Niagara Regional Council Urged Not to Destroy Provincial Significant Wetlands to Extend Road for Developers

“When citizens see planning like this (in this case, a plan to extend a road in Pelham/Niagara through ever more of what little is left of Niagara’s  wetlands), that ignores both the Climate Crisis and the Biodiversity Crisis that are coming together to form a perfect storm that threatens the continued existence of humankind, it convinces us that government is incapable of addressing the most pressing issues of our time.”

An Open Letter to Niagara Regional Council and Regional Transportation and Planning Staff from the A Large Coalition of Groups and Individual Citizens in Niagara Ontario

Posted July 8th, 2021 on Niagara At Large

From the Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance; Niagara Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada; SORE; Peninsula Field Naturalists; Niagara Falls Nature Club; Niagara Beekeepers’ Association of Niagara; Ontariogreen Conservation Association; Bert Miller Nature Club; Niagara Birding Conservation and Tourism Collaborative; Hamilton Naturalists; Friends of One Mile Creek; Extinction Rebellion Niagara; St. Catharines Environmental Alliance; Friends of Walker’s Creek; Pelham Tree Conservation Society; Speak For The Creek; Miriam Richards, Professor, Biological Sciences, Brock University; and members of Biodiversity and Climate Action Collective Niagara

The undersigned groups and citizens from around Niagara are writing to state our emphatic opposition to the Region’s plan to expand the existing sections of Merritt Road which will destroy adjacent wetlands, and to the plan to extend Merritt Road between Cataract Road and Rice Road right through the middle of a Provincially Significant Wetland which, again, will utterly destroy it.

One look inside the Merritt Road area targeted for destruction. After everything we are going through with this pandemic and everything we should have learned about the value of protecting and preserving what natural areas we have left, it is hard to believe that our Niagara Regional Government would give any consideration at all to gutting more woodlands and provincially significant wetlands in our region.

The area impacted by this road project includes: Provincially Significant Wetland; Significant Woodland, Area of Natural and Scientific Interest; Fish Habitat, potential Natural Heritage Corridor.

As has been well documented, Southern Ontario has lost over 90 percent of its original wetlands. In Niagara we have lost even more. As a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Watershed Report Card noted “wetlands cover an estimated 6.36% of the Niagara Watershed.”

Many reports have stated the importance of preserving what remains of our Natural environment[3] and one of the highest priorities for protection is Provincially Significant Wetlands.

Beyond the need to preserve our remaining wetlands to support the various flora and fauna that depend on it, there is also a need to mitigate climate change. As the Region’s own Climate Change discussion paper notes: “Wetlands and woodlands are important for mitigating climate change as they both sequester carbon . . . 

Protecting, maintaining, restoring, and enhancing these features are crucial for offsetting GHG emissions that are being emitted from human activity, as they can help to absorb some of the carbon in the atmosphere.

The Region wants its citizens to believe it can be trusted to create a sound Natural Heritage System that will be robust enough to protect our local ecology for future generations, yet it is planning to destroy one of the most significant parts of that system. Furthermore, how can the Region be expected to stand up to developer plans to develop wetlands if they are in the businesses of doing it themselves?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Kind of Planning Makes Citizens Distrust Their Government

When citizens see planning like this, that ignores both the Climate Crisis and the Biodiversity Crisis that are coming together to form a perfect storm that threatens the continued existence of humankind, it convinces us that government is incapable of addressing the most pressing issues of our time.

We keep planning in the same old ways, although we know better. We keep sticking to our “evaluation criteria” although it does not include climate change impacts or biodiversity impacts in any meaningful way. We keep making the excuse that we are “allowed” to do it by Provincial law without asking the more critical question “should we do it?”.

And we keep adhering to a process where citizen participation is simply a tick on the box that staff must check off, and not a meaningful, empowering, participatory, engagement with the people who will suffer the consequences of these decisions. Perhaps, if citizens were actually, meaningfully engaged, it might result in better planning.

We realize that, as staff have told us, this is a planning exercise that has been underway for a long time and is part of the strategic plan laid out by the previous council.

That is also an issue for us. Citizens unseated the previous Regional Council for good reason, yet their strategic planning priorities and processes linger on, favouring development at all costs, ignoring current environmental and climate realities, and the clearly stated desires of Niagara’s citizens, as demonstrated in the voting booth and during public meetings on this issue.

Questionable Evaluation Criteria

You call this the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment, but how much does the environment actually come into your assessment? You list 19 evaluation criteria. Only four relate to the environment, with climate change and storm water management under “engineering”.

Frankly, we are baffled by the way you have assigned weight to some of these criteria. For instance, under Natural Heritage, you assign reasonably high marks (a half circle) to your Rice and Merritt road “improvements”. On what basis? You cannot possibly be suggesting you will somehow leave the natural features in better condition than you found them?

The same goes for the quarter circle you give to the Terrestrial and Aquatic environment criteria. All three should be empty circles because there is no scenario where these areas will be left in a healthier condition than they were before you drove a new or expanded road through them.

