Fort Erie NASCAR Speedway Plan Strikes At Heart Of Rural Life And Carolinian Canada

 By John Bacher

One of the great tragedies in the effort to construct an 821-acre ‘Canadian Motorway Speedway’ on agriculturally zoned and designated lands in Fort Erie is that the scheme rips through the heart of one of the most intact areas of Carolinian forest in all of Canada.

It also rips through the heart of the planning laws that seek to protect it. 

Dave and Sandy Mitchell of Fort Erie enjoy some rural peace, while they can, near their home, less than a mile away from the proposed Nascar speedway in Fort Erie.

The area east of the Welland Canal and between the Niagara River in our region has the largest remaining concentration of the most biologically diverse woodlands in Canada – our equivalent of tropical rainforests. This precious mosaic of farmland and forests, repaired from past ecological abuse through the influence of one of Fort Erie’s greatest residents, the pioneer forester Edmund Zavitz, is now threatened by a bizarre “NASCAR-like” motorway complex – a complex that includes an associated mix of shopping centres, and a camp ground for speedway worshippers.
 
The current actions of the Fort Erie and Niagara regional council’s in giving planning approval to changes to their official plans to allow the construction of the imitation NASCAR track is a tragedy national in scope. This is being done so the community can become a Mecca for the worshippers of automotive power, targeting 80,000 fans that crave car exhaust rather than wafts of incense.

One racetrack supporter actually described it at a Fort Erie council meeting as a “religious experience.”

The national scope of this tragedy comes from the fact that Fort Erie is actually, apart from the Indian reservations of Walpole Island and Six Nations, the most ecologically intact part of Carolinian Canada. Fort Erie has almost 50 per cent of its rural landscape in natural habitat, largely in magnificent and nationally rare Pin Oak Swamp Forests. One of the reasons for this is that the community’s farmers in the 1950s, notably Bert Miller, founder of the still-standing Bert Miller Nature Club and one of the region’s leading environmentalists reforested tracts of area farmland on the advice of Davit’s foresters in the Department of Lands and Forests.
 
One of the outrageous excuses that Niagara regional planners gave for approving this development is that since there is so much extensive natural habitat here that the area, despite being designated as “Good General” farmland in their official plan, can’t really be considered good land. This perverse type of thinking would result in paving over all the farmland in Ontario that is actually managed in an environmentally responsible manner.
 
Bert Miller’s wise actions resulted in the creation of a provincially significant wetland and fishery around Miller’s Creek, a stream named in honour of his 18th century loyalist ancestors. The presence of rare species such as the Swamp Rose Mallow and the Wood Turtle in the Miller wetlands downstream of the proposed motorway caused these lands properly to be mapped as ‘Provincially Significant Wetlands’ and excluded from development although they are within Fort Erie’s urban boundaries. Such wetlands in Fort Erie cover about 1,000 acres in total and have been a big contention for Fort Erie’s Council, which demanded compensation from the province in the form of an urban boundary expansion. They believe that provincial approval of the motorway is the answer to all their backroom wheeling and dealing for such compensation over the last several years.
 
The let’s-make-a-deal attitude that is shaping the politics of For Erie threatens its precious Swamp Oak forests and healthy streams. Although the wetlands downstream of the motorway within Fort Erie’s existing urban boundary will still be legally protected if the deal goes through and the province does not appeal the motorway planning amendments to the Ontario Municipal Board, they will be polluted and degraded. Approval of the motorway would result in the urbanization of the entire headwaters of Miller Creek. This would make the stream much more polluted and lifeless, prone to spring flooding and drying up in summer. Negative impacts would happen to
 the turtles and endangered fish species such as the Grass Pickerel, which find significant habitat in Miller Creek.
 
There are two different ways in which the Fort Erie motorway is ripping up Ontario’s planning laws While Fort Erie does not impact the Greenbelt, what is happening here is already weakening two other key cornerstones of good planning to protect the environment. One is the imposition of serious wetland protection measures, which clearly prohibit what is termed “site alteration”, development on provincially significant wetlands. These wetlands are determined by a scoring system, which in Niagara, has the impact of protecting large areas of rare Pin Oak forests. The other is the Growth Management Plan.

In Niagara, this in intended to prohibit urban boundary expansions, largely because they cannot be justified by the plan’s requirements that need to be calculated on a regional basis.

Regarding wetlands, the developer lobbied unsuccessfully for a few years to persuade the local Niagara office of the Ministry of Natural Resources to permit the construction of part of the raceway track through a bridge over top of a provincially significant Pin Oak Swamp wetland.  In response to continual lobbying however, the MNR eventually said yes.

Then fortunately, the Niagara Conservation Authority correctly interpreted the policy of no interference to mean that having a bridge built over a wetland, which would mean the cutting of trees, was in fact site alteration prohibited by Provincial Policy. Although the developer’s consultant told the Fort Erie Council that the local MNR office was superior to the Conservation Authority, this view was later refuted by a provincial task force headed by Victor Doyle of Municipal Affairs, who recently courageously stood up to developers in Simcoe County with the unusual form of a published letter as a
private citizen.

Now the future of the bridge over the wetland is part of the studies to be conducted under the “Special Policy Area” designation put forward in the Official Plan amendments of Fort Erie and the Niagara Region.

