, has come out strongly opposed to the speedway, labelling it a classic example of the past century’s unsustainable development practises, where land is despoiled for short term gain, ignoring longer-term social, environmental, and economic consequences.
The Club points to the visionary legislation enacted this century by the province, particularly its planning policy statement, and calls for the proposal to be rejected out-of-hand based on the large number of policies it clearly violates. The Club’s concerns, including the extensive air, noise and light pollution that will be generated by the CMS proposal, are detailed on its website http://www.bertmillernatureclub.org/.
The Nature Club claims the CMS proposal is irreconcilable with a smart growth strategy for the town. They point to the Town’s recent growth being mainly residential, and attribute this to its high quality of life and quiet, rural character. Although only thirty thousand or so reside here, the town has two of the best ice rinks in Niagara, three libraries, several marinas, public beaches, many miles of biking trails, outstanding scenery along Lake Erie and the Niagara River, with easy access to the amenities of the major urban centre of Buffalo.
The Club sees the town’s residential character and quality of life being put at risk by the nature and scale of the CMS project, with noise pollution expected to nullify growth potential for the nearby community labeled as Bridgeburg. Re-developing brownfield sites with upscale residential intensification is the centerpiece of a much lauded neighbourhood plan recently published for the area. As the rank of teleworkers continues to swell, leaving many urbanites and commuters free to live wherever they wish, implementing the Bridgeburg Neighbourhood Plan is seen as key to sustaining growth and cementing Fort Erie’s reputation for a high quality style of life
The nature club also feels the sheer scale of the speedway proposal will lead to the needs of residents being overshadowed by those of the speedway and its fans. The first phase of the proposal calls for a 66 acre business park, a 74 acre commercial complex, a parking area for 27,000 vehicles, a recreation and camping area, and finally a grandstand with seating for 65,000 fans, expandable to almost 100,000 in phase two of the CMS proposal. Racing fans will easily out-number residents on many days throughout the year.
Led by Sandy Vant, a real estate agent, neighbours of the proposed speedway have organized a community group dedicated to opposing it. Calling themselves Citizens Against Racing Speedway (CARS), they have launched a website http://www.forteriecars.org in support of their letter writing and petition campaigns, and have garnered some media attention.
While opposition may be gathering strength, a gold rush fever in favour of the speedway also seems to be at play. Although similar racing operations experience unrelenting environmental complaints from residents living nearby, and although the CMS team has so far been unable to produce a plan that meets the Ontario Ministry of the Environment noise limits, the Fort Erie Times’ editor quickly came out in favour of CMS as soon as the application was tabled saying “the economic benefits are worth the costs”. Shortly thereafter the editor noted “the majority of residents support the proposal”.
Support amongst the town’s council, and certainly with the mayor’s office, seems strong. The mayor expressed his support after visiting financial patrons in Dubai last year, in advance the CMS team preparing their application. He recently returned from his second trip to Dubai. When passing a bylaw imposing development charges earlier this year, town council included a provision exempting tourist attractions, recreation facilities and grandstands. However, it is not yet clear local taxpayers will be on the hook for the infrastructure and servicing costs, expected to be exorbitant. Project proponents are continuing to lobby the provincial government.
CMS spokesman Rick Brady has been more guarded in his comments than most proponents, warning residents may hear the oval or the road course, whether due to testing, practise or an actual event, 365 days per year – weather permitting. He noted on some days he could hear Humberstone Raceway in Port Colborne even though he lives several miles away in Lorraine. The report on the public meeting states there will be “significant to very significant” noise impacts during evening hours on major event days.
In spite of this some residents remain unfazed, even in Cresent Park and Bridgeburg, the two communities to be most impacted. Comments heard include, “the stadium will be in a dish so I won’t hear it” and “the track will operate only a few days a year”. One fellow, living less than a kilometre downwind from the proposed location was heard to say, “I love the smell of rubber”.
(Tim Seburn is a member of the Bert Miller Nature Club and a life-long resident of Fort Erie, who once attended the Sunday school classes of Bert Miller.)
The following attachment is a report prepared by the Niagara-based Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) on this project. It was submitted to the Town of Fort Erie for consideration this November.
PRESERVATION OF AGRICULTURAL LANDS SOCIETY
– Working to protect the best lands in Canada since 1976
Brief to the Council on the Town of Fort Erie, Canadian Motor Speedway Proposal. November 09, 2009 By Dr. John Bacher (PhD)
Researcher, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society
1. PALS Is Impressed by the Environmental Record of Fort Erie – Please Stay the Course
At the outset, I would like to stress that since our inception in 1976, the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society has been quite impressed by the general environmental record of Fort Erie. This is essentially why you have not heard from our organization during our more than thirty three year history. Your municipality has shown the most proactive role in protecting trees, and in carefully designating and safeguarding the extensive natural areas within your municipality.
In asking you to reject the proposal for the Canadian Motor Speedway our request is simple – say no, and stay the course. Under the recently amended Planning Act, you have the power to reject this proposal without having to worry about appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB) Out of concern to reduce urban sprawl, decisions by elected councils to reject what is in effect, an urban boundary expansion, cannot be appealed by developers to the OMB. Such appeals can only be lodged by citizens who want the urban boundary to stay where it is, against a decision by a municipal council that supports urban expansion that is backed by a landowner. In taking this stand, the province was well aware that there is far more land throughout Ontario in the various counties and regions, for needed urban land supplies.
2, When PALS Says Stay the Course, We Mean-Stay the ‘Good’ Course.
When PALS asks the Fort Erie Council to stay the course, we mean, keep on the good course. By keeping its urban boundaries where they are, you will be unlike other municipalities in Niagara who are engaged in a futile effort to seek urban boundary expansions that are being opposed by the province for promoting sprawl in violation of Places To Grow, and you will be rewarded. Growth will come to Fort Erie, but within its urban boundaries, and with the help of provincial infrastructure dollars to assist this.
