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(Posted 10:30 a.m., April 4)
Public meeting sheds new light on Navan wetland restoration project

By Fred Sherwin
OrleansOnline.ca

The effort to restore a wetland area in Navan came to a head Monday night as more than 80 residents attended a meeting at the Navan Memorial Arena organized to address a long list of concerns over the project.

Most of those in attendance are against the project which would create three to four shallow ponds on the north side of the Prescott Trail which runs just south of the village behind Birchtree Crescent.

The project had its genesis in a meeting early last year during a walking tour of the area by members of the Navan 150 committee and staff from the South River Conservation Authority.

The original plan was to apply for Ottawa 2017 grant money to build a gazebo at the Harold Dent Memorial on Smith Road and install benches and several interpretive elements along the Prescott Trail.

When it came to light that the railway bed on which the Prescott Trail has been established, is owned by CN which leases back to the city, the Navan 150 committee changed tack. At the same time, the South Nation Conservation Authority floated the idea of restoring the wetland in the area between the old railway bed and a slope that leads up to Birchtree Crescent which gained the support of Ducks Unlimited.

The Conservation Authority first made their plan public at a meet and greet session last June that was attended by 25 people. The organization then secured $180,000 in funding from the City of Ottawa and Ontario Power Generation over the summer.

Letters explaining the project were mailed to local residents on Nov. 9, inviting them to attend an information meeting co-hosted by the Navan Community Association on Dec, 15. Only a handful of people took the Conservation Authority up on the invitation.

Judging by a show of hands at Monday night's meeting, a lot of people either never received the letter, or if they did, didn't bother to open it.

A handful of residents on Birchtree were abundantly aware of the project, especially after they were personally informed that a public easement between two properties on the street would be used to access the site.

Days later, workers started cutting down some trees to clear a path for the heavy equipment which followed. Before they could start digging, however, the residents convinced Cumberland Ward Coun. Stephen Blais and the City of Ottawa to temporarily halt the operation until further public consultations could be held. Monday night's meeting was the result.

Residents opposed to the project brought a petition with 139 signatures on it.

After everyone agreed the Conservation Authority could have done a better job communicating with the local community, SNCA watershed planner James Holland explained that the organizations prime motivation was to enhance the area on behalf of the community.

"We're not coming here to force a wetland on you," Holland tried to explain. "The (community association) approached us and we thought we could do something that would benefit the community, by enhancing the wetland and improving the biodiversity of the area."

As a result of the Conservation Authority's proposal to restore and enhance the wetland through the creation of several shallow ponds, and the uncertainty over the future use of the rail bed, the Navan 150 committee decided to change their focus to building a boardwalk around the finished project, and secured $200,000 from the City with Blais' help to build it.

The two projects are mutually exclusive, as are the monies earmarked for each of them. In other words, if the projects are canceled the money would go back to their original source. It can't be used for another unrelated project such as sidewalks.

The debate at the meeting centered on two key areas -- whether or not the area in question is actually a wetland -- and the impact the project will have on the quality of life of the residents living on Birchtree Crescent.

On the first issue, it was made clear both by the Conservation Authority and several residents that the area is a wetland for most of the year.

Serge Arpin has lived in Navan for 15 years, and is familiar with the area in question, which he described as a bog.

"You can not go down there unless you have hip-high boots on and are prepared to be rescued, because it's a bog. It's always been a bog," said Arpin. "I think (the project) would be an asset to the community."

Among the many concerns residents on Birchtree have are traffic, safety and mosquitos.

On the issue of traffic, the Conservation Authority is of the opinion that the project is so small, it will only attract people from the local community who would walk to the site. That opinion was shared by several residents.

The mosquito concerns were addressed by City of Ottawa natural systems senior planner Nick Stowe, who explained that the types of mosquitos the addition of the ponds might attract are not of the nuisance variety and therefore wouldn't cause a problem. Any increase in the local mosquito population would be a result of increased rainfall, which would be the same result whether the ponds are built or not.

Finally, the concerns over safety were measured off against the existence of a creek and drainage ditch that are already present in the area and are much deeper than the proposed ponds.

The one concern the presenters couldn't address is the potential of vandalism to the boardwalk.

By the end of the meeting, it became clear that not everyone in the room was against the wetland restoration/enhancement project. Some were in favour of it, while others were in favour of the boardwalk, but not the wetland restoration. Those who were against the two projects altogether, had not changed their minds and reinforced their stance by presenting their petition to Councillor Blais.

In the end, the Conservation Authority agreed to hold a second meeting to further address the community's concerns. When that meeting will be held is still to be determined. In the meantime, work on the project has ceased. The equipment will be removed when the ground is dryer and any damage to the area will be cleaned up and rehabilitated.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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