Update on the Woodlot: Development Compromise

11 10 2013
Written by Margo Sheppard on October 11, 2013

Corbett_Marsh

Corbett Marsh in the UNB Woodlot, now called the Creighton Conservation Forest. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

I just came in from a long walk in the University of New Brunswick Woodlot on the edge of the City of Fredericton.

It’s funny how such a simple act like walking and looking can reveal so much about society and our relationship to nature.

For those of you who might be unaware, the UNB Woodlot (now called, in part, the Creighton Conservation Forest) is located immediately south of the City of Fredericton on both sides of Regent Street towards New Maryland. Or beside Costco, if that’s your reference point.

For the past several years I have had a chance to—albeit slightly– influence the way this 3,500 acre plot of forest, wetland and stream will ultimately be used to benefit the City and the University of New Brunswick. The Creighton Conservation Forest Advisory Committee (CCFAC) of which I am a member, has done a complicated dance with those within the University who would prefer “development” over nature any day of the week.

Woodlot_2008

Previous UNB Woodlot plan involved developing 50% of the area (dark green) and conserving 50% (light green).

Set up to address public opposition to the gobbling up of the woodlot by big box stores, the CCAFC, led by Dr. Rick Cunjak and populated with various UNB property and forestry experts and two community members including me, has reached a compromise between preservation and full-blown urbanization. Half the woodlot will be set aside in large contiguous chunks for conservation, protecting the Corbett Brook drainage area, while the other half will be gradually meted out for retail leases.

Woodlot_2013

Final plan for the UNB Woodlot approved by UNB Board of Governors in 2013. The plan still is awaiting zoning in the municipal plan. Half the woodlot will be set aside in large contiguous chunks for conservation, protecting the Corbett Brook drainage area, while the other half will be gradually meted out for retail leases.

Back to my walk. It was essentially to scope out the location for a multi-purpose trail on the east side of Regent Street between New Maryland and Knowledge Park (at Costco) which bracket the property. As it happens there is already a well-drained woods road there that could, for all intents and purposes, become such a trail. It would require collaboration between the City and UNB, and possibly some mall merchants, but it could be done. Its existence would promote safe bicycle commuting from suburb to downtown.

After walking the future trail route, I headed back to scout the perimeter of the big box stores. Nearing the buildings, I encountered frost fencing and loads of garbage blown off the massive parking lots, typical of urban fringe zones of neglect. When I lived in Toronto, I became familiar with this type of blighted landscape when I was involved with the Black Creek Project, a conservation group formed to clean up Black Creek in Toronto’s west end.

Black Creek flows through a pioneer village and one of the densest, most socially-challenged areas in Canada, commonly known as the Jane-Finch corridor. South of that, it meanders through an area of Weston where slaughterhouses and rendering plants all seemed (at the time) to have mysterious discharges into the already-polluted Creek and its tributaries. Blobs of fat, leaking barrels of toxic material and oily sheens were common. Turning west, the Creek disappeared into storm drains, re-emerging from the underworld here and there to eventually join up with the Humber River.

I recall one workday (Black Creek Project held many tree planting events, cleanups and meetings with developers intending to pipe lengths of the stream) where volunteers scrubbed rocks in the stream bed which were covered in green algae in a futile attempt to improve water quality. So sad, I thought of the rock cleaning at the time; so hopeless a tragedy befallen an urban stream that once offered crystal clear water teeming with fish. And volunteers naive enough to think this act would help.

We planted trees along lengths of concrete channel which at other times became so bank-full during rainstorms that kids occasionally drowned, set loose by the slick concrete and lack of hand-holds in the channel. They perished, pinned underwater against culvert grates. We worked with what we had.

More optimistic members in our group suggested that we (Black Creek Project) approach the City of Toronto to rip up concrete channels where the stream flowed. Another suggested we get signs bearing names of Black Creek and its tributaries erected, so people would know a stream was there and perhaps grow to appreciate it, warts and all.

Back in Fredericton, turning away from the frost fence and garbage, I traversed the vast parking lot of the Corbett Centre, dog in tow, dodging mammoth SUVs and pickup trucks and shoppers with fully-laden carts heading towards their vehicles. How dynamic downtown Fredericton could be if only a fraction of these people so enamoured of Costco and Winners (where I have shopped many times) supported the downtown merchants, I thought.

What draws these people to these places, so morally conflicting and bereft of anything natural or appealing? Is it their need for “stuff” from China, evidence of which blows into the woodlot in the form of cardboard box fragments? Is the emptiness they are trying to fill worth the cost of destroying a wild area, home to many life forms and enjoyed by skiers, walkers and earnest forestry students?

