Development vs. conservation: hope for a path forward

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The map showing how the 10 and 30-metre buffers extend out from Hudson’s identified wetlands. This is a static screen shot of the interactive version supplied to council.  A more detailed map has been promised for Monday’s Bylaw 526.8 public consultation, along with a lot-by-lot overlay showing how individual properties will be impacted. Other than imposing a one-size-fits-all edict on more than 200 properties, this map is next to useless.

I find it unfortunate that the uproar over Bylaw 526.8 is threatening to obscure the potential benefit to Hudson from the data being surfaced by urban planner Eco2Urb.

In June, council approved Eco2Urb’s hiring on the basis of the following conditions:

— It would update and confirm data contained in the 2008 Teknika HBA wetland and woodland audit;

— It would fill in the blanks in the 2016 CIMA+ conservation plan for Hudson’s urban perimeter (the 48% of the town already zoned for development);

— Like Teknika and CIMA+, Eco2Urb would then rank these natural spaces in terms of conservation priorities that could be incorporated in a revised master plan.

Under political pressure from Hudson’s anti-development lobby, council added a fourth ask — that Eco2Urb provide a scientific basis for the tripling of the province’s 10-metre buffer zone around Hudson’s extensive wetlands. 

For $89,367.50 plus taxes, Eco2Urb’s team would apply the same conservation template to Hudson that it had developed for St. Lazare. Roughly $20,000 of that was for workshops where everything would be explained to council and citizens.  

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Eco2Urb’s Kyle Teixeira-Martins and facilitators brief participants at Monday’s workshop.

Last Monday (Nov. 11) was the public workshop. Leaving out the mayor and five councillors, fewer than two dozen Hudson residents turned out, possibly because of the season’s first blizzard. Whatever the reason, the net result is that residents won’t have the benefit of understanding how and why Hudson should go about protecting its wetlands and woodlands as our region comes under increasing pressure to develop. 

I wonder whether the turnout would have been greater if residents were told Eco2Urb’s data will allow allow a lot-by-lot identification of possible environmental constraints — and that eventually, this information will be available to developers, property owners and real estate agents. (No, Hudson doesn’t need Bylaw 526.8.)

There were three tables. I was at a table with the mayor and several residents of Wilkinson, a street in Como where a number of properties back on the wetland running through the proposed Willowbrook development as well as to the rear of Oakfields. Once they heard their properties could be affected, even those in favour of protecting wetlands and woodlots tended to back off when they realized the resale value of their properties could be affected.

The next table over featured councillors Robinson and Rikley-Krindle, plus members of the mayor’s Environmental Action Group, or as one observer remarked, the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and the NOPEs (Not on Planet Earth). The third table included councillors Kurgansky and Legault as well as West End property owners.

Eco2Urb’s Kyle Teixeira-Martins  and his facilitators set up the exercise by explaining how they propose to rank Hudson’s wetlands and woodlands according to six ecological yardsticks — resilience, biodiversity, connectivity, forest maturity, flood mitigation and recreational/historical importance. We were then asked to rank the six metrics in order of importance. 

— Resilience is the measure of a natural area’s ability to recover from insect invasion, disease, drought or flooding.

— Biodiversity is the sum of the trees and animals found in a natural area.

— Connectivity is the measure of an area’s attractiveness as a habitat and migration corridor for vertebrate species.

— Forest maturity ranks forests according to their age. A young forest is zero to 40 years, an intermediate forest 40-80 years and mature, 80+. A mix of all ages is the target balance.

— Flood mitigation is the potential of an area to act as a buffer against the impacts of flooding.

— Recreational and historical importance is a natural area’s importance for citizens and visitors, either because it offers recreational possibilities or is of historical interest.

The second exercise asked us to rank six woodlots according to their ecological value as measured by the yardsticks above. Although nothing was identified by name, the sites of the Willowbrook and Sandy Beach developments were included, making dispassionate discussion difficult. 

While the evening was instructive, the best demonstration of the problems we face in ranking conservation areas came from Pyke Court resident Adrian Burke. Burke told the room he wanted no part in ranking forests and wetlands. Instead, he said, the data developed by Eco2Urb can be used to identify environmental constraints on a lot-by-lot basis. 

Later, Burke provided council with a technical explanation of how the GIS software Eco2Urb employs allows urban planners to click on an an interactive map to access information generated by Eco2Urb. Eventually, anyone with access to the database will be able to reference possible constraints to development for that particular lot or sector.   

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Eco2Urb’s colour-coded ‘heat maps’ rate wetlands and forested areas but don’t satisfy the need for  site-specific evaluation software. However, the data used in their production provides the town with everything required to make informed development choices.

Burke also offered advice on how the town can use Eco2Urb to move forward without the need for politically fraught decisions on rankings, moratoriums and blanket bans:

— Have Eco2Urb supply the colour-coded ‘heat maps’  as well as all the mapping software data in an easily accessible, searchable form;

— Colour-coded maps will be useful and complementary, but only if used with the database. 

— Ask Eco2Urb to train urban planning in their use;

— It is easy to create maps from the Eco2Urb GIS layers that can be opened and explored using GoogleEarth. These maps should be made available online on the city portal for all residents to consult and use.

This was the real benefit of Monday’s workshop. It got everyone thinking past the need for a blanket ban on land use within 100 feet of wetlands. It showed how the town can harness the technology that cost us $100,000 to accomplish what council set out to do. If we don’t seize the opportunity, this council will have failed at one of its core missions.

 Controlling factors

Following Monday’s workshop, I compiled a list of the factors both within and beyond Hudson’s control that will drive development for the foreseeable future. 

I’m sure there are many others that I have missed.

— Planning imposed on us by the Montreal Metropolitan Community and our regional government has frozen the dezoning of agricultural land. Their goal: reduce urban sprawl and concentrate development in sectors already supplied with roads, drinking water, sewers, public transit, schools and businesses. To accomplish this, MMC and MRC bureaucrats have set non-negotiable densification targets for serviced sectors.

— With less and less land available within these urban perimeters, developers are turning to marginal sites on the edges of wetlands and floodplains. Quebec insists on a mandatory 10-metre minimum buffer zone to protect from people landscaping to the edge of their properties, then dumping lawn waste and other detritus into the protected zone.