The basic planning path Fort Erie has followed since zoning was applied to the rural area of the former Bertie Township has been an admirable one. Your Council won a major battle to protect one of the most precious areas of Carolinian Canada – Point Abino, by successfully seeking the imposition of a Ministerial Zoning order. What ever flaws there were in land use planning in Fort Erie were largely corrected through the province’s prohibition of severances in agricultural areas.
3. Fort Erie’s Success in Good Planning is Unfortunate a Secret In Ontario.
If the success of Fort Erie in pursuing sensible policies that favour ecological restoration of Canada’s most ecologically diverse and significant zone, our Carolinian forests, was better known, there would be a far greater storm of protest than there is today about the proposed Canadian Motorways speedway. It is simply not widely understood, even in Fort Erie, that you are the only heavily populated urban center that has preserved so much of its rare Carolinian habitat, saved as many species, and kept alive and full of diverse fish species so many streams.
The admirable work your municipality has done to protect Canada’s most critical Carolinian environment is spelled out in an unfortunately little -read document, “The Fort Erie Creeks Watershed Plan”, a document prepared under the direction of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, (NPCA) and released in March of 2008.
On page 49, this report notes that, “The majority of the watercourses in the study area contain good quality, low gradient warm water aquatic habitat, with the exception of recently straightened watercourses. When adequate sampling has occurred fish communities have been found to be appropriately diverse for the existing habitat indicating that the aquatic ecosystem is generally healthy.” On page 60, the study further concludes that, “The natural area of the Fort Erie Creek’s watershed provides valuable hydrological, biological, social and climatic modification services. The main hydrological services in the study area are flood moderation and water quality improvement. Comparable or higher natural area concentrations in this zone occur only at Six Nations Reserve, Walpole Island Reserve, the Pinery, Long Point and parts of Norfolk County.”
The statements of the Fort Erie watershed plan are simply straight forward facts, not exaggeration or hype. Some 46 per cent of Fort Erie is in natural cover. Most of this – 28.2% is mature forest, and the rest is a combination of marsh, meadows and regenerating forests. Apart from the two Indian reservations already mentioned, the only place there in Carolinian Canada with anything comparable to this is Norfolk County, which apart from the Town of Simcoe, has a much lower population density than Fort Erie. The healthy Muskie and Pike fish populations here are likely already a tourist attraction, as are the great flocks of birds on the Niagara River.
4. Fort Erie Needs to Popularize its Success
The basis for Fort Erie’s economic strategy should be largely to popularize and effectively brand and market its environmental success story. This is a course that is also recommended in the Fort Erie Watershed Strategy. It calls for building “tourism and recreation….on a green theme.” It urges the Town to build on the “consequences of the natural area extent to create a green branding for the area, one that extends to lifestyles, conservation, green roofs etc.-Keep it Green.” As part of this, the watershed plan points out, “The flat natural landscape, existing routes and quiet paved road offer
potential for the area to be a cycling mecca for seniors and families.” It should be obvious how such a branding strategy is incompatible with a re-zoning of agricultural land to facilitate the construction of a NASCAR type motor race track.
5. Fort Erie’s Environmental Success a Positive Legacy of Its Citizens Care for the Earth.
Fort Erie’s environmental success comes from the care of its citizens over the past century. The fact that Norfolk County appears to be the only non-aboriginal community in Carolinian Canada to be as successful as Fort Erie, is linked to the fact that the key person who shaped its greening, Edmund Zavitz, was born and raised here in what was then the Bertie Township community of Ridgeway. He played a major role in launching Ontario network’s of Conservation Authorities, which have protected a number of areas in this community, especially in the Black Creek park in Stevensville.
Much of the ecological restoration of Fort Erie, which is still on-going as every year brings better results in terms of more forest cover, species diversity and stream health, is the work of its citizens going back to Edmund Zavitz’s birth in 1875. For instance, Farmers here listened and responded favourably to the advice of foresters in his Department of Lands and Forests to increase forest cover on their lands, especially in stream valleys.
Later in the 1950s, one of the sons of a Fort Erie farm family, who like Edmund Zavitz, traced his ancestry back to the loyalist pioneers of the 18th century, Bert Miller, took such advice and persuaded his family to abandon farming in Miller Creek, whose headwater is now threatened by the motorway. Miller’s wisdom is why the Provincially Significant wetland around Miller Creek east of the Queen Elizabeth Highway exist today. By persuading his family to retire marginal farmland half a century ago, a magnificent swamp forest ecosystem now exists, downstream of the proposed motorway site. It contains such rare or unusual wild species as Wild Hibiscus, Cardinal Flower, Horse Gentian, Swamp Milkweed and Eastern Flowering Dogwood.
The work of ecological restoration is still ongoing, promoted by an astonishing variety of local groups. We have the Bert Miller Nature Club, the Friends of Fort Erie Creeks, the Fort Erie Conservation Club and a number of hunting and angling associations. We have very dedicated farmers engaged in reforestation projects, some of whom I was blessed to meet in the course of researching this brief, and who indicated that they refused to sell their lands to the proposed motorway complex.
To foster the ecological restoration of Fort Erie the answer is clear. It is to work to keep the control over its rural lands in the hands of farmers who live the land so much so that they refuse to make large profits to sell to uses that they feel will harm ecosystems. The key way to do this is for the Fort Erie Council to simply refuse to entertain urban boundary expansions in accordance with the basic principles of the province’s Places to Grow Plan.
One of the worst aspects of the motorway proposal is that it is an action that robs people of hope. If Fort Erie, whose watershed strategy only a year ago urged it to develop on the basis of a green branding, can suddenly reverse course in such a terrible fashion, what hope is there? Such a sad reality is especially harmful for our children, who will face the terrifying consequences of climate change.