There is indeed no free lunch. Although half of the UNB Woodlot is now to be protected in the form of the Creighton Conservation Forest, both it and the remainder will gradually be degraded through the construction of roads, storm water retention ponds and buildings which are expensive and inherently unsustainable in their design. Even in the area of the future “Conservation Forest,” the sound of car traffic is today a constant, drowning out whatever birds are there. It will worsen over time.

Will Corbett Brook become another storm sewer? Perhaps the trout living in it now won’t survive the increased sediment and heavy metals draining into the channel from parking lots. Stream temperatures will also likely rise as runoff settles into the many retention ponds, fully exposed to the blazing sun, making them even more inhospitable for fish and their insect cohorts. The cost of urbanization, I suppose.

When I left Toronto for Fredericton in 1995, city engineers were ripping up concrete channels along the Black Creek and replacing them with boulders, simulating a natural channel. Signs were being erected denoting the presence of streams all around the place. There was even talk of “daylighting” portions of Black Creek, something not even the most childishly optimistic in our group had dare contemplate.

There was hope after all.





Woodlot Watch Update

26 07 2011

SUMMER 2011 UPDATE ON THE UNB WOODLOT (from The Friends of the UNB Woodlot):

(1) FREDERICTON MLA’s BRIAN MacDONALD and CRAIG LEONARD ASKED TO SUPPORT THE CREIGHTON CONSERVATION FOREST (CCF) ADVISORY COMMITTEE 

The Friends of the UNB Woodlot, and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick – Fredericton Chapter, recently met with two Fredericton area MLA’s to discuss the UNB Woodlot.   A meeting was held on July 18, 2011 with Brian MacDonald, MLA Fredericton-Silverwood, and a second meeting was held on July 25, 2011 with Craig Leonard, MLA Fredericton-Lincoln.

We outlined our concerns that the UNB Woodlot development is unsustainable and that it is not a fiscally-responsible approach for the Province of New Brunswick.  The present course of development for the UNB Woodlot Forest will mean continued expensive stormwater infrastructure costs to the Province of New Brunswick and the City of Fredericton, increased property taxes and property insurance rates, and to future flooding costs to individual businesses and homeowners.  As a public teaching institution owned and funded over 70% by the Province of New Brunswick, the present course of development will mean the continued loss of donations by disenfranchised UNB Alumni, the tuition loss by students going to more environmentally-progressive universities, and the loss of new Research Chair opportunities if it not preserved as an intact teaching and research forest.

The Friends of the UNB Woodlot asked Brian MacDonald and Craig Leonard to contact UNB and support the efforts of the Creighton Conservation Forest Advisory Committee, a multi-disciplinary committee.  It has been over a year-and-a-half ago, on December 09, 2009, that the UNB Board of Governors approved the general plan to establish a Creighton Conservation Forest (CCF) and form an Advisory Committee to recommend new land boundaries to be conserved in the UNB Woodlot.  However, UNB administration officials have delayed the release of any public announcement on their efforts to redraw the boundaries of the UNB Woodlot.  This despite the Committee’s concern for transparency and timely information delivered to the public.  Further obstruction of the Advisory Committee by the UNB Administration is unacceptable.

The Friends of the UNB Woodlot also asked Craig Leonard to support the establishment of a watershed-based source protection program for the City of Fredericton and the Province of New Brunswick.  We noted that the current wetland protection in the UNB Woodlot and the Province is a “sham”.  If the public was to have any faith in the Province’s ability to protect our drinking water – especially in light of the new risks from shale gas development – then we should implement a province-wide, watershed-based program similar to that put in place by the Province of Ontario in response to the Walkerton water contamination tragedy.
(2) UNB PRESIDENT EDDY CAMPBELL & UNB BOARD OF GOVERNORS CONTINUE TO HIDE FROM REQUESTS FOR UNB WOODLOT DOCUMENTS

The University of New Brunswick administration has not answered our January 14, 2011 request for information on flood risk assessments and wetlands, nor our April 14, 2011 and June 11, 2011 requests for the following documentation:

Commentary: When did 80 become 30?     
http://unbwoodlot.org/2011/04/13/when-did-80-become-30/

These requests include meeting minutes of the UNB Board of Governors discussing the UNB Woodlot development, copies of the UNB Woodlot Implementation Plan and associated maps, and UNB’s cost of building stormwater piping and retention ponds for Corbett Place and other developments.  Note that other public universities, such as Memorial University, have their meeting minutes readily available on their website.