— 52% of Hudson’s lands are zoned agricultural, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to human activity that will degrade their ecological value. Owners of agricultural lands can clearcut mature forest except for 10-metre buffers along watercourses and wetlands. They can strip-mine peat bogs. They can drain and backfill wetlands. They can build houses for themselves, family members and employees. 

— Hudson’s lack of control over what goes on upstream. Development in Vaudreuil-Dorion and St. Lazare is already affecting us in the velocity and volume of stormwater making its way into Viviry Creek and its tributaries. Development in Hudson has an even more immediate effect on water quality along our Ottawa River shoreline. 

— Growing pressure on Hudson’s administration from developers to set a clear, coherent development policy. One is Nicanco, the owners of Sandy Beach. The previous administration signed an October 2017 agreement with Nicanco approving their 256-door development; its partners sought clear signals from this council whether we would honour the 2017 development agreement. Willowbrook, the other major development approved by the previous council, asked for and received the town’s support for an application to the environment ministry to construct roads, a bridge and drainage infrastructure. It’s hard to get lawyers to agree on much, but lawyers have agreed that the lack of a clear, coherent development policy will end up costing Hudson considerably in legal expenses. 

— Quebec legislation gives municipalities the right to say no to development, but it’s not that clear-cut. Jurisprudence — the body of legal decisions on the topic — cuts both ways. Changes to municipal legislation adopted this summer have given towns like Hudson added powers over development, including the ability to freeze new projects while their councils decide what direction future development should take.

— The emergence of popular initiatives opposed to generally accepted practices used by developers — clearcutting, draining, backfilling, levelling. Hudson is widely known among developers as a hard place to do business, especially so for multi-unit projects. At present Hudson has no mechanism to reconcile the right to ownership of private property with the rights of those opposed.

— Our vulnerability to changes to the aquifer that supplies Hudson and most of Vaudreuil-Soulanges with drinking water. Blind faith isn’t going to cancel out the cumulative effects of faster runoff, smaller and fewer retention areas on the aquifer’s ability to replenish itself. Sooner or later, there won’t be enough wetland left to capture the precipitation essential to a sustainable water supply.  Joint stewardship is the only path forward, but our MRC refuses to take a leading role. So we must. 

What public participation policy?

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Screen shot of Councillor Rikley-Krindle’s notice of motion presented at the Oct. 4 council meeting. Next up: Adoption of the draft Bylaw 526.8 (below).

This coming Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m., Hudson residents will be asked for their questions, comments and suggestions concerning Bylaw 526.8. (The numbers and the fact there’s a public consultation tell us it’s a proposed change to Hudson’s zoning bylaw.)

But in the words of Leonard Cohen, everybody knows the dice are loaded.

Draft bylaw 526.8 will directly affect as many as 10% of Hudson’s 2,200 residences and threatens to burden future budgets  with legal fees we haven’t seen since the Prévost administration.

Who will be affected? Council was supplied with a map showing how the 30-metre buffer extends out from the wetlands characterized in the 2008 Teknika audit, but it lacks the precision to allow someone to see exactly where the red line falls on their property. Legally, citizens can demand and receive the original map because it was compiled with publicly available information.

Today I was assured that a modified map and a cadastral overlay should be ready in time for Monday’s consultation so that property owners will be able to see how the bylaw affects them.

There is sufficient data on the the original map to say this: anyone living next to a wetland, no matter how insignificant, will be affected. Anyone whose properties back on Viviry Creek, Pine Lake and the chain of wetlands running from the Vaudreuil-Dorion border to Brookside will be affected. Originally, I estimated that 100 properties might be affected. Since then, I’ve been told the number could be more than double that and that we can’t even put an estimate on the legal costs of pioneering this approach. (So far, we’re the first municipality in Quebec to edict a 30-metre buffer without public consultation.)

By now you’re asking the same question I did — why is the adoption of 526.8 not subject to approval by referendum? I have been told that it is based on Article 113 (16) of the Loi sur l’aménagement et l’urbanisme (LAU), which rules out the registry/referendum process.

In exchange for removing the referendum approval process, the LAU requires Hudson to adopt a public participation process tailored to our local reality. Such a policy should “look to favour the availability of information, consultation and the active participation of citizens in the land use and urban planning process.” 

Here’s the kicker: 

“Once a municipality’s public participation process respects the requirements of the Act […] motions adopted by Council [under this Act] are not subject to approval by referendum.

However, the LAU requires that a municipality looking for a way around referendums must satisfy the following 10 requirements:

— A transparent decisional process;

— Consulting citizens prior to taking a decision;

— Complete, understandable, specific information on what is being decided;

— The right of citizens to influence the decision; 

— The active participation of the mayor and council in the consultation process;  

— Reasonable timelines that allow citizens to grasp what is being proposed;

— Allowing all points of view to be expressed, with a goal of reconciling different interests;

— Rules ensuring that everyone knows the rules on what the consultation can accomplish, who can participate, what constitutes fair comment and how it will be used to modify the project.

— Adoption of a bylaw governing public participation;

— The town’s participation policy MUST be posted on the town website. 

I can’t find a trace of a Hudson public participation policy, either on the town website or in any of the documents made available to council. One could argue that the town, in failing to fulfill the LAU’s terms for public participation, is therefore not entitled to adopt 526.8 without a referendum. 

How about a non-binding plebiscite? The town is within its powers to set up a register where those both for and against this bylaw have the opportunity to say yes or no. Backers of 526.8 claim 650 residents signed a petition in support of a moratorium on wetland development, but we’re hearing from people who insist they never would have signed had they known this bylaw will affect their tax bills, their neighbours and the town’s spending priorities.

Besides, a petition drafted by an unelected anti-development lobby group is’t recognized by the LAU as part of the legal process.

A plebiscite may not be binding on the town, but it would give some credibility to this botched process and provide much-needed balance to this hijacked debate.

So why haven’t citizens heard more about 526.8? Both the notice of motion and draft 526.8 were presented at the October council meeting. (It’s a legal trick allowing citizens no opportunity to ask questions before council votes.) 

At the beginning of the meeting I asked that we defer 526.8’s adoption until council was supplied with a solid scientific basis on which to triple the protection around wetlands. The mayor declared me out of order, which was incorrect. My deferral motion lacked a seconder, so it died.