6. Protection of Fort Erie’s Natural Landscapes is a Matter of Canada’s National Security.
The protection of Fort Erie’s rapidly re-generating natural landscapes is a matter of Canada’s national security, since it is important for our country to have a successful adaptative and mitigative strategy to the problem of climate change. Even if the inhabitants of the earth were instantly to change their ways and adopt as green a lifestyle as the Old Order Mennonites, we will still be faced with worsening climate change for at least a few years.
This is because of the harmful buildup and synergetic relationships with the carbon and other greenhouse gasses that have been released by humans into the atmosphere. In such circumstances, we must mitigate climate change, partially by doing what is already happening in Fort Erie, such as having more forests and better protected streams. But most significantly, the extensive natural areas of Fort Erie, will be important as a refuge for new species migrating north to Canada as a result of climate change.
The critical role of Fort Erie’s forests as Carolinian Canada’s entry space for new species moving northward as a result of climate change is detailed in the Fort Erie Creeks watershed strategy. On page 174 it notes how Fort Erie’s forest will play an “important role in biota migration for climate change and adoption. Here protection and enhancement, (eg.. slough mosaic creation where feasible and appropriate opportunities can be supplemented by restoration to enhance still further”)
7. Motorway Complex Should Be Understood as Urban Boundary Expansion At Variance with Ecological Restoration Goals.
Much of the hype around the motorway proposal attempts to disguise the fact that it is essentially an urban boundary expansion. It would involve the re-zoning
of currently Class Two agriculturally- designated land to facilitate a great range of potential urban uses requiring full piped water and sanitary services. One of the most disturbing aspects of this proposed over-800 acre urban expansion, which if approved, would be the largest ever seen in Niagara since the adoption of the Niagara Regional Plan in 1981, is that it is directly adjacent to the Ridgemount Quarry facility.
While the promotional hype about the motorway proposal certainly fails to highlight what it actually is-a proposal to expand the urban boundary and encroach onto lands
protected by agricultural zoning, such a reality is clear in the consultant’s Environmental Impact Statement. For instance, they are not proposing that the sanitary services here be handled by an on site sewage lagoon. They point out that, “It is anticipated that improvements to municipal infrastructure such as the road network and potentially municipal services will be required to effectively accommodate this large development proposal. Impacts related to municipal infrastructure are beyond the scope of the EIS and are not addressed in the study. It is understood that any potential impacts of the natural environment resulting from municipal works will be addressed through the completion of a Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA).”
Since the proposed facility would be on full services, it will require an amendment to the Niagara Regional Official Plan and be designated as an urban boundary expansion. As such, it will also show that it has to be in conformity with Places of Grow, although the Niagara Region conducted a study of the need for possible expansions and concluded that none were necessary. As a result it is definitely facing an OMB appeal.
Unlike other proposed land use controversies that PALS has dealt with we are not going to suggest an alternative site for the proposed motorway facility. We feel that the Fort Erie watershed study’s commentary about branding, should be a cautionary warning to any municipality entertaining such a proposal. Considering the harmful noise and other impacts that would come from such a facility, we believe that a prudent municipal council would insist that anyone interested in establishing one like it would have to do so on an “as of right basis”- meaning no zoning changes required.
We find it especially offensive moreover, that the re-zoning that is required would remove agricultural zoning controls from about 800 acres of land on lands that are supposed to be protected from such sprawl by the province’s basic charter for land use planning in south central Ontario- “Places to Grow.”
The proponents of the motorway facility do not hide the fact that they are proposing other urban uses besides car racing here. A map associated with their plan clearly designates lands as future “light industrial” and “commercial.” They note on page 54 of their Environmental Impact Statement that, “Other potential commercial development opportunities include big/box prestige retail, merchandising, museum/gallery, spa/fitness, and outlet mall.”
Essentially what is being proposed here-for now at least- is an urban boundary expansion, to accommodate what is in effect, a “noxious”, heavy industrial type of use, buffered by commercial and light industrial uses. The noise and air pollution that one would expect from the motorway facility, are typical of a heavy industrial use.
It should be realized that the exact type of use that the proponents are suggesting- a motor speedway- is speculative. Nothing like it currently exists in Ontario and it appears to be based on NASCAR facilities in the United States but
lacks a formal affiliation with this organization. It is very different from the Cayuga and Merritville speedways with which most Niagara residents have some familiarity.
If the novel “NASCAR- like” facility fails, the re-zoning of agricultural land will still have been accomplished, the subject lands will likely become another future big box site facilitating urban sprawl along the Queen Elizabeth highway, making orderly planning more difficult, and harming Fort Erie’s potential branding as a green community.
8. Harmful Precedent in Proposed Re-Zoning.
More than most re-zonings of agricultural land, the one associated with the motorway proposal involves a number of harmful precedents. This is made worse by the fact that these are fortunately encouraged by a very negative feature of the Niagara Region’s Official Plan known as the “snow flakes”, which show potential areas for urban expansion along every QEW interchange in Niagara Falls and Fort Erie outside of the current urban boundaries.
According to press reports there are two other proposals for NASCAR – like motorways in Niagara Falls and Fort Erie south of the Welland River. This appears to be a highly suspicious development given the fact that the only comparable facilities locally have not themselves expanded by now to such large facilities. One disturbing reason may be the problem such facilities are having in the United States because of environmental regulators.
This is an unsettling thought because if this is true, Ontario would in effect being exploited as a pollution haven- similar to what rural Mexico has become for dirt bikers restricted by American environmental regulators of public lands. Another may be that these proposals are excuses that use imaginary employment projections from unusual NASCAR – like facilities that will never materialize in order to break agricultural zoning restrictions that prevent the establishment of more normal big box stores adjacent to highway interchanges and service roads.
9. Disturbing Configuration of Proposed Removal of Agricultural Zoning Protections
The proposed urban expansion is most disturbing in that it involves co-operation between the proponent and the adjacent Ridgemount Quarry. This is because the proposed NASCAR – like facility involves a substantial lease of lands owned by Ridgemount which are currently designated in the Niagara Regional Official Plan as an Environmental Conservation Area because of its size.
