An impasse between the city and developers responsible for disturbing sensitive wetlands off Jubilee Parkway is stalling rehabilitation efforts.
The developer, Parkway Properties Joint Venture, through its Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), McElhanney, in March presented three remediation options to the city but all have been partially rejected.
A Freedom of Information request from the Mirror to the City of Campbell River revealed that those options involve using existing peat to rehabilitate a 2.2 hectare area of disturbed fen – peatlands that have formed in depressions supplied with groundwater and which contain organic soil and peat deposits.
In a May 11 letter to George Stuart, principal of Parkway Properties, Ron Neufeld, the city’s general manager of operations, wrote that the city is considering its options but that more information is needed.
“The proposed remediation plan for 0.52 hectares of disturbed fen has been supported by both city and provincial staff,” Neufeld wrote. “This is encouraging. There does not, however, appear to be agreement as to the appropriate treatment for the remaining 1.9 hectares of disturbed fen.”
The fen was disturbed and the wetlands altered over a seven year period, between 2007 and early 2014, as developers dumped soil over the area while developing a subdivision on the opposite, northern side of Jubilee Parkway.
As a result, the fen area was drained of water through the installation of ditches which changed the hydrology of the area. A remediation report from McElhanney to the city also revealed that, “fen vegetation was stripped and removed (and) with the exception of a small area, all organic soils and peat were removed from the fen basin” which changed vegetation composition and invasive species.
The work was completed without proper approvals in place and in response, the city, once it became aware of the issue, slapped Parkway with a Remedial Action Requirement last summer.
Parkway, through McElhanney, has provided the city with three different options for rehabilitating the wetlands.
The first option would use existing peat on site to rehabilitate the fen by developing a four-metre deep basin. Option two would restore the fen to its original depth with the available peat, maintain the remnant fen and provide forested land to compensate for the reduction in fen area.
The third option presented by McElhanney would preserve the remnant fen and provide forested land to compensate for the fen that is irreparable. That option also involves grading the disturbed fen to maintain the hydrology of the remnant fen and develop upland vegetation. Forested developable land within the property would be provided as compensation for the disturbed fen area.
However, Ross Murray, professional biologist, wrote in McElhanney’s report that each option presents its own set of challenges.
Option one, he said, has a very low likelihood of success in returning the site to its original fen potential condition in terms of water storage, hydraulic conductivity, fen vegetation or re-establishment of peat accumulation processes.
“The likelihood of fen character and processes continuing over time within this option is very low to nil,” Murray wrote.
He said option two would likely result in an outcome other than the target but added that it has the benefit of attempting to restore a portion of the disturbed fen area although it has “a disappointingly low likelihood of achieving its targets.”
Murray said option three does not return the site to the original condition in terms of water storage, hydraulic conductivity, fen vegetation or re-establishment of peat accumulation processes. As a result, Murray said, there would be no re-establishment of the damaged portion of the fen.
Hitting a roadblock
In a May city staff report presented to council in an in-camera meeting, which is closed to the public and the media, staff wrote that the city was analyzing those options and progress was being made towards a solution.
“All parties have agreed that 0.52 ha of the total 2.42 ha of disturbed/infilled wetland can be restored with the stockpiled peat available,” wrote city staffers Chris Osborne, senior planner, and Terri Martin, environmental specialist, in their report to council.
“This forms part of option two. Staff were encouraged by the additional work leading up to this option and the next step was to work through the compensation process for the 1.9 ha of the northern portion of the infilled wetland.”
However, the parties could not come to an agreement on the last piece of the puzzle – compensation for the fen that is lost.
“After a detailed technical meeting to work through the compensation process no further QEP information has been supplied,” Osborne and Martin wrote.
“This impasse is the reason for this report’s recommendation for staff to engage a QEP to complete the RAR (Remedial Action Requirement) in compliance with the provincial advisory letter.”
The provincial advisory letter was written by Bryce Casavant, compliance and enforcement specialist with the province’s ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations, and former conservation officer who made headlines last year for refusing to shoot two black bear cubs near Port Hardy.
After being reassigned by the province, Casavant was tasked with the Jubilee wetlands case after a member of the public filed a complaint that Parkway may have contravened the province’s Water Act.
Casavant wrote an advisory letter, which was forwarded to the city, stating that his investigation found two contraventions – that changes were made in and about a stream without lawful authority and that Parkway failed to report damage to a stream.
As such, Casavant ruled that, “the company is legally required to immediately return the site back to its natural state in the southern portion of the damaged wetland area.”
Casavant also wrote that the province, like the city, also supports option two, however, it does not support the forest land compensation offer.
“It is our expectation that it will be ‘like for like’ or ‘as close as possible’ compensation and that total compensated lands will exceed the damage done – thereby leaving a ‘positive’ addition to protected areas,” Casavant wrote.
“Acceptable compensation for the leftover northern damaged area will be left to the city for determination in consultation with subject matter experts.”
City staff, in consultation with a number of QEPs, has recommended a number of wet forest retention options to ensure compensation exceeds the damage done.
Osborne and Martin, in their report to council, wrote that those options were presented both verbally and in writing to Parkway’s QEP, McElhanney.
But, as of last month, they said they were still waiting on a final report from McElhanney on a remediation plan that would satisfy all parties.
A solution was put forward by Parkway’s Stuart in an April 20 letter to the city, however, the contents of that letter were blacked out by the city through the Freedom of Information process.
What is clear is that Martin and Osborne were not satisfied with Stuart’s recommendation.
“Staff cannot recommend to council the solution proposed in the owner’s 20 Apr. 2016 letter in the absence of a completed science-based demonstration that this is the best solution that can be achieved,” they wrote. “This is the information that staff are waiting for the owner to complete.”