Council then voted 5-2 to extend the buffer to 100 feet from Quebec’s statutory 10 metres. Daren Legault and I voted no.

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Adopted in speed and secrecy, 526.8 was the result of intensive lobbying by a small group of Como residents, some of whom seek a permanent freeze on all future development in Hudson. 

The science behind the 300% increase has never been disclosed or discussed. Instead, councillors appear to have agreed to the increase with the understanding that it could be dialled back if there was a problem.

Council was assured the scientific basis for a 30-metre wetland buffer would be supplied by Eco2Urb, a consulting firm specializing in the use of data on technical factors such as resilience, biodiversity, biodiversity, connectivity, flood mitigation and recreational or historical importance. I attended last Monday’s Eco2Urb workshop; the 30-metre buffer never came up in their presentation and nothing I heard supports Bylaw 526.8.

From the outset, council had trouble understanding how all the pieces leading to 526.8 would fit together.

Would Eco2Urb’s data give us better tools with which to shape Hudson’s future development? Some favoured freezing all development until we figured it out. Others supported a partial freeze based on what we already knew from two previous studies. Most saw 526.8 as a temporary measure pending recommendations from Eco2Urb and Axiome (another urban planning firm specializing in the legal aspects of development. 

Eco2Urb was hired in June on the mayor’s recommendation. No invitation for competitive bids was extended to other consulting firms offering similar services. At the time, council was wrestling with ways to protect wetlands and forests of interest identified in a 2008 audit by consultants Teknika HBA. (A 2016 followup by CIMA+ applied only to the urban perimeter, which accounts for less than half of Hudson’s total land area). We all agreed on the need to integrate the results of both reports into our zoning bylaws but disagreed on the best path forward. 

A council concern was how Eco2Urb’s formulaic approach to ranking wetlands and woodlands would serve us in coming up with better ways to defend against Hudson’s known vulnerabilities. Example: the mature forests covering Hudson’s many steep escarpments and ravines have no protection from affluent landowners willing to pay big fines for that million-dollar view. Another example: preventing landowners from backfilling and landscaping to the edges of wetlands and watercourses, wiping out shoreline vegetation that would otherwise mitigate erosion and flooding. 

On June 3, council voted 5-1 to hire Eco2Urb on the basis of their prior knowledge of our region. (The lone standout was District 3 councillor Chloe Hutchison, who felt the Teknika and CIMA+ studies contained the data required; we needed an urban planner/biologist/lawyer combination to incorporate existing data into our bylaws.)

Council approved the more expensive Option 2 ($89,367.50 plus tax) because it included workshops where Eco2Urb could explain their methodology to council and citizens. It was agreed that residents should be made aware of any decision that could conceivably alter real estate values.  

Citizens will get their one kick at the can beginning at 7 p.m. next Monday evening at the Community Centre.

Next: How Eco2Urb’s data makes Bylaw 526.8 redundant.

UPDATE: Hudson’s TOD saga

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Hudson’s only morning train: without guaranteed passengers, what are the odds of subsidies? Without better service, what are the odds of attracting more passengers, especially once the REM is running?  

On the agenda for Monday’s (Nov. 4/19) Hudson council meeting is Mayor Nicholls’s veto of the anti-TOD resolution adopted by five of six councillors during the October meeting.  The mayor has justified his veto on the grounds that councillors were confused by my resolution seeking Hudsons exclusion from the Montreal Urban Communitys TOD designation.

Since then, I fully expect that the mayor has lobbied hard to convince two or more councillors to change their vote, killing the resolution and opening the door to the Stantec study on how to apply the transport-oriented development (TOD) designation to Hudson’s benefit.

 While I’m not surprised at the mayor’s veto, I’m disappointed that we’ll never know whether the TOD designation was forced on Hudson or whether we had a choice.

Adopted by the previous council after a series of public consultations in the spring and summer of 2017, the TOD designation allowed developers to pump up the size and volume of their projects to meet densification requirements.

 Critics charge that these densification requirements are bogus, the result of flip-flops by both this and the previous council in agreeing to the TOD designation. They argue that the CMMs TOD densification requirements were pure fiction, written to allow an influx of development projects incompatible with Hudson architecture and Hudsons densities.

A close read of the chain of communications  between the Town of Hudson and the Montreal Metropolitan Communitys TOD project office clearly shows the current administrations original intent to obtain funding for an economic study on Hudsons train service. Specifics include:

coming up with concrete measures for the existing Hudson station;

costing out the electification of the existing rail line between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Hudson to attract more riders;

developing densification scenarios to ensure sustainable ridership, including two additional TODS in in the west end and on Bellevue;

 The document, signed by Hudsons former coordinator of project management, grants  and subsidies, was in response to a July 2018 request from an urban planner with the MMC’s TOD project office responsible for handling Hudsons funding application.

Before signing off on Hudson’s funding request, the MMC urbanist wanted a deeper understanding of the project.

 In the case of Hudson, we understand that there are many elements and orientations requiring evaluation (tramway, parking, densification, requalification, train level of service, etc., he noted, adding that it would be helpful if the administration were to prioritize what it sought to accomplish with the study.

 If I understand it well, the tramway study is an important subject. We would like to have a bit more detail on this concept, specifically what leads you to visualize an infrastructure of this type and how it would fit with your three-hubs concept as well as with existing rail infrastructure.

The MMC urbanist also wanted to know why the town wants further analysis of the existing TOD zone, including size, densification requirements, parking management and levels of public transit service.

 Since then, Hudson’s grant request somehow morphed into a study of the downtown core and how to reduce vehicle traffic and parking in favour of active transport — walking and biking — while adding greenspace and common areas. Gone are those original references to  economic aspects of  the TOD, multiple TODs, electrification, tramways and additional trains.

Earlier this fall, the mayor posted on social media his vision of the downtown core transformed into a bike and walking-friendly environment. In his comments at the start of the Oct. 7 council meeting, he painted a picture of an electric tram connecting three TODs with the Vaudreuil transit hub, about how his contacts with the ARTM will be the magic wand to convert the existing train a day each way into an environmentally and economically sustainable electric shuttle to Vaudreuil.