Although some have argued that the proposed use of this forest as buffer for an adjacent camp ground saves it from aggregate extraction, it is reasonable to believe, that if this forest, which contains- like all the forests on the subject land- the nationally
rare Pin Oak, were to be properly evaluated as a wetland, it might emerge as Provincially Significant and thereby be protected from this use. Irrespective of this situation, the lease shows that if the proposal was approved by Fort Erie Council, an urban boundary would be extended into lands that are owned by Ridgemount Quarries.
Currently Ridgemount Quarry’s lands, at least those which are actually zoned for aggregate extraction , are not a reasonable place to be zoned for urban use. They are separated by a long distance from urban services that would be necessary to develop these lands for urban purposes, such as water and sewer. If the Fort Erie Council were to actually approve the re-zoning of the subject lands to facilitate the construction of a NASCAR type motorway, you would in effect, be adding enormously to the value of the Ridgemount Quarry lands, which would soon be on the border of water and sewer services. This entire area, and large swaths of adjacent lands, would be ripe for an urban boundary expansion. Simply by passing this by law, your Council would in effect given the Quarry owners and others an increase in land values of colossal proportions. The urban area would be so large as to gobble up any growth at all that the Niagara Region might be able to generate within a reasonable twenty year planning framework.
If you deny the proposed urban expansion, the future of these lands would take a very different course. It would likely proceed along the lines of rehabilitation which would involve a combination of recreational uses such as a golf course, and the establishment of appropriate natural areas such as alvars.
10. Importance of Protection Remaining Agriculturally Zoned Land in Fort Erie
PALS wishes to stress the importance of protecting all the currently zoned agricultural zoned land in Fort Erie. Perhaps the younger member of Council are not aware that in the 1970s Fort Erie went through a very rigorous process to determine what lands would be designated as Good General Agricultural in the Niagara Region’s
Official Plan, and what would be mapped as Rural. Niagara Falls at this time designated large areas Good General Agricultural in the main to prevent the establishment of a large motorway, which could be established in the more permissive Rural designation.
Since Fort Erie has more Rural designated lands than other municipalities in Niagara, it is clear that a very rigorous process was used to ensure that lands such as the subject lands are actually good agricultural lands. The subject lands appear to have been actually owned by farmers until purchased by advocates of the NASCAR like facility.
There are a number of complicated reasons why Fort Erie should maintain agricultural land zoning, apart from the fact that to change the zoning would foster urban sprawl that is harmful to the environment. Agriculture is a very complicated industry. While it is common to put down some farmers as mere “hobby farmers”, this is certainly a very wholesome type of hobby.
For instance, farmers in Fort Erie must be an environmentally responsible group of people, or else the streams would not be of such good quality and so full of fish. There would not be so many mature and regenerating forests if farmers were not wise enough to leave such lands away from livestock, usually by carefully fencing their properties. Today’s hobby farmer in many cases is a future full time farmer, because it frequently takes a number of years to expand operations to such a level. What are often disparaged as “cash croppers” are farmers who have a home farm, and rent out additional acreages.
11. Environmental Impact Statement Has Negative Consequence of Disparaging Environment in Fort Erie
One of the harmful consequences of the fact that the NASCAR – like facility is being seriously proposed, is that advocates in general disparage Miller Creek, whose headwaters would be paved over, and the ecological quality of the Town generally. This line of thinking maintains that its is all right to have such a facility since the environment is already degraded, and that a Miller Creek that is re-engineered and moved to another location is better than the one which is currently there now.
The tone of Canadian Motor Speedway’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is entirely different from that of the NPCA Fort Erie Creeks watershed study. While the watershed study appropriately celebrates your Town’s accomplishments of being the most successful heavily populated area in Carolinian Canada in ecological restoration, those of the speedway EIS are entirely negative in tone. This is done through the careful manipulation of data. It is indicated for instance, on page 17, that only 15.5 .% of the Niagara Region is in forest cover- a figure brought down by some very low percentages in municipalities like St. Catharines and Niagara-on- the- Lake- while Fort Erie’s is 28.2 percent and rapidly increasing as its regenerating scrub matures.
In the Canadian Motor Speedway EIS we are told of how “much of the Region has been extensively cleared for agriculture and urban development”, with the “exception of the Niagara Escarpment.” This says nothing about the extensive swamp forests in the southern part of the region, such as Willoughby and Humberstone Marsh many of which are now protected as conservation areas. The EIS laments how, “Many of the smaller watercourses have been channelized for agricultural purposes such as municipal drains”, without detailing how this is, like extreme deforestation, more a problem in Niagara on the Lake, than Fort Erie.
12. Tone of Motorway EIS Essentially Confuses Fort Erie with Niagara-on-the- Lake
Essentially, the approach the Motorway EIS has taken is to make Fort Erie, which has a healthy and improving environment, to Niagara- on- the- Lake, which is one which is increasingly biologically sterile. It says something for the integrity of the watershed
studies being conducted by the NPCA which are the main implementation measure of the Niagara Water Quality Protection Strategy, that the studies of the creeks of the two municipalities, present such a vivid contrast.
The positive tone taken in the Fort Erie watershed study is totally lacking in the Niagara – on – the – Lake watershed report. This is not only because of the problem of fragmentation and loss of forest cover in Niagara- on- the -Lake, and the management of streams narrowly as municipal drains, but the negative attitudes of some farmers in the area about any suggestions to change this depressing situation of being a biological wasteland. As a result, the NPCA had to conclude that the only opportunity to really enhance the environment there was along the Niagara Escarpment, where reforestation could link up areas of existing forests.
One of the key elements of the assumption of the EIS is that the agricultural lands are sterile wastelands, across which wildlife cannot move. This is an appropriate assumption for the farming area of Niagara – on – the -Lake, but not of Fort Erie. Ths is simply not the reality in Fort Erie,. Here landowners, such as those who refused to sell to the motorway, take pride in their reforestation efforts, which have involved with considerable care and effort, the restoration of rare native Carolinian species such as Papaw.
