The Ottawa Citizen and The Ottawa Sun
report on defensive land clearing practice



From the...


Irate landowners destroy their trees to scuttle city's wetland designation

Mohammed Adam                      
The Ottawa Citizen
  Wednesday, August 24, 2005

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Terry Hale says his land would be rendered nearly useless, and he would be deprived of his lifelihood, if the city designates the property wetland.

In an expression of outrage at a plan to redesignate nearly 280 hectares in rural Ottawa as wetland, property owners have begun scraping the land of trees and plants to thwart the city.

Using bulldozers that cost $250 an hour, landowners like Terry Hale are uprooting trees, trampling on shrubs and laying the land bare to escape a wetland designation they say would render their property virtually useless and cost them their livelihood.

"The government's definition of wetland has to do with what trees and plants grow there and once it is classified, the value is lost and the city says it won't pay compensation," says Mr. Hale, who stands to lose a third of his 40-hectare farm.

"If we lose 30 acres (12 hectares), it'll put us out of business, because we won't have enough land to continue the operation. Scraping the land seems to be the only way out and we've already cleared 15 acres (six hectares). We plan to do the rest as well."

Tony Walker, who has been notified nearly 19 hectares of his 20-hectare plot is earmarked for redesignation, says city and provincial governments have forced landowners into taking the unusual and harsh steps to protect their property. For many, what is at stake is the fundamental issue of property rights, he says.

"We have a choice of destroying the land or have it devalued. Some people are bulldozing the trees and plants because once they are not there, the land is no longer wetland. That's the stupidity of it," says Mr. Walker, president of the Goulbourn Landowners Group, formed recently to fight the wetland designation.

The problem began last year after a landowner on Flewellyn Road, where a wetland is located, applied for a development permit. The city undertook a broader study to determine the extent of wetland in the area and a consultant identified 19 new wetland areas covering about 260 hectares. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources agreed with the finding and in March this year, the city notified 60 landowners in the Goulbourn area their land has been identified as wetland. Under provincial law, new development is generally not permitted on wetland and special studies are required for lands near the wetland.

"Wetlands on or adjacent to your property are now considered part of the Goulbourn Wetland Complex and, as such, are considered provincially significant," the city said in a letter to the landowners.

 
 
"For many, what is at stake is the fundamental issue of property rights."

"...We have a choice of destroying the land or have it devalued. Some people are bulldozing the trees and plants because once they are not there, the land is no longer wetland. That's the stupidity of it."

                                                  - Tony Walker, President of the Goulbourn Landowners Group

 
 

The city then set a nine-month timetable for changes to the official plan that would culminate in new designations in the fall, triggering anger and anxiety among the landowners. They were worried because city officials made it clear that since they were applying provincial law, there would be no compensation. The timetable has since been abandoned in the face of furious opposition and the city now says the issue will be discussed at a rural summit this fall.

Mr. Walker says no one is against protection of the environment. But if the city wants take private property and rezone it as wetland in the name of public good, then it must buy it.

However, because the city is not expropriating the property, officials have made it clear they are not required to offer compensation -- and won't. But Mr. Walker says a land evaluator hired by the landowners' group has determined a wetland designation devalues a property by 85 per cent because it becomes virtually impossible to develop. He says at current market prices, his 20-hectare plot is worth about $125,000, but with the wetland designation, the price would plummet to less than $20,000.

Dennis Jacobs, the city's director of planning, disputes this, saying that there is no credible evidence to show a wetland designation diminishes property values. And while there is no obligation on the city to buy any property, it has not shut the door on such a move. He says no decision on wetland designations has been made by council, but if one is made, and "there is an owner who wishes to sell and the city has cash to buy, staff will recommend that we buy it."

But Mr. Walker says the issue is about a larger principle: the unfettered ability of individuals in a free society to enjoy the fruits of their hard labour without government interference. Many of the people affected see the new policy as yet another example of the urban disdain for rural lifestyle that people have been complaining about for years.

"As far as we can tell, the city thinks we are their property and they can do whatever they like with it. We all said 'you can't do this, it is ridiculous.' But apparently they can," he said.

While many rural residents see the issue as another example of big bad city trampling on the rights of rural people, it is much more complex than that. And it goes back to the 1970s when the regional council put in place new regulations to protect environmentally sensitive land for the public good. Subsequent provincial legislation gave Ontario cities power to protect such land, including significant wetlands. Councillor Gord Hunter, former chairman of the city's planning committee, says it is important to protect such lands, but the issue is one of balance. He says some so-called environmentally sensitive lands are really not worth protecting, but people who buy wetland in the hope of draining it for profit are taking a risk and can't complain when things backfire.

Councillor Janet Stavinga, who represents Goulbourn Ward, says she is troubled by the way the city has handled the issue.

"I am a strong advocate of the preservation of locally and provincially significant wetland, but the concerns the landowners are raising resonate with me.

"We have to have a conversation on how we protect the environment in perpetuity without putting the burden solely on individual owners," she said.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005



 

  

August 24, 2005

Landowner's message clear on wetlands

By DEREK PUDDICOMBE, Ottawa Sun

Rural residents are so fed up with the city running their lives, one man has scraped his land clean of vegetation to avoid a designation that might infringe his property rights.


Doug Healey, 47, took the extreme measure two days ago on 10 acres of his land proposed by the city's Planning and Growth Management department as significant wetlands.


Part of a 110-acre parcel that's been in the family for five generations, it's something Healey and his wife Sandra decided to do rather than have the city dictate to them.


VEGETATION REMOVED


"My wife and I decided to remove the vegetation so now it's no longer considered wetlands," said Healey.

 

 
 


Cynthia Levesque, Ottawa's program manager for environmental management, said there's nothing stopping landowners from clearing proposed wetlands.


"It's unfortunate people feel they needed to take this action, but we understand their frustration," she said.

 

 
 


The struggle started last year after a field and air survey determined 650 acres belonging to 60 west-end rural landowners, to be significant wetlands.


The land was designated wetlands through a provincial process called "wetland complexing" and any vegetation deemed wetlands that falls within 750 metres of a provincially significant wetlands, in this case the North Goulbourn Wetland Complex, falls into the protective category.

Other criteria include any wildlife or vegetation that depend on wetlands to continue its life cycle.


"If they restrict our rights and by designating a piece of our land as wetlands lowers our property value the city is forcing us to destroy the land," said Healey.


Cynthia Levesque, Ottawa's program manager for environmental management, said there's nothing stopping landowners from clearing proposed wetlands.


"It's unfortunate people feel they needed to take this action, but we understand their frustration," she said.


Landowners had until the middle of next month to appeal the wetlands designation, but the city has suspended that until the city-sponsored Rural Summit in the late fall.


derek.puddicombe@ott.sunpub.com

 
 

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