I know where this comes from. One of the books Jamie lent me, Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities by his former professor Patrick M. Condon, includes a chapter on streetcar and tramway developments. Condons case histories come from the West Coasts sprawling suburbs. Like Condons book on design charettes, the problem lies in reconciling a West-Coast design ethos with Quebecs 21st-century realities, including the REM and its eventual push to Vaudreuil. 

 A year ago Nov. 7, the mayor and I attended a Union des Municipalités transit summit in Trois-Rivières. Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau spoke, as did the heads of CN and VIA Rail and representatives of Quebecs rail freight and passenger tourist industry associations. Quebec Transport Minister François Bonnardel was the lunch keynote speaker. Jamie and I sat with Rigaud Mayor Hans Gruenwald at a table of CMM mayors talking about the REM, about EXO, about ARTM —— but not about trams and electrification of short lines. Their consensus: forget trams and streetcars unless youre a major city. If you can’t guarantee traffic, the funding isnt there for any form of rail.

 Several weeks ago, I met with Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon, who reiterated his belief that commuter-rail transit, even Hudson’s paltry two trains on weekdays, is disconnected from reality. It will cost $8 to 9 million to bring the EXO right of way up to minimum standards, Pilon said. Adding electrification would mean millions more in major infrastructure — hydro substations, overhead catenaries and light rail transit rolling stock.

Pilon, who sits on the CMM’s public transit committee, also predicts the eventual shutdown of the existing rail line once the REM is extended to Vaudreuil-Dorion. Hudson is missing a golden opportunity to turn the Vaudreuil-Hudson section into a dedicated non-motorized route for cyclists, skiers and pedestrians, he told me.

 After the October council meeting I called the MMC urban planner responsible for piloting Hudsons file through the requirements for the study grant. He told me the anti-TOD resolution put Hudsons funding request on hold until the TOD designation issue is resolved. A meeting scheduled for Oct. 24 was cancelled; the first opportunity for approval is now Nov. 28, when the five MMC executive committee members meet to vote on TOD project grants, including Hudsons.

Mayor Nicholls may succeed in saving the funding for the Stantec study, but what will that accomplish? Reading Stantec’s offer of service, I’m not clear on what it is we’re studying, or to what end. Multiple TODs? Conversion of the existing right of way to support an LRT shuttle between Hudson and Vaudreuil, when the existence of the Vaudreuil terminus itself is far from assured? I need to have things spelled out before I vote for them.

The mayor and I are both active transport advocates, but not just for the downtown core and not to the detriment of those who have no choice but to drive. I live in one of Hudson’s many enclaved neighbourhoods where no safe, direct all-weather walking route exists to downtown Hudson. There are no plans to fix this, which I find unacceptable.

One of the realities one learns as a councillor is to suck up one’s defeat on a file and accept the majority decision. I fault the mayor for failing to practise what he preaches — especially when 30 months ago, he was ripping the former administration for not challenging the TOD. Call me confused.

 

 

Bylaw 526.8: How will you be affected?

 

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One of the wetlands characterized in Hudson’s 2008 Teknika HBA audit. Quebec requires a 10-metre buffer between wetlands and any development. Hudson is proposing to extend this to 30 metres. This will come as a shock to some property owners.

Thursday was too wet to walk the ground, so I spent a few hours exploring the wetlands map that will accompany Hudson’s Bylaw 526.8. This is the draft bylaw adopted at the October council meeting which proposes to widen the buffer zone around Hudson’s designated wetlands from 10 to 30 metres.

I assume the map will be presented at the public consultation scheduled for the evening of Monday, Nov. 18 at the Community Centre. I am told this is a consultation only; there will be no petition to sign because this proposed bylaw is not subject to approval by referendum.

By my very rough estimate, the wider band of protection adopted at the last council meeting will significantly affect approximately 100 properties. These are spread throughout Hudson. The map doesn’t include cadastral numbers so I’ll list the affected streets, beginning with the lakefront:

— Main Road from about 814 to the foot of Macauley Hill, then again further east, at the foot of Birch Hill;

— all of Côte d’Azur, extending up to the last lot on Reid;

— everything on Yacht Club Road north of the tracks;

— all of Halcro;

— most of Sandy Beach, including the higher ground behind the Manoir and four lots on Royalview;

— the section of Main between Amity Lane and Chipman Point down to the shoreline. (This includes the parking lots of both the Auberge Willow and the ferry.)

Moving to other designated wetlands in the urban perimeter, lots on the following streets will be impacted:

Seignieurie, Bellevue, Cambridge, Upper Whitlock, Chemin du Golf, Côte St. Charles, Charleswood (including R-55, the site of the proposed seniors campus), Oakland, Hiilcrest, Windcrest, McMartin, Wellesley, Cameron, Brookside, Woodcroft, Appleglen, Como Gardens, Royal Oak, Parsons and Wilkinson. 

It appears that the 134-door Willowbrook development will lose about 20%, while Nicanco’s 256-unit residential project will be reduced to a string of doors along Beach Road. 

Citizens should be made aware that the proposed bylaw, while within the town’s powers, will be challenged in court. Questions requiring better explanation: 

— can the town apply the law selectively on a wetland-by-wetland basis? 

— who decides whether a wetland is worth preserving?

— who pays for the added layer of environmental protection?

Will someone living on one of these affected streets be required to hire a biologist to determine the extent and value of the wetland before they replace a septic tank, erect a shed or dig a swimming pool?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten an earful from residents who see this as a direct assault on their property rights. They accuse council of pandering to a small number of unregistered lobbyists who have worked relentlessly to make this bylaw happen. Property owners feel they’ve been lied to and jollied along by council members who seem to move the goalposts every time a project nears approval. They can’t understand why council is taking this route even before it has the science to back it up. They’re angry — rightly so. 

Even St. Lazare councillors — themselves no slouches when it comes to blocking wetland development — wonder why Hudson took this leap without examining the legal and financial ramifications. As we prepare for the 2020 budget, how much should we set aside for legal challenges? What will we be forced to give up as a result?

I urge everyone with questions about the wetland in their back yard to present themselves at the public consultation at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18. This will be the only chance you have to see for yourself what is being proposed and to make yourself heard.