13. Approach Taken By EIS Reflects Dated Assumptions About Fort Erie
I have not read the studies on significant wildlife habitat by the Ministry of Natural Resources, (MNR) which have lead to the assumption that there is no significant wildlife habitat on the subject lands. It is likely that these reports are dated, from a time of more limited forest cover. Also, subsequently, likely because of the compilation of
these studies, beaver have returned to Fort Erie, and I witnessed one myself this month in Frenchman’s Creek on the subject lands.
Deer are identified as being on the subject lands, but are simply dismissed as being common. On this basis it is concluded that the subject lands are not important for deer habitat, and therefore, can essentially be eliminated for a motor speedway. Deer habitat, however, performs an important ecological function. One of the basic reasons contributing to problems of deer over – population is urban sprawl. The assumptions of the EIS, that agricultural lands are not significant to deer habitat, certainly contribute to this problem. The elimination of 800 acres of Fort Erie farmland and the surrounding of forests by camp grounds and parking lots will have a negative impact on deer habitat.
The comprehensive and recent Fort Erie watershed study is certainly more relevant than the dated information of the MNR studies on which the consultant basis their report. I have met moreover, had long discussions with, and read an important report by the key architect of these studies, the distinguished retired MNR biologist, Robert Lewes. This was when he and I served together on the advisory committee for the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan. He was the person who was largely responsible for including the
most controversial aspect of our work into the plan, the need for a doubling of Niagara’s forest cover to thirty per cent. I also read a background report on this matter. It should be realized that Fort Erie has already exceeded these goals.
What Lewes told me should happen twenty years ago, when he did his now dated studies which the EIS has essentially mined for opportunistic and manipulative purposes is now actually on the ground in Fort Erie. This is why the approach to ecological restoration by the more recent watershed plan takes such a heavy emphasis on protecting the various natural areas that currently exist.
On page 21 the EIS states that there “are opportunities for the restoration and ecological enhancement of the corridors identified and adjacent to the subject lands.” This is true, but they ignore that the best way to achieve this is to leave the land in agricultural zoning and stop urban boundary expansions onto the subject lands. The EIS does not detail any new forest corridors which the proponent is going to plant and maintain, or deed to a conservationist body in exchange for approval. What we see however, is the increased fragmentation and loss of existing connectivity in terms of habitat when we get to the last page of the massive report. Here we see how the existing forest will be separated from other areas of natural habitat by a sea of cement.
14. EIS Ignores the Significance of Class One Fish Habitat on Both Miller and Frenchman’s Creeks
Regarding the significance of Fish Habitat discussed on pages 21-23, the problem with the EIS is that it ignores the significance that both Miller and Frenchman’s Creeks which are impacted by this proposed development are currently designated by MNR as Class One, or “critical” fish habitat. I am aware of the significance of the three types of fish
habitat because of my long board service with the Niagara Restoration Council. These three classes of fish habitat are categorized by MNR for a very important reason- to provide guidance on where restoration work to protect fish habitat should be done.
Class Three habitat tends to be in areas of urban zoning, where to deal with flooding problems, streams have been artificially channelized and lined with rock or concrete. A designation of Class Three essentially means that restoration projects in such designated areas should be avoided, or given low priority.
Class Two habitat means that there is potential for fish to make use of the stream, but there are problems which could be solved with inexpensive and affordable ecological restoration projects. Class Two designations are meant to give a green light to potential
projects for stream rehabilitation and restoration. Depending on the problems, such restoration projects can involve removal of barriers to fish movement, fencing of watercourses to keep livestock out, and planting of appropriate vegetation of shade the stream to moderate temperature.
Class One or “critical” fish habitat, means that restoration projects are not urgently needed for fish to survive- they are already here in significant numbers. In such situations rather than spending a lot of effort to develop restoration projects, the emphasis should be on viligantly protecting the habitat that is already there. In these circumstances, priority should be given to protect the existing features that have created such excellent fish habitat. This would include protecting the watershed from re-zonings to permit urban development, or encroachment of alteration of the watercourse.
In is important to note that the proponents have not supplied any information, or, in their EIS have attempted to disparage, the reality that both Miller Creek and Frenchman’s Creek are actually Class One Significant Fish habitat. They have relied upon studies by MNR and the NPCA on existing conditions on these creeks for their analysis and therefore, have not attempted to challenge the designations.
In the past thirty years, in common with all the Fort Erie Creeks which are currently designated by MNR as Class One critical fish habitat, the town’s creeks have been improving, as more land is restored to forest cover. This pattern is evident in earlier work done by one of the authors of the report, R. F. Brady. In 1980, the area mapped by MNR as Critical Class One Fish habitat did not, as it does today, include all of Miller Creek, from the Niagara River Mouth to its headwaters. At that time, as the Fish habitat map in R. F. Brady’s report “Regional Municipality of Niagara Environmentally Sensitive
Areas”, clearly indicates, the Class One Critical Fish habitat on Miller Creek did not even extend to the Queen Elizabeth Highway. It only went from the mouth of the Niagara River to the place where a Canadian National railway line crosses Miller’s Creek. Since there does not appear to be any change in the criteria for what constitutes Class One Significant Fish habitat, there must have been major improvements from the situation in 1980 when Brady did his ESA study, and now as described in this recent EIS , for such a long stretch of the Miller’s Creek to be upgraded.
No fish sampling has been conducted in the area of Millers Creek west of the QEW which is directly impacted by the motorway proposal. In this regard, it should be noted that the Fort Erie watershed study notes that it is a problem for Fort Erie Creeks that the absence of sampling in certain reaches has led to a lack of appreciation of their significance as fish habitat.