Under the Health criteria, you give zero to the “do nothing” scenario and a full circle to expanding the roads. How can you defend assigning no health benefits to retaining thousands of oxygen-producing trees/natural areas that are also removing pollution from the air and water and then assign full health benefits for removing them? The installation of roads with bike paths does not defray the health damage of wetland removal and deforestation.

We also note you give zero value to the public realm benefit of the existing greenspace whereas, we assure you, citizens give significant value to the public realm value of our natural areas. This value is not tied to whether we can use these areas or not. The value is tied to our desire to maintain these natural areas because of their own intrinsic value.

Furthermore, how is it possible that you give Storm Water Management and Climate Change criteria empty circles in the “Do nothing category” when it is certain that these wetland/woodland complexes, as they currently exist, provide innumerable green infrastructure benefits from storm water management to urban cooling, from carbon capture and storage to erosion control. And then you give both criteria full circles under the Improve Merritt and Rice Road scenarios. This makes no sense. The criteria are clearly skewed to support your predetermined decision.

The Times Are Changing But Planning Is Not

We can not keep planning transportation as if everyone will be commuting to work in their own private vehicles and as if the destruction of critical natural infrastructure like Provincially Significant Wetlands is just the price we have to pay to shave a few minutes off our driving times.

First, the pandemic has changed things. While many people will be returning to work and resuming commutes, some will not, and some will commute part-time while working from home part-time. We now have all the tools we need to work from home and both workers and employers know this is not only possible but has benefits to both the employers’ bottom line (i.e. less need for office space) and employees in having a better work/life balance. How will these societal changes affect future traffic flows? We don’t yet know as we are still in the middle of the change.

Second, just prior to the pandemic, the Climate Crisis was gaining more public concern than ever before. As the pandemic eases, as the world Climate Summit begins, and as we experience even more increasing temperatures and chaotic weather events, the public will focus more on the need to address these issues locally. The best tool at the disposal of Regional and Municipal governments in dealing with the Climate Crisis and reducing GHGs is good urban planning. Destroying Provincially Significant Wetlands to build and expand roads cannot possibly be considered good urban planning.

A government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens from threats and yet, this kind of planning only exacerbates our most serious threats. Again, this kind of planning makes citizens distrust their government and see it as incompetent in dealing with the greatest threats to our society.

The False Flag of “Mitigation”

As you well know, you cannot mitigate this kind of damage. Whatever portions of the wetlands that are not destroyed by the construction to the road will be destroyed by the salt and pollution the road will drive into the remaining wetland. The noise and the lighting will irreparably disturb breeding birds and other animals, and also as you well know, the road will become a killing field for any wildlife that remains.

We are told to count on the Environmental Impact Study before jumping to conclusions about how damaging it will be but again, we all know that EISs do a good job of enumerating the potential impacts and then explaining away why they really don’t matter.

The public has also been told that we can rely on the involvement of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in the NEA to identify impacts and mitigation, however, earlier this year during a presentation by a staff member to the NPCA board, it was emphasized that the NPCA’s policies were “flexible” to help their various stakeholders. We have all seen just how flexible they are as wetlands are drained, PSWs have been paved over and floodplains have been filled with construction debris all with no consequences or enforcement.

We also know that once development damages a wetland, landowners around the wetland call for its reevaluation and, surprise, now that its vegetation has been removed, its function limited and its species decimated, it no longer meets the designation of a Provincially Significant Wetland. It is then reclassified and conveniently opened for development.

The Area of Disturbance

It’s important to state that we are not talking about a small area of disturbance to the wetland complex along Merritt Road. The Provincially Significant Wetlands exist on both the north and south sides of Merritt Road throughout almost its entire length. There is no way to widen any segment of the road, or create the extension of the road, without significant damage to wetlands.

According to the information in your second Public Information Centre, the widths of the various sections range from 20 m to 30 m, but this is an underestimate as you noted you will be separating the bike lanes from the road in the final plan.

This also does not take into account the total area that will be destroyed by heavy equipment and earthmoving during construction, or all the debris left behind following it. Nor does it take into account that Thorold’s Transportation Master Plan calls for a 4-lane road in between Rice and Cataract Roads, not the 2-lane design you have brought forward.

Justifications For The Destruction Don’t Hold Water

During the recent Public Information Centre we were told the Merritt Road expansion and extension was necessary because: 1. it was the most direct route from the 406 interchange to Pelham and 2. It would prevent congestion.

We argue that, with parallel roads running to both the north and the south, there are alternatives to “the most direct route” that would not cause the same amount of environmental carnage.

We also argue that congestion is not necessarily a bad thing. That congestion can be an impetus for people to make different choices that would be better for the environment, for instance, take public transit, work from home more often, alter their work time to avoid traffic, car pool etc. — all things we say we want people to do but things people will likely not do if we keep making it easy for them, at great cost to the Regional purse and to our environment, to get in their cars and drive.

This Is Not About Road Building, This Is About Values

In the end, the whole issue is not about road building, it is about values. Does the Region value the natural environment? Is it serious about lowering local GHG emissions and combating and mitigating climate change? Does the Region want to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a home that is a healthy place to live? Does the Region want to demonstrate to its citizens that it is capable of meeting the challenges of today without jeopardizing our future, that it is capable of tackling the most significant issues of our time with good planning and forward thinking?