The mayor has promised to present the scientific framework for the 30-metre buffer at another public consultation on Monday, Nov. 11, again at 7 p.m. at the Community Centre. If you have the time, attend the Eco2Urb presentation to get a better understanding of the game afoot.

Guess who pays these bills

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Hudson’s morning train. Exo replaces AMT, new Ile aux Tourtes bridge will include lanes for REM or LRT system, but there are no plans to upgrade the 30 km/h line between Vaudreuil and Hudson or replace fossil-fuelled dinosaurs. 

At Monday night’s October council meeting I proposed two amendments to the agenda. Both times I was shouted down by the mayor, a violation of both the Cities and Towns Act and Hudson’s own Bylaw 348 governing how council meetings are to be conducted.

My first motion was to defer adoption of draft bylaw 526.8-2019 controlling development in wetlands because it proposes a 30-metre buffer zone around watercourses and wetlands.  If I had been allowed to continue, I would have explained that the 100-foot buffer has yet to be tested in court. I need to hear from planners why a 30-metre buffer is required and from lawyers how much this environmental one-upmanship is going to cost the town.

In the end I had no seconder, so my only option was to vote against 526.8’s adoption and wait for a citizen to ask me why. In response to that question I explained that I have seen no legal or planning studies supporting the bigger buffer (Quebec and our MRC both mandate 10-metre buffers. ) I explained that there is no legal precedent for a 30-metre buffer that I am aware of. I also voiced my concern that Hudson taxpayers will pay dearly for the right to be the first municipality in Quebec to adopt such legislation.

Turns out it wasn’t just me with problems with the bigger buffer. Reaction to Monday’s draft adoption reverberated through town offices for the rest of the week as homeowners and developers began measuring the impact of a 30-metre buffer zone on their properties. A 30-metre no-go buffer around the town’s wetlands and watercourses will impact dozens of property owners as well as two large residential developments (Sandy Beach, Willowbrook). As currently written, Bylaw 526.8 will require the owner of a house backing on the Viviry to hire a biologist to be allowed to install a new septic tank — and you can forget about building an ornamental footbridge over that little stream on your property. It’s a bad law because it’s an unenforceable, unfair law — unless council is prepared to underwrite the cost of a town biologist available to all.

Then there’s the legal cost. Win or lose, lawyers bill. $300,000 annually? $400,000? $500,000? More?

My second motion was a draft resolution mandating the mayor, DG and interested council members to demand that the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC to repeal Hudson’s transport-oriented development (TOD designation — thereby exempting Hudson from the density requirements laid down in the MMC’s master plan, or PMAD.

Purpose of resolution: to follow through with Resolution R-3976-2015 adopted Dec. 7/15 by mandating the mayor, DG and members of council to meet with the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC to demand the removal of the CMM’s Transport-Oriented Development (TOD) designation.

WHEREAS the previous council adopted Resolution R-3976-2015 based on MVH-2015-162: proposition de développement compatible avec les orientations du PMAD dans la ville de Hudson par le retrait de la désignation TOD/ A development proposition compatible with PMAD orientations by withdrawing TOD designation,

WHEREAS the establishment of TODs is ultimately the responsibility of individual municipalities;

WHEREAS existing train service is underused and not guaranteed to continue once the REM is completed; 

WHEREAS alternative transit solutions are currently being explored in Hudson; 

WHEREAS Hudson fails to meet the criteria of a mass transit access point; 

WHEREAS the higher density norms accompanying TODs are not compatible with Hudson’s growth targets;

WHEREAS the current council has yet to establish how PMAD TOD densities will apply to Hudson’s urban perimeter;

BE IT RESOLVED that Council mandate the Mayor, Director-General and a council delegation to meet with the relevant CMM and MRC authorities to ask for the removal of Hudson’s Transport-Oriented Development (TOD) designation prior to considering any further TOD-oriented development.

This time I had a seconder and the motion was adopted 5-1.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but since this vote the signature of the Stantec contract is delayed indefinitely and the CMM is consulting internally.

The deeper I dive into the Hudson TOD file, the stranger it becomes. The previous council adopted essentially the same resolution in December 2015. (Bylaw R3976-2015AMT service du train de banlieue. Proposition de développement compatible avec PMAD par le retrait de la TOD).

Eighteen months later, the former DG convinced the mayor and councillors to let the who thing drop, then engineered the infamous concordance bylaws in 2017. These bylaws approved the concept of a one-kilometre TOD with its epicentre the former station, now the Hudson Village Theatre. The intent was to clear the way for densification of the urban core to up to 40 doors per hectare. (Hudson averages around eight units per hectare; the core is roughly twice that.)

Two major developments — Sandy Beach and Willowbrook — were quickly approved with a mandatory public consultation where nobody at the front of the room had a clue with it would mean. Meanwhile, the developers and DG moved quickly; the development agreement for the Sandy Beach project was given final approval the day before the previous council was dissolved for the November 2017 election.

What was the story behind the 180-degree flip by the last council? Here’s the timeline:

• Spring 2015; after the “Omnibus” bylaw project comes under question, Keith Heller questions the basis for CMM’s decision to designate Hudson for TOD zoning (as per PMAD). Asks mayor and council for information about who is responsible for assigning the designation and offers to make a case for removal on behalf of the town. 

• August 2015; A meeting is held between Mayor Prevost, Duncan Campbell (Hudson DG), Mayor Pilon (Vaudreuil Mayor and CMM representative), Jean Lalonde (Prefect of MRC), Alexandra Lemieux (Urban Planner at MRC), Keith Heller and Fred Dumoulin. During meeting, the case is made by Keith and Fred as to why it would be best to remove TOD designation from Hudson. The proposal to ask for removal of the TOD is met with general consensus amongst all meeting participants. The meeting discussion then shifts to talk about how to achieve this. It is decided that, following a council resolution, a letter should be sent to the MRC making a case for removal of the TOD designation. Fred agrees to draft the letter. 

• August 2015; a first draft of the letter is sent to Mayor Prevost and Duncan Campbell for review the following week. After a few reviews and iterations, the letter is accepted. 

• December 2015; council passes a resolution to pursue TOD zoning removal and to formally send letter to the MRC. 