The use of the term “Special Policy Area”, highlights the abuse of the Growth Plan by the motorway. The use of this term is employed in order to evade the problem of the lack of conformity to the Growth Plan. Since there are so many thousands of vacant acres throughout the Niagara region, it is impossible to justify urban expansion on the basis of the Growth Plan. The province is actually currently engaged in an OMB appeal of such expansions.  By calling the Official Plan amendments to be a “Special Policy Area”, rather than urban expansion, these tough tests of the Growth Plan can be avoided.   In fact, the motorway is an urban expansion, since the proposed facility is being planned for 80,000 spectators, and therefore will be on full urban sewer and water services.
 
For the past three years the Growth Plan has been the cornerstone of the province’s efforts to protect urban sprawl. It is especially important since apart from unusual situations, such as the Niagara Fruit Belt, and Boyd Park, which protects the headwaters of the Don River, the Greenbelt boundaries are not adjacent to actual urban growth boundary limits.  In Niagara the Ministry of Infrastructure Renewal used the Growth Plan to defeat attempts to carve up around 600 acres in south Niagara Falls into five-acre lots serviced on sceptic tanks.

The Growth Plan has also proven crucial for stopping schemes for a sprawling new town at Kemp and Mountain Road in Grimsby above the Niagara Escarpment, and for halting at least for now, planned urban expansions in north west Niagara Falls and in Smithville. The province has shown the determination to uphold the Growth Plan through making OMB appeals, and has so far won every case.
 
Supporters of sprawl throughout the Growth Plan area see the Fort Erie motorway as their saviour, ripping up the Growth Plan with the force that it is grinding up precious Pin Oak swamps. Sprawl advocates such as those around Niagara Falls Club Italia, are also employing the formula of a “Special Policy Area”, to have an escape clause from the Growth Plan. 

Unless the province appeals the amendments to Fort Erie’s and the Niagara Region’s Official Plan in the next few weeks to the OMB, the first causalities of the wreckage of the motorway will be good planning in Ontario.

There needs to be a strong demand for such an appeal made to members of the Legislature throughout our region.

(John Bacher is a member and researcher for the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS), one of the longest surviving conservationist groups in the Niagara region.)

(Click on www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary on this and other matters of interest and concern to the greater Niagara region.)

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8 responses to “Fort Erie NASCAR Speedway Plan Strikes At Heart Of Rural Life And Carolinian Canada

  1. It is a shame that another site wasn’t chosen that had less valuable treed areas & that didn’t uproot people who have lived there for years enjoying the peace & tranquility!!

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  2. These areas should be kept for future generations. There will always be other Nascar Motoways, shopping centres. But once this area is gone. It’s gone forever..

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  3. A NASCAR speedway in Fort Erie, the Project Niagara music festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake … it seems that developers and government are determined to turn Niagara into a theme park, and complete the process of destroying the natural beauty that made Niagara so attractive in the first place.

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  4. It’s not too late to pick another site – one that is scrub and wasteland. How about the sites of some of the now defunct industries? No loss there.

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  5. Lets just get to the point, and the point is we as residents should not allow these so called politicians to keep the infighting and divisional rifts going in this Town pitting one resident against the next and the east end of town not worring what happens to the residents of the west end of town. This is how these baglickers have succeeded in getting what they want and will continue as long as we let them.
    Lets lay the blame for what has happened with the people responsible , like why did we lose our hospital? We lost it because of martins inexperience in lobbying his regional counterparts when they voted to fund the new hospital in west St. Kitts to the tune of 60 million dollars, without first asking the board what will happen to our hospital. The blonde from Ridgeway is equally to blame , because of her inexperience as a politician. Think of it have you ever heard her ask an inteligent or any other type of question.
    People must wake up in this town because we must stop the attitude of most politicians and that is what Wayne Redekop once said to me, “Richard the majority of the electorate are stupid” we must show these politicians that this is not true.
    We must allow the people to have a say in every little thing that will effect a persons right to enjoyment of property.
    When we have staff members telling our council how to run the town then It is time the staff found another job. These things should go back to the people in some type of voting mechanism . Case in point is the proposed speedway what is the problem with getting the general consensus of the people with a mini vote, so it may cost a little bit and it will not be that hard to do and if the clerk dosen’t want to do it ,sorry we will find one that will. This council as any one can see want to sit there and find blame or fault with anyone but themseves., theses are the people that are going against the will of the people as far as the condo’s in bay beach.Again what is wrong with going to the people in a vote and let the results dictate the path that we take. We did not elect a dictatorship or did we?

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  6. I am grateful for the positive comments that my article have evoked. I hope however, that they will generate what I am asking for in the article- that people in Niagara contact their MPPs and let them know that the province should appeal the official plan changes needed for this monstrosity to the OMB.

    Mel Swart, who I consider along with the now also recently departed Bob Hoover, to be my big role model in life, told me a very moving story. It is about a man who complained about always eating the same peanut butter sandwhich. At first people thought his wife must have made them for him. When it was suggested that he ask her for more variety, he replied “Hell no, I make these myself.”

    The situation of the peanut butter sandwhich is now what we are facing with this NASCAR facility. The way to stop it is to deluge MPPs with phone calls, emails, faxes, letters etc. This is a democracy, and the politicians are supposed to do what the people want. I can’t thinks of any in Niagara more imporant right now to for the people to tell them what they want.

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    • I am hoping that Mr. Bacher can tell me what publication his articles entitled A Niagara conservation here: Re-forester Edmund Zavitz appeared in. Thanks!

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