One important reality that is acknowledged in the EIS, is that the entire watershed headwaters of Miller’s Creek ( the limited area of the Creek east of the Queen Elizabeth Highway) will be urbanized by the proposed motorway. What the EIS fails to explain however, is the ecological harm to a stream by having its entire headwaters area urbanized. Since Miller’s Creek east of the Queen Elizabeth Highway is already within the urban boundaries of Fort Erie, virtually the entire Miller Creek watershed would become urbanized. The only exception would be pockets that are Provincially Significant Wetlands or protected flood plains.
If the Miller Creek watershed were urbanized, the Creek would become a heavily polluted stream comparable to the most seriously polluted river in Canada, the Don River. Why the Don is the most polluted and degraded river in Canada, is precisely because it is the most urbanized. Of all the rivers in Canada, it has the highest percentage of its watershed in urban zoning, some 83 per cent.
The problem of the intermittent nature of Miller Creek does not mean that it is wrongly mapped as a Class One Significant Fish habitat. The EIS does admit that water is found in ponds on the subject lands west the of QEW throughout the year. Although most of the Creek flows for only half of the year, Miller Creek on the subject lands can still be important for fish in various stages of their life cycle, such as pike during the time they spawn in the high levels in the spring. The stream’s channel on the subject lands is clearly visible from the proponent’s own aerial photographs and is actually in this regard, more easily recognized than the Creek west of the QEW where fish sampling has taken place.
The EIS is correct in stating that the muskellunge spawning habitat is located five miles downstream from the subject lands at the mouth of Miller Creek and the Niagara River. It fails to acknowledge however, that this habitat can be damaged from sedimentation and other pollution problems arising out of the urbanization of the entire Miller Creek watershed. In this regard, it should be noted that muskellunge are not found at the mouth of the heavily urbanized Don River. Habitat for the Grass Pickerel extends beyond the mouth of the Miller Creek. While Muskellunge are just found at the M-1 sampling station at the mouth of Miller Creek, Northern Pike, Grass Pickerel, and White Sucker, all good indicators of a healthy warm water fishery, extend beyond the mouth of the Niagara River.
Regarding much of the commentary on both Miller and Frenchman’s Creek in the EIS it is heavily dependent on comments taken by Austin Miller, a farmer who sold land to the proponent of the motorway. No comments are cited from other landowners. The EIS relies upon comments that show distinctly non-conservationist attitudes on Mr. Miller’s part, such as driving over MRN recognized Significant Fish habitat with farm equipment. No comments have been cited by adjacent farmers that refused to sell their lands to the proponent, on controversial topics relevant to this proposal such as the importance of a tributary on the subject lands to Frenchman’s Creek.
Regarding Frenchman’s Creek, the EIS makes much of fact that the Grass Pickerel has only been identified slightly upstream of the subject lands in a survey For this species to survive, it is important that its range be expanded. It is likely that its suitable habitat for the Grass Pickerel has expanded since it was recorded in 1974, not only by the increase in forest cover, but because of the pumping of water to the Creek by Ridgemount Quarry.
15. Rare Species
In addition to the Grass Pickerel previously discussed, the EIS identifies on page 25 four other rare species on the subject lands from the files of the Natural Heritage Information Centre data base and of MNR as being on or close to the site. These are the Flowering Dogwood, The Sharp-wing Moneky Flower and Blanding’s Turtle. The presence of so many documented rare species in itself, should be a sufficient reason not to proceed with this proposed motorway.
The EIS does not identify here the presence however, of other rare species downstream of the Miller Creek headwaters which would be urbanized as a result of the motorway proposal. One of these species, the Swamp Rose Mallow, is found in the
Miller Creek Provincially Significant wetland downstream from the proposed motorway, and could be negatively impacted. by increased erosion, flooding and general stream flashiness caused by the development. An Appendix in the back of the EIS does identify the presence of a number of significant species in the Miller Creek provincially significant wetland downstream of this proposed development, which are not commented upon in the text in terms of the impact of the motorway These species include Wild Hibiscus, Cardinal Flower, Horse Gentian, Swamp Milkweed, Horse Gentian, Buttonbush and Red-panicle Dogwood. Brady’s 1980 study identifies the presence of Eastern Flowering Dogwood, here and notes that, “The area is an excellent site for wildlife since it contains woodland, successional meadow, and pond habitat. Significant wildlife found here
include Turkey Vulture, deer and Bobolink.” This range of habitat is similar to the subject lands, although the EIS wrongly disparages ponds that provide breeding habitat to toads and Oborates (damselfly and dragonfly), as “artificial.” A Blue Heron was also seen feeding here.
Many of these significant species documented in the Miller Creek Provincially Significant wetland could be harmed not only by the degradation of Miller Creek but by pollution and flashiness caused by the proposed motorway, but from the removal of adjacent habitat by it, which they would need in some stage in their life cycle. Such species include, Turkey Vulture, deer and Bobolink. It is also important for rare species not simply to be able to be confined to their current sites, but to be able to expand their range.
Another species noted in Brady’s EIS report for the Miller Creek wetland is crow. While it may seem strange to include crow as a species of concern, its numbers in this part of Ontario have collapsed since the eruption of West Nile Virus five years ago. A flock of several hundred crows I saw on the subject lands is the largest assemblage of crows I have witnessed- despite being an avid bird watcher, who has taken part in several Christmas Bird counts, since the devastation of crow populations in Niagara by the West Nile virus.
Brady’s 1980 report also identifies a number of significant species on Frenchman’s Creek. It should be stressed that since James Dougan’s Environmentally Sensitive Areas study confined itself to Fort Erie within the urban boundaries, that this is still the most up to date study for this area. The study was likely a factor in these lands being recognized as a Provincially Significant wetland. Significant species recorded here include Eastern Flowering Dogwood, Pin and Bur Oak and a Woodcock. The construction of a motorway, would certain be disruptive to Woodcock habitat in this areal.