• Summer 2016; after hearing no news on the matter, Keith probes the new Hudson General Manager, Jean-Pierre Roy, for an update on the situation. A meeting is held between Jean Pierre Roy, Nathalie Lavoie, Keith Heller and Fred Dumoulin. At the meeting, we are updated on the fact that subsequent to the letter being sent to the MRC, another meeting was held between Hudson Council, the MRC and Pilon. Although it’s unclear what exactly transpired at the meeting, we were told that there wasn’t a strong consensus between council members about the issue, which resulted in the other meeting participants recommending that the matter be abandoned. 

• Summer 2016; Keith and Fred pressed for an additional meeting with Jean-Pierre Roy and council members to gain further clarification and to restate the case for TOD designation to be removed. No progress was made in obtaining a meeting. 

• May 2017; Keith reengages with Jean-Pierre Roy to follow up on the matter and ask for clarification on why the town is no longer pursuing the TOD matter. Jean Pierre responded the following day and agreed to schedule a meeting. However, the meeting was never scheduled and no further progress was made.

Jump to September 2018. An email chain between the town’s former grant writer and his opposite number at the CMM sets out the terms and conditions for a grant of up to $100,000 for a study concerning Hudson’s TOD. It mentions a single TOD, although earlier correspondence mentions TODs, plural. The study must be completed by year’s end.

Despite suggestions in caucus that the study should focus on why Hudson is in the TOD in the first place and what can be done to reduce the impact on Hudson’s quaint small-town core, council eventually opted to approve spending over $82,500 plus taxes on validating what is essentially the mayor’s vision for the core — fewer vehicles and less public parking, narrower streets, wider sidewalks and plenty of greenery. There would be consultation with citizens at some point.

Monday night, council split 3-3 on a proposal to hire Stantec, Inc. to facilitate the mayor’s orientations. The mayor broke the tie, voting for the Stantec hire. The study wouldn’t cost taxpayers a cent, he assured residents. The CMM will be picking up the tab — if the Stantec contract is approved.

While this is going on, another $80,000++ study ($81,923 plus taxes) is somewhere between started and finished. Although the Eco2Urb study should be close to done by now (given the desperate need for justification of that bigger buffer) I haven’t been briefed, leading me to wonder what we are getting for the money.

I do know this: the TOD/PMAD fight is hurting Hudson.

Critics accuse the administration and council of using the PMAD as an excuse for overly large and disproportionate infill projects in the town core as well as justification for greater densities in the east and west ends. Others insist the town has far more control over density, lot use, parking, landscaping and planting than it currently exercises. Everybody’s angry because they see their vested interests challenged.

As council agreed Monday, wouldn’t it be smarter to seek a way out of the TOD before we spend more money accommodating it?

Annexed below are documents I presented to council Monday.

One of the consequences of all this analysis paralysis is a year’s delay of the promise to pave Main Road between Côte St. Charles and Beach. The DG had found the money ($1.32 million) in this year’s budget. The head of infrastructure had it figured out what needed to be fixed first and what was needed for the loan bylaw. But concerns were raised about whether the timeline was realistic, especially given Stantec’s Dec. 31 deadline.  Can an call to tender wait that long? Can we consult citizens and stakeholders and integrate their ideas and concerns in sufficient time? Might it not be better to defer Main and pave somewhere else? Already, we’re running out of time if we want to post on SEAO, the province’s management system for all contracts of $101,000+.

I’m sure every councillor has her or his preferences. Mine would be to widen and rebuild  ring roads like Lakeview and core arterials such as Selkirk, Oakland, Elm and Maple. If we are to rebuild Main, where will the traffic go? I can’t see 18-wheelers on Lakeview, a street of dog walkers, mom pushing strollers and kids on bikes. I suggested that we rebuild and widen Lakeview and save a finish coat of asphalt for once Main reopens.

ANNEXES:

Fred Dumoulin summary:

My view has always been that we should have the TOD designation removed, not just because it gives the town better flexibility on how to plan for growth, but also because the designation as defined in PMAD fails to take into consideration the particulars of each location. It’s applied in a “one size fits all” approach. The density figures required for a TOD are the same regardless of actual population, access to, and capacity of mass transit, or roadway infrastructure to support ingress and egress to mass transit access points. For example, the TOD at Atwater Market is considered the same as the one in Pointe-Claire, or in Hudson. At least this was the case as I understood it when I looked into this in 2015. At the time, we had been told by mayor Pilon, who was then also a member of the CMM committee representing our region, that removal of TOD designation was mainly a choice of the towns and that they could likely have it removed if they made a strong and valid case for it to their MRC.

DRAFT OF LETTER TO CMM

This letter from the Town of Hudson to the Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) makes its case for removal of its TOD designation. Hudson is a rural community with a total area of 2,162 hectares, of which slightly more than 50% is zoned for agricultural use exclusively. It is rich in heritage and is distinguished by its access to greenspace and nature trails, and by its focus on arts and culture. These characteristics form an important part of its appeal. They need to be preserved because they will be integral in the realization of the strategic revitalization projects now under way. 

The Transit Oriented Development (TOD) designation assigned to the Town of Hudson is detrimental to the town’s urban development goals. In the case of Hudson, it is in conflict with some of the key premises of the Plan Métropolitain d’Aménagement et de Développement (PMAD) that aim to preserve greenspace and increase the use of public transit. 

Furthermore, Hudson does not satisfy the criteria required to create a TOD The concept of a TOD is proven and desirable in dealing with the issue of urban sprawl. The characteristics of a TOD were defined by Peter Calthorpe, the urban planner, and are accepted as industry standards. It requires, for example, high frequency transit, which does not exist in Hudson. Hudson is currently developing a strategic plan to support its revitalization and growth. It will ensure a vibrant community that meets the needs of its residents and business owners. This planning process embraces and prepares for the projected population growth expected in the Greater Montréal Metropolitan region, as noted in the PMAD. 

The projections published in the PMAD state that the Montréal region may grow by 530,000 new residents between 2011 and 2031. About 20% of this growth is expected in the “South Belt”, which includes the Town of Hudson. Based on these projections, on the relative size of Hudson and of its developable land of about 80 hectares, it is reasonable to plan for an influx of between 1 to 2 thousand new residents during this time. To utilize diminishing land resources as effectively as possible, Hudson’s urban development goal ensures that population growth occurs primarily in designated urban areas. 