(3) NATIONAL ORGANIZATION ASKS UNB PRESIDENT EDDY CAMPBELL TO STOP BEAVER TRAPPING & IMPLEMENT HUMANE, BEAVER MANAGEMENT

The Association for the Protection of Fur-bearing Animals (also known as the Fur-Bearer Defenders) is a national organization based in Vancouver.  Their January newsletter is now available online and includes a story on the refusal of the University of New Brunswick administration to accept a pilot beaver management program at no cost to UNB.  This newsletter was sent out to their supporters across Canada and asks people to “speak out to protect this treasured area and the species within it” by contacting the office of UNB President Eddy Campbell.

FBD NEWSLETTER (Jan 2011) – Friends of the UNB Woodlot article on page 9

Learn More About Beaver Trapping Alternatives
http://furbearerdefenders.com/campaigns/municipal-trapping/municipal-overview

BACKGROUND – Unable to prevent the September 2010 lethal trapping of three more beavers in the UNB Woodlot – in Larch Swale, across the highway from the Costco development – The Friends of the UNB Woodlot contacted the Vancouver-based Fur-Bearer Defenders (FBD).   In October 2010, FBD made an offer to the University of New Brunswick to fly in one of the foremost experts in beaver management devices (Skip Lisle from Vermont) and install flood levellers – all at their own expense.  Skip Lisle’s claim to fame is beaver-proofing 130,000 acres of beaver habitat for the Penobscot Indian band. UNB Administration refused this offer, without a satisfactory explanation, even though UNB has no funds budgeted for beaver management.  This is the second such offer refused by UNB.  In January 2008, The Friends of the UNB Woodlot offered up to $10, 000 in hardware towards a beaver management program.

(4)  FRIENDS OF THE UNB WOODLOT CALL FOR BAN ON ALL FUTURE SHALE GAS TESTING & DRILLING WITHIN THE UNB WOODLOT 

The Friends of the UNB Woodlot have asked to make a presentation to Fredericton City Council, in order to request a ban on high-impact industrial land use in the UNB Woodlot.  City Council will be asked to use the precautionary principle and ban all activity such as shale gas development due to the risk of serious or irreversible damage to our aquifer.  The City of Fredericton can ban high-impact industrial uses from within the city limits using an amendment of their Zoning Bylaw Z-2.  The following map of exploration licenses speaks for itself:

MAP – Oil and Natural Gas Licenses/Leases, New Brunswick

N.B. Department of Natural Resources

http://www.gnb.ca/0078/Promo/NaturalGas/ObtainingOilGasRights-e.asp

–       Southwestern Energy Company has a total of 32 “Licenses to Search” (10-01 to 10-32)

–       Total area covered by these 32 licenses = 1,019, 208. Hectares

–       Includes significant areas within city limits of Fredericton and Moncton
Just like the destruction of wetlands, our politicians are attempting to just ignore the shale gas license maps available on the NB Gov’t website. 





Cities forced to deal with Climate Change

4 06 2011

The Engineering Manager for the City of Dieppe, NB, Serge Dupuis, spoke on a panel on preparing for climate change at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Halifax. Serge Dupuis was quoted in the Globe and Mail:

“Either you’re a believer in climate change or you’re not, but I don’t think you can deny that the weather we’re seeing across the country is different,” said Serge Dupuis, manager of engineering for the city of Dieppe, N.B. “Believe it or not, it’s here and if you’re ready for the worst, it’s going to help.”

Cities across Canada are forced to deal with climate change as an infrastructure problem. Climate experts and municipal managers are bracing for a 100-year gradual increase in summer heat, fresh water shortages, and rising sea levels affecting shoreline cities. The Globe and Mail reports that next week in Vancouver, “city representatives from across Canada, the United States and Britain will gather at a conference dubbed “Resilient Communities: Preparing for the Climate Challenge.” Of the 76 recommendations from the Halifax conference, one way to remediate the impact of climate change is to increase green spaces in cities, and increase the tree canopy coverage. With the City of Fredericton seemingly hell-bent on destroying the Woodlot, and selling off small parks and green spaces throughout the city, the City of Fredericton is planning exactly the opposite of what urban experts recommend.





Flood of Sewage into City Backyards

10 05 2011

The CBC is reporting that the City of Fredericton has allowed sewage to flow through the backyards of residents in the Riverside Drive area into the Saint John River. The Saint John River has reached flood stage, but the aging sewer system is already over capacity and unable to send the flow to the nearby wastewater treatment plant. Meanwhile the City and UNB insist on going forward with development of the UNB Woodlot, the last stand of forested wetlands at the top of the hill on the South side. Organizers of Friends of the UNB Woodlot have pleaded with the city repeatedly not to develop the Woodlot because the wetlands and forest are needed to handle increased rainfall and flooding caused by global warming and over-development on the South side