'It Is Insane'

"
Something has gone seriously afoul here. Making fundamental land designations from a passing airplane 1,000 feet in the air?"


From the...


How farmland became wetland

Goulbourn beef farmer Terry Hale opened his mail one morning and learned his cattle had been grazing on what city bureaucrats have recently determined to be wetlands.

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Applewood Farms, owned by Terry Hale, finds itself on the edge of a housing boom in the Stittsville area. The city has recently designated some of Mr. Hale's land as being part of the Goulbourn Wetlands Complex and he figures the value of his farm has dropped from $600,000 to $200,000..


Kelly Egan
The Ottawa Citizen
 
May 16, 2005

The apple trees in the front yard have been there so long that the fruit is referred to as "Jinkinson crab;" a botanical lark, surely, but a sign of historical respect.

The Jinkinson family came from Scotland and farmed this 100 acres from the 1840s -- even bringing the apple trees, the story goes -- until Terry Hale bought the property in 1971.

Now called Applewood Farms, it is a classic early settler's shape: a long narrow rectangle, fairly flat, with chunks of bush separating green pasture.

About a month ago, Mr. Hale, 62, opened the day's mail to find a revelation: in the eyes of the City of Ottawa, he had a large wetland on his farm, which sits about seven kilometres west of Stittsville, in the former Goulbourn Township.

And this was no minor label. According to a consultant's report, about 20 acres of Applewood Farms were part of a larger 30-acre wetland. That section, in turn, was one of 20 new wetland areas that formed an "unevaluated" network belonging to the already-recognized Goulbourn Wetlands Complex.

 
 
What surprised him even more was the method used to arrive at the wetlands designation. The city did not visit the property but relied on existing data, aerial photographs, a fly-over inspection and roadside checks.

 
 

"It is," says Mr. Hale, a beef farmer, "insane."

What surprised him even more was the method used to arrive at the wetlands designation. The city did not visit the property but relied on existing data, aerial photographs, a fly-over inspection and roadside checks.

He was not alone. A total of about 60 landowners were affected as the city reviewed a wide swath of land around 6851 Flewellyn Rd., where a development was being proposed on an obvious wetland.

The wetland designation, if left standing, has important implications for the future of the farm.

For beginners, there is no development at all permitted on provincially significant wetlands. Secondly, any development nearby would require an environmental study.

Applewood Farms finds itself on the edge of a housing boom in the Stittsville area. With a quick calculation, Mr. Hale figures the value of his farm, which he has no plans to sell, just dropped from $600,000 to $200,000.

So much for a retirement nest-egg.

 
 
"The area is not a wetland at all, never really has been, and the city's process is ridiculously flawed."

 
 

In the short-term, he is worried about restrictions on agriculture, practised on the land for 160 years.

He raises beef cattle and has about 85 Herefords out to pasture all summer. They graze the entire farm, including the so-called wetlands, consuming about a tonne of vegetation a day.

Mr. Hale's most important counter-argument is this: the area is not a wetland at all, never really has been, and the city's process is ridiculously flawed.

 
 
The designated area also includes a high outcrop of rocks and trees -- perhaps the highest point on the farm -- further evidence that the city has botched the survey.

 
 

Some recent history helps explain what may have been a serious error in the city's evaluation.

In 1982, Mr. Hale said he signed an agreement permitting a new adjacent subdivision, called Heritage Corners, to run a drainage ditch across his property. It is clearly visible on aerial photos.

Over the course of the next three years, beavers dammed the ditch at one end, causing flooding and leading to the creation of a temporary head pond. A stand of trees, mostly cedars, drowned in the aftermath.

In 1985, Mr. Hale hired a trapper to remove the beavers and restore the water flow in the ditch. But the damage was done; the trees were dead and some spindly trunks remain there to this day.

Since then, however, Mr. Hale swears the area is basically dry all year, save for a few little puddles in the spring. The designated area also includes a high outcrop of rocks and trees -- perhaps the highest point on the farm -- further evidence that the city has botched the survey.

 
 
Something has gone seriously afoul here. Making fundamental land designations from a passing airplane 1,000 feet in the air?

What a beautiful metaphor for the remoteness of bureaucracies, out of touch with the lives of ordinary people, those mere ants beetling away on the distant soil.

 

 
 

At a public meeting in April, Mr. Hale and the others were told that a wetland is partially defined by the aquatic nature of the plant species on the ground.

How, he asks, could the city pinpoint plant species on the ground, a) from an airplane and b) after the cattle had grazed on the spot all summer?

During a tour of the site last week, all that was visible in the designated area was a couple of minuscule puddles in the bush. "What are they trying to protect in there?"

By June, he says, the area is bone dry, as is the ditch for most of the summer.

Mr. Hale has written two letters of complaint to city staff but has yet to receive a response.

"One of the reasons I went public is that I felt I was beating my head against the wall," said Mr. Hale.

It is apparent that a deep sense of mistrust has developed between Mr. Hale and the city. He is afraid, in fact, to let government inspectors on his property in case they find some new way to strangle him with regulation.

Alternatively, he wonders, how can he convince the city of his case?

It is a sorry, unintended consequence of this exercise that well-intended citizens like Mr. Hale have lost faith in government.

Something has gone seriously afoul here. Making fundamental land designations from a passing airplane 1,000 feet in the air?

What a beautiful metaphor for the remoteness of bureaucracies, out of touch with the lives of ordinary people, those mere ants beetling away on the distant soil.

Contact Kelly Egan at 726-5896 or by e-mail, kegan@thecitizen.canwest.com

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005


Related Letters to the Editor:

Heritage farm threatened by city land grab  - The Stittsville News- May 3, 2005

Rural Goulbourn residents are being robbed - The Stittsville News- May 3, 2005

650 acres of land are dry forest, not wetland - The Stittsville News- July 19, 2005

 

 

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