This supports the underlying premise outlined in the PMAD which calls for increasing density in urban centers rather than sprawling into woodlands, farmlands and greenspaces. It is important to note that Hudson is not opposed to densification of its developable land and plans to comply with the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s density requirements of 16 units per hectare. The Town of Hudson also aims to improve its residents’ access to effective public transit. This will make the town a more viable option for daily commuters to Montréal and contribute to decreasing traffic congestion. The primary transit currently available in Hudson is a once-daily commuter train which provides access to Montréal via the neighboring transportation hub located in Vaudreuil-Dorion. This once daily train service has resulted in Hudson receiving a TOD designation for the area around the train stop. This is next to the Village Theatre on Wharf Street. 

There are several issues with a TOD in this area: 

• The characteristics used to determine the location and viability of TODs were defined and published by Calthorpe Associates. They are accepted as industry guidelines. The requirements include proximity to a high frequency transit point and adequate automobile access from highways and arterials. 

• Hudson does not have high frequency transit. It has no arterial roadways connecting the regional population to the train stop. The only access roads are meandering, scenic, residential roads with 40 Km/hr. speed limits. 

• Characterization studies and technical analysis of the access points have not been completed (PMAD page 84). Therefore, no technical basis has been provided to support the creation of a TOD in this area. 

• The train station in Hudson was converted to a theater for performing arts and hasn’t been used as a train station for many years. It provides no infrastructure whatsoever to facilitate or enable a transit access point. Its accompanying parking has space for 20 cars maximum. 

• The commuter train connecting Hudson to Vaudreuil-Dorion is once daily on weekdays only. It is used by a maximum of 20 people daily. 

• Commuter train ridership in Hudson is only 1.7% of total ridership on the AMT line, proving its overall ineffectiveness as a transit solution. 

• Hudson residents would be better served by using the nearby commercial core and transit hub located in Vaudreuil-Dorion. This is similar to neighboring communities such as St-Lazare and Rigaud which have no TODs. In addition to these logistical issues, the creation of a TOD in this area is in conflict with some of Hudson’s development goals. 

• Much of the developable land within the radius of the TOD is pristine greenspace, including old growth woods, wetlands and the Viviry river delta which feeds into the Lake of Two Mountains. Creating a transit hub in the midst of this sector goes against the very recommendations in the PMAD, which aim to preserve areas such as this for the enjoyment of all residents in the Montréal region. 

• The center of Hudson has been earmarked in the PMAD as one of the most important heritage zones in the Montréal region, including a scenic road which bisects the core of the town. The proposed TOD is centered in this very area. Creating a mass transit access point with the accompanying TOD in this area will put the preservation of heritage structures at risk and damage its scenic qualities. By removing the TOD designation from Hudson, the required density for new developments would be reduced from 40 units per hectare to 16 units per hectare. Hudson’s growth and revitalization plans can still be satisfied with these lower density numbers. 

Hudson can accommodate its share of growth in the Montréal region by increasing density in selected parts of its developable land, which totals about 80 hectares. At 16 dwellings per hectare, this represents a possible capacity of 1,280 new doors. Assuming 2.5 people per household, this represents up to 3,200 new residents, which far exceeds the projected growth for the town. This demonstrates that the higher density norms that accompany a TOD are not necessary for Hudson to fulfill its growth objectives. An effective shuttle service connecting Hudson to Vaudreuil-Dorion’s TOD and its burgeoning commercial district will better serve Hudson’s population. It will not only increase usage of public transit but will remove the necessity of creating secondary transit access roads and a TOD. Furthermore, it supports the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s broader vision of making Vaudreuil-Dorion the main transit hub for the region. 

Given that:

– The establishment of TODs is ultimately the responsibility of individual municipalities;

– Alternative transit solutions are currently being considered in Hudson; 

– The continuation of train service, while not yet determined, is not guaranteed to continue; 

– Hudson fails to meet the criteria of a mass transit access point; 

– The higher density norms accompanying TODs are not necessary for Hudson to reach its growth targets. 

It is therefore requested that the CMM remove the TOD designation from the Town of Hudson.

Letter to the editor

Local Journal

May 25, 2017          

Mayor Prevost and Hudson Council,

I have been reflecting on the Hudson consultation meeting of last evening, May 23, to discuss the proposed compliance by-laws. It is always, of course, a difficult situation when a government process restricts citizens’ rights to vote on changes that will affect them.

A key issue being discussed last night was the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) designation being assigned to Hudson as part of the MRC (regional) and CMM master plan (PMAD). Those in attendance last night strongly oppose this designation for Hudson in part because Hudson does not meet the criteria for being a TOD. As you know the significance of this designation is the requirement for much high density within a 1-kilometre radius of the train station. At the meeting I was given to understand you (mayor and council) also disagree with this designation for Hudson but felt compelled to submit Hudson’s development plan quickly to allow for completion of the MRC (regional) master plan.

Rather than submitting a plan none of us believe in, I would suggest quickly submitting a plan in compliance in all respects with the MRC master plan with the exception of including the TOD. You will then have complied with the MRC timing requirements while still insisting on not being a TOD.

It can’t be right that we are compelled to submit our plan which we do not believe is in the best interests of our town.

With Respect,

Keith Heller

Hudson

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZIS/SPZ: Redrawing the red line

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Above, on the eve of the 2019 flooding peak, April 26/19 composite map includes satellite-derived current water levels, plus overlays of 2017 flooding (in ocre), pre-2017 20 and 100-year lines (in blue and aqua) and predicted flood levels based on flow volume and velocity. Based on this, authorities predicted water level at Ste. Anne de Bellevue would top 25 metres above sea level on April 28. (It stopped at 24.55 — the 2017 level.)
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Above, part of Hudson’s special protection zone as decreed in the June 17 order in council. In Hudson’s case, the red line was derived from drone images taken at the flood’s peak, confirmed in certain locations by GPS camera images captured by a photographer walking the floodline.
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July 15/19: revised ZIS/SPZ map places Hudson Yacht Club, Jack Layton Park and most of Sandy Beach and half of Quarry Point in the red zone. Hudson was the first municipality in Quebec to adopt a bylaw banning new construction and restricting reconstruction in the 20-100 flood zone.