The Region’s decision on the Merritt Road extension and expansion will go a long way to answering those crucial questions.

A government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens from threats and yet, this kind of planning only exacerbates our most serious threats. Again, this kind of planning makes citizens distrust their government and see it as incompetent in dealing with the greatest threats to our society.

We also know that once development damages a wetland, landowners around the wetland call for its reevaluation and, surprise, now that its vegetation has been removed, its function limited and its species decimated, it no longer meets the designation of a Provincially Significant Wetland. It is then reclassified and conveniently opened for development.

This Is Not About Road Building, This Is About Values

In the end, the whole issue is not about road building, it is about values. Does the Region value the natural environment? Is it serious about lowering local GHG emissions and combating and mitigating climate change? Does the Region want to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a home that is a healthy place to live? Does the Region want to demonstrate to its citizens that it is capable of meeting the challenges of today without jeopardizing our future, that it is capable of tackling the most significant issues of our time with good planning and forward thinking?

The Region’s decision on the Merritt Road extension and expansion will go a long way to answering those crucial questions.

Sincerely,

Group members of the Collective:

Stefan Weber, Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance

Niagara Chapter Trout Unlimited Canada, Dennis Edell

SORE, Lyle Hall, Niagara-on-the Lake

Peninsula Field Naturalists, Bob Highcock

Niagara Falls Nature Club, Joyce Sankey

Niagara Beekeepers’ Association, Lucy Sardella

Ontariogreen Conservation Association, Liz Benneian

Bert Miller Nature Club, Lynda Goodridge

Niagara Birding Conservation and Tourism Collaborative, Marcie Jacklin

Hamilton Naturalists, Chris Motherwell,

Friends of One Mile Creek, Klara Young-Chin, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Extinction Rebellion Niagara, Ryan Forster and Team

Friends of Walker’s Creek, Della Trojan, St. Catharines

Pelham Tree Conservation Society, Mike Jones

Speak for the Creek, Lisa Welch, Fort Erie

St. Catharines Environmental Alliance, Randi Evans

Individual Members of the Collective:

Miriam Richards, Professor, Biological Sciences, Brock University

Robert Carson, M.Sc., P.Eng., Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Annette Gibbons, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Grimsby

Dr. Carol Tuck-Riggs, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Grimsby

Jackie Oblak, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Town of Pelham

Christine Knighton, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Fort Erie

Melissa McGlashan, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Welland

Judy Doerr, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Niagara Falls

Dawn Pierrynowski, Biodiversity and Climate Action, Welland and Niagara Falls

Lisa Welch, Fort Erie, Speak for the Creek

Susan Murphy, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Town of Lincoln

Jacob Schmitt, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Fort Erie

Kiran Larsen, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Thorold

Desmond Sequeira, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, St. Catharines

Carla Rienzo Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Niagara Falls

Leslie Curry, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Port Colborne

Anne Mills, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Fort Erie

Fariya Doctor, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, St. Catharines

Stefan Weber, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, St. Catharines

Chris Larsen, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Grimsby

Patty Moss, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Port Colborne

Bob Bader, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Marty Tache, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Niagara Falls

(Rev.) Marya Buckingham, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, St. Catharines,

Natalia Shields, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Fonthill

Jennifer Hay, Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, Niagara Falls

A Brief Footnote from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –

How sad it is that a God-awful plan like this has made it up to Niagara’s Regional government level and tha t members of the Region’s planning department may be looking upon it favourably.

Here is just one of far too many issues like this, including the plans to ravage the Thundering Waters Forest wetlands in Niagara Falls, another development plan for the rich Waverly Woods in Niagara Falls, the unwillingness to date  of half of our Niagara Regional Councillors to support stronger rules for protecting our natural heritage in a new Regional Government Plan, and the list goes on.

For the sake of our Niagara region’s future, and for future generations who live here, we can no longer afford to have as many elected politicians as we now have, slugging forward with a pre-pandemic mentality that says it is okay to go on paving everything over at any cost to the health of our environment and the communities we live in.

In the fall of next year 0 2022 – we have municipal elections and we must take advantage of those elections to purge as many municipal politicians as possible who do not have a vision for a healthier future from our local and regional councils.

Niagara At Large will have much more to say about that in the weeks and months to come. Stay Tuned.

  • Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

NIAGARA AT LARGE Encourages You To Join The Conversation By Sharing Your Views On This Post In The Space Following The Bernie Sanders Quote Below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders


[1] https://brocku.ca/unesco-chair/2020/04/21/meopar-blog-the-importance-of-niagaras-wetlands/

[2] https://www.livinginniagarareport.com/living-in-niagara-2011/03-environment-2011/niagara’s-wetlands-and-watersheds/

[3] https://www.ontario.ca/page/wetland-conservation-strategy

[4] https://www.niagararegion.ca/projects/rural-and-natural-systems/pdf/climate-change-discussion-paper.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.