The EIS recognizes that Pin Oak is found on all the forests associated with the subject lands. The presence of the nationally rare Pin Oak is a good indicator that the various parcels of forest on the subject lands, if properly evaluated, may be designated as Provincially Significant wetland. The wet soils associated with Pin Oak are one of the major reasons that Fort Erie has so much natural habitat, as such areas are not suitable for farming. In his influential pamphlet on farm forestry, Edmund Zavitz, indicated that another name for the species was “water-oak”, because of its association with wetlands. I have usually found this species associated with such wetland features as vernal pools, intermittent wetlands important for amphibians, which the EIS makes no reference of.
A “vulnerable” species that the EIS identifies which was not previously recognized as being associated with this site is milksnake. In addition to be designated as vulnerable in Ontario, it is recognized as a species of concern nationally. Like the presence of Pin Oak, the presence of milksnake, a previously unidentified vulnerable species, should be a reason why all the forests on the subject lands should be designated as provincially significant wetlands, because of the impact on points ranking.
The EIS does not dispute the presence of milksnake on the subject lands. It simply attempts to disparage the presence of the milksnake by saying it is a “generalist”, with no specific habitat requirements. Does this mean that the milksnake can be found in urban areas? Will the milksnake thrive in the parking lots and motor racing track? This is an absurd notion. A fair comment would be that it can be found in the type of mixed habitats that Brady’s 1980 study found in the area which has subsequently become the Miller Creek Provincially Significant Wetland. The fact that Fort Erie has been blessed by having more of such habitat than most of the Carolinian zone, illustrates that it is important to prevent urban expansions here, which will inevitably harm the habitat of the vulnerable milksnake.
In a similar disturbing fashion to its cavalier comments about the “generalist” nature of the milksnake, the EIS identifies. but then dismisses, the significance of Chimney Swift and Bank Swallow. The EIS does not detail how disturbing recent population declines have been experienced for both Chimney Swift and Bank Swallow as a result of the most recent edition of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. It does recognize that they were “feeding and roosting in the area”, but maintains that the habitat is not significant
because of the absence of suitable breeding areas. Regarding the lack of suitable hollow trees, which are part of the required breeding habitat, these will inevitably be found as a result of the normal aging process of a forest, and will likely be incorporated into management strategies developed by professional foresters. Fort Erie being one of the most important areas for Carolinian habitat must contribute to the relative success of this species, and the similarly rare Bank Swallow.
The EIS recognizes that the presences of “relatively large blocks of wooded habitat” has contributed to a number of forest interior bird species. The EIS lists these as Hairy Woodpecker, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, American Redstart Scarlet Tanager and the White-breasted Nuthatch. Having recognized these four species however, the EIS disparages their presence by asserting that since only four of these species were found, that the presence of such birds requiring forest interior-habitat “were scarce”.
The listing of four forest interior bird species itself points to the fact that the EIS’s conclusion that this shows such species “were scarce” is questionable. American Redstart and the Scarlet Tanager for instance, are not found in the fragmented forest habitats associated with the forested parks and valleys of urban areas. There are however, some additional forest interior species found that were not listed as such in the EIS. The Field Inventory lists a number of additional forest interior species such as the Wood Thrush and the Brown Thrasher.
The EIS also lists three grassland bird species that are considered area-sensitive by MNR. These are the Savannah Sparrow, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark. The meadow habitats here provide good habitat for these species. The Bobolink is dismissed as being “locally common.” Such commonality however, like similar disparagement of the Pin Oak, is because of the good habitat provided for this species throughout rural Fort Erie, which would be disrupted by an over 800 acre conversion of agriculturally zoned land to urban uses.
Bobolink unusually thrive in Fort Erie because of trends related to the protection of natural habitats and agricultural land which this proposal threatens. The pattern of “active agricultural land supporting hay crops” is typical of farming here. The fact that Bobolinks need agricultural land is used to disparage the forests on the site. It should however, be illustrative of how it is important to protect both agricultural land and natural areas rather than looking upon farmland is being without ecological consequence- a pattern which heavily influences the thrust of the EIS.
Meadowlarks are discounted in a similar fashion to the Bobolink. The EIS states that there are only a “single pair” here found in a “old field.” Like agricultural land, old fields are wrongly disparaged by the EIS as biologically sterile and of no ecological consequence- even though such lands were also found to be the site of breeding mallard ducks. Meadowlark species is not considered abundant, so it is usually seen as a big thrill by birdwatchers fortunate to encounter them. I can only recall around a half dozen experiences with this species.
The EIS also goes to great lengths to downgrade the significance of the subject lands for the Blanding’s Turtle, which has been designated as “threatened” nationally and provincially. In this regard, the EIS does note however, that beaver activity is important for the survival of Blanding’s Turtle. It does not acknowledge however, that Beavers are present at Frenchman’s Creek, which I personally observed on a site visit. This failure to acknowledge the presence of Beavers, may be a factor in the claim that there is no suitable habitat here or “adjacent to the Subject lands.”
The further disparagement of the subject lands as habitat for the Grey Fox in the EIS, is linked with the failure of the EIS to recognize the importance of Fort Erie as an entry point for species migrating to Canada from the United States. This emerges on p. 39, when the Grey Fox population of Fort Erie is dismissed as a mere recording of “dispersing of individuals from the United States.”
Regarding the Flowering Dogwood, the EIS dismisses its significance as being not found on the subject lands. However, it is found in identical areas of habitat in the Miller Creek wetland downstream from the site, and represents suitable habitat for the species to expand into.
16. Wildlife Corridors
Deer which are present on this site, are one of the principal species that wildlife corridors, are designed to protect. Since the researchers for the EIS dismiss deer as being common and therefore of no concern, there is no attempt to examine possible corridors across agricultural land to natural areas. From my experience at the Centennial Gardens and the Old Welland Canal in St. Catharines, I am aware of how Beaver can in fact go across quite formidable barriers, comparable to the culvert for Miller Creek under the Queen Elizabeth Highway. Deer can cross expressways, but it is unlikely that they will enter a crowed NASCAR like track. It is astonishing that on page 41 the EIS can conclude that “The proposed racetrack with associated facilities will not inhibit wildlife movement within the Subject Lands or beyond.”