In a brilliantly choreographed show of strategic contrition, the Legault government has taken barely a month to walk back its threat to shut down waterfront development in flood zones.

Well, sort of walked it back. All municipalities now have the competency to allow owners of at-risk properties to ‘immunize’ their dwellings with waterproof foundations. Some, like Ste. Marthe-sur-le-lac,  will continue to protect flood-prone developments with dikes, levees and seawalls. Red-line surveillance will be up to regional government — MRCs and the 82-municipality Montreal Metropolitan Community. 

Is this CAQ contrition pivot a variant on the same old political game? I don’t think so. Even if the CAQ walks it back by 50%, the red line is changing everything. I attended the July 4 public consult at the Chateau Vaudreuil, where stories of cancelled home insurance and blocked real estate deals resonated with a skeptical crowd. The sitting ducks at the front of the room were from the ministries of the environment, municipal affairs and public security. We wondered whether they were paid extra to absorb the verbal beating.

Interesting facts emerged in the course of the three-hour marathon, well emceed by Duncan Campbell. The meeting began with an admission by the environment ministry’s Nathalie Provost that there were many inaccuracies in the original June 17 red zone mapping; they would be corrected on the basis of submissions by municipalities and individuals. A revised version of the red line was promised for July 17 and a deadline for revisions set for Aug. 17. MRCs will be allowed to lift the ZIS/SPZ in specific municipalities once the ministry is satisfied. A provincewide “elaboration of land use planning action pertaining to flooding” policy will be in place by Dec. 19.

Quebec’s unforced admission and revision commitment didn’t stop people from emoting about the trauma of having their high, dry home arbitrarily placed in the red zone. Several Hudson residents expressed their concern at the vagueness of the process. Others gave vent to variations on a popular flood conspiracy theory — that Hydro Quebec deliberately held back water in its Ottawa River reservoirs in order to be able to sell more subsidized power to the Americans. Many who spoke at last Thursday’s meeting voiced fear this government will cover up the conspiracy while downloading financial and social costs of Hydro’s complicity onto municipalities and their citizens.

Many from the Lake St. Francis side of Vaudreuil-Soulanges were there to point out obvious flaws in the red-line mapping and to demand their correction. (With major hydro dams at each end, Lake St. Francis water levels don’t tend to fluctuate.) St. Anicet mayor Gino Moretti led a delegation of townspeople demanding that their town’s waterfront be removed from the red line. “We have memories going back nine generations […] nobody can recall it flooding.” Moretti told the room.  Earlier, Moretti told me his town risked losing up to 20% of its valuation. “Why is Lac Saint-François in the flood zone? It never floods.”.

Those in the hall supplied other disturbing facts, like the dumping of thousands of tonnes of rock into the shallow, rocky channel between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Pincourt. It was the cheapest place to dump spoil from the construction of the new Champlain Bridge but it had the effect of raising water levels upstream.

A St. Stanislas resident wondered whether the scientific basis of the red line was tainted by the use of addresses of people who may have received flood compensation. For a crowd fixated on a vision of incompetent bureaucrats running amuk with red markers, it was more grist for the mill.

Some petitioners attempted surfing on the crowd’s emotional waves, like the Hudson resident wondering whether the red line should be extended to eco-sensitive wetlands and forests of interest. Why, he wondered, would Quebec not compensate municipalities for keeping their wetlands and greenspaces undeveloped?

How did the red line get decided? It’s a story told in maps.

At the top of this page is a map generated from overlays of 2017-2019 satellite data and a comparison of flow rates. It was supplied to Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC municipalities on Friday, April 26 as civil protection authorities were grappling with the suddenness of the rise in water levels. Sandbagging and other protection measures began earlier in 2017, partly because the Legault CAQ was insisting to us that it was done subsidizing bailouts for victims of repeat flooding. Hudson was among the many Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities reluctant to spend money without knowing whether Quebec would reimburse legitimate flood-related expenses.  Elected officials were discouraged from calling in the military to sandbag private property; in retrospect, we should have used their equipment and manpower to install jersey barriers — sectional concrete dividers — to break the waves and hold back the surge of debris in several sectors of town.

In hindsight, there wasn’t much that Hudson and other shoreline municipalities could have done to hold back the Ottawa. Above-average snowfalls, a late thaw and heavy spring rains filled rivers throughout eastern Canada. Dozens overflowed their banks, flooding low-lying areas along the Ottawa, Chaudière, Saint-Maurice, Saint John and St. François. Civil protection authorities in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes were overwhelmed.  Municipalities all over eastern Canada were demanding federal and provincial assistance to armour key installations and evacuate/shelter flood refugees.

The Ottawa is Quebec’s worst headache because it threatens Greater Montreal and thousands living in flood-prone areas at the conjunction of the St. Lawrence. Flow rates in the St. Lawrence are monitored and controlled by the International Joint Commission, which balances competing demands from municipalities, industry and commercial shipping interests with a mix of dams, dikes, locks and control structures.

The Ottawa River Regulating Committee’s charter is based on the IJC, but there’s more than one cook in this kitchen. Hydro-Québec oversees operation of five dams and reservoirs; Ontario Power oversees three.  Government Services Canada is responsible for two more, while Environnement Québec runs the three centrals on the Lièvre River.

Before heading to the Chateau Vaudreuil, I ran into Wharf Road resident Richard Grinnell at the Hudson IGA. Like thousands of waterfront residents touched by this spring’s repeat of the 2017 flooding on the Ottawa River, Grinnell believes deliberate decisions taken by Hydro Quebec and other dam operators were factors in two catastrophic floods in three years.

He cites Hydro’s own data to show it didn’t release enough water from its reservoirs in in the springs of 2017 and 2019 to create adequate capacity for record runoff from heavy rain atop multiple layers of ice built up over a winter of freeze/thaw cycles. Two bad winters in three years should be all the proof anyone needs to demand an inquiry into the practices of public utilities and their role in the 2017 and 2019 flooding.

Third parties and NGOs such as the Ottawa Riverkeepers don’t agree, noting the absence of large reservoirs that would allow a stakeholder to assume control. Water levels and streamflow data on the Ottawa River and its tributaries are overseen by the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB), created in 1983 to: “endeavour to ensure that