by Jakob Mueller
A proposal to build a six-lane roadway through the Greenbelt is open for public consultation, but only until Friday, 16 July.
The City of Ottawa wants to extend Brian Coburn Boulevard across the northern fringe of the Mer Bleue wetland complex (see proposal). Of the various options for this project, the city is proposing to proceed with the one ranked most environmentally disruptive (see map). If built, this road will further fragment protected Greenbelt lands and threaten to degrade the ecological integrity of the Mer Bleue wetland complex.
Mer Bleue, on Ottawa’s eastern flank, is a jewel of the Greenbelt. It has incredible biodiversity and a functional ecology, such that the entire wetland complex is recognized as having international significance under the Ramsar convention. Most of the area is not easily accessible, so few people truly appreciate just how large it is. Mer Bleue is home to Moose, hosts breeding Sandhill Cranes, and provides habitat for numerous rare species and species at risk.
Many people will be familiar with the Mer Bleue Bog boardwalk, but this only allows visitors to see a small extension of the bog – it is the tip of a very big iceberg. The Mer Bleue bog is the largest extant bog in all of Southern Ontario, and is also home to the longest-running carbon-capture study in the world. Because of this, we know that wetlands are important carbon sinks and also that bogs in the northern hemisphere are disproportionately good at storing carbon removed from the atmosphere. This makes them incredibly important as we try to mitigate climate change.
At the last in-person public meeting on this topic (in November 2019), city staff noted that the proposal is just outside the area designated for Ramsar protection – the official boundary follows an abandoned rail line that is currently a trail. However, nature doesn’t respect arbitrary lines on a map, and heathy wetlands need buffer zones and wildlife corridors. Hydrology can be adversely affected by changes in drainage made some distance away, and the city’s proposal includes the re-routing of Mud Creek, which is fed by water from the Mer Bleue wetland complex.
According to the Ramsar handbook on managing wetlands (which you can read here), “management planning should not be restricted to the defined site boundary, but rather should also take into account the wider context of planning and management, notably in the basin or coastal zone within which the site is located, which can be transboundary in nature” (emphasis added).
It also notes, “The inter-connectedness of the hydrological cycle means that changes some distance from the wetland can have a detrimental impact. Insufficient water reaching wetlands, due to climate change, land use change, abstractions, storage and diversion of water for public supply, agriculture, industry and hydropower, are all major causes of wetland loss and degradation” (emphasis added).
There are further detrimental effects to consider as well. As the proposed road will funnel into an already-busy section of Innes Road between Blackburn and Highway 417, it will almost certainly lead to an increase in traffic on Anderson Road, which bisects Mer Bleue. Traffic on Anderson Road is already heavy at peak times, and wildlife mortality on this road is a serious problem. Many species of wildlife are killed while trying to cross Anderson Road, including species at risk like Snapping, Painted, and Blanding’s Turtles. This will only get worse.
Two of the proposed road’s six lanes are designated for transit, but unlike alternate proposals, this route avoids existing neighbourhoods, where they could provide better service to current residents and divert more people from their cars. Public transit can be good for sustainability, but it works better when it goes to places people live, rather than avoiding them.
Fighting climate change requires that we respect and enhance habitat protection, curb urban sprawl, and improve public transit. Instead, this proposal enables further sprawl and car-centric development, fragments habitat, and threatens the ecological integrity of an incredibly important wetland.
If you are concerned about the many impacts this problematic proposal might have on Mer Bleue, please provide your feedback to the city. Go to www.ottawa.ca/briancoburn and follow the instructions there, to either send an email or fill out their survey. The deadline for comments is this Friday (16 July 2021). Please take a moment now to advocate protecting healthy natural environments. Your voice matters.
Please also see media interviews here:
Road proposal threatens Mer Bleue wetland
CTV News, 20 July 2021
Mer Bleue wetland threatened by road proposal, field naturalists say
Ottawa Citizen, 16 July 2021
City consulting on road extension near Mer Bleue wetland
CTV News, 15 July 2021