It is important to note that nowhere does the EIS consider the problem of light pollution from the facility- which will have an impact on wildlife movement.
17. Forest Interior Birds
The EIS goes to great length to undermine the significance of the habitat of the four forest interior bird species which it admits are found on the subject lands. In this regard what is perverse about the EIS is that the blessed abundance of forest interior habitat in Fort Erie is used to disparage it. Hairy Woodpeckers for instance, are dismissed since “the Subject lands provided considerable habitat for it, resulting in it being rather common locally.” All the more reason why this area should be protected Similarly the American Redstart is dismissed as “relatively common in the study area”, ignoring how Fort Erie is uncommon in its high degree of forest cover. ( This fact is acknowledged nowhere in the EIS, and figures for the whole of Niagara are employed). As stated earlier, the failure to acknowledge that the Brown Thrasher and Wood Thrush are forest
interior species, also challenges all of the validity of the observations on the lack of significance of forest habitat on the subject lands.
18. Monarch Butterfly
The study admits that the subject land have suitable habitat for monarch and that breeding takes place. The subject site is dismissed largely since the species while significant nationally is common in Ontario- again a perverse way of writing off healthy habitats in a part of the country where a crisis, as of yet, does not exist.
19. Dismissal of Extractive Industrial Area
The EIS dismisses forest in the area since the largest forest area is designated as “Extractive Industrial”, which means that the additional areas are considered to small to be significant. . It does not explore other details, such as if the subject lands are actually under an extraction license. A wetland evaluation of this forest may cause it to be protected as a Provincially Significant Wetland.
20 Agriculture is a “Constraint” to This Project.
As indicated earlier, PALS disagrees strongly with a basic assumption of this EIS that agricultural land is of no ecological value. It is agricultural land which provides most of the headwaters of Miller Creek on the subject land, and agricultural land and related old field
habitats, have been documented as providing habitat for Bobolink, Meadowlark and the Milksnake “generalist”.
Agricultural lands and old fields on the subject lands provide habitat for monarch butterflies. A pair of mallard ducks breeds here- which cannot simply be dismissed by anyone familiar with the often failed efforts to establish such breeding habitat of well meaning groups such as Ducks Unlimited. The hostile use of the term “cultural meadows” to write off much of the landscape would eliminate huge areas of habitat for butterflies, and bird species such as bobolinks and meadowlarks that require open areas.
21 Proposed Mitigative Measures
Nowhere in the EIS is the problem of urbanizing watersheds discussed. There is no estimate of what per cent of Miller Creek will be in a non-urban zoning if this application is approved. The EIS cannot cite a single example of where healthy fish habitat has survived in a watershed that is largely in urban zoning.
What is disturbing is that over time many of the proposed mitigative measures are subject to change. The study proposes for instance, that curbed gutters be avoided, grass swales used and that most parking be in grass fields rather than paved. Over time however, all these features can be changed. Indeed eventually, much of this site, once urban zoning is established, could be largely conventional paved parking lots for a power center.
The EIS is being used to obtain the re-zoning of over 800 acres from agricultural to urban use. What is disturbing is that the studies needed to support the claim – that by proper design of storm water facilities, such as management ponds- urbanization will not harm the watershed, have yet to be made. The EIS relies upon theoretical claims that massive watershed impacts of the urbanization of over 800 acres of land can be mitigated, without clearly showing the expected volumes of water and the amount of capture, the size and depth of the pond, etc. There is not a single example in Ontario where the purported goal of maintaining pre-development degrees of surface pattern has actually been obtained.
PALS objects strongly to the claim made in the EIS on page 59, that there will be “a net gain of productive fish habitat.” This ignores how Miller Creek on the subject lands is already designated as Class One Provincially Significant Fish Habitat. This is not an area where ecological restoration projects are seen as important- what is needed is to protect the existing habitat. While the proposed channel may be better than the existing one, this
does not alter the shock of building a new channel and the urbanization of the entire watershed.
22. Proposed Ecological Enhancement of Frenchmen’s Creek Wetland Complex
Like the proposed storm water management plan, the ecological enhancement plan of the Frenchman’s Creek wetland complex is theoretical. Landowners would have to agree to these plans and monies be allocated. This will not be done in time for the proposed re-zonings sought by the proponents of the motorway. They are not proposing that it be done on lands they own, as a condition of approval.
23. Proposed Bridge Over Provincially Significant Wetland.
One of the most disturbing proposals in the EIS is the proposed construction of a bridge over the provincially significant wetland of Frenchman’s Creek. This represents a novel and dangerous threat to Provincially Significant wetlands throughout Ontario, which previously have been regarded as protected from these sorts of encroachments by an
unambiguous prohibition against site alteration which was not part of an ecological restoration project.
It is alleged by the EIS that the bridge is over a mere “hedgerow” that is claimed not to be characteristic of a wetland. However, in numerous places the EIS admits that Pin Oak, a characteristic wetland species, is part of all the hedgerows on the subject lands.
Some of the details of the proposed mitigation measures in fact spell out the harm that would be done by the bridge across the protected wetland scheme. For instance, it is to be designed in such as way to discourage wildlife movement, thereby sterilizing an area which was previously productive wildlife habitat. The EIS admits that there will be “Adverse effects on tree health, community structure, species composition, habitat quality” from this scheme, as well a tree destruction in construction.
24. PALS Urges Fort Erie Council Instruct Planning Department Not To Process Zoning Amendments.
In conclusion, PALS urges Fort Erie Council to decide to use its powers under the Planning Act to prevent an urban boundary expansion to facilitate the construction of the Canadian Motorway complex. This is a terrible assault on the environment of your community, which is a world leader in showing how human populations can improve their relationship with the natural world around us, and the diverse species with which we depend upon for our survival.
(Learn more about the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society by visiting http://people.becon.org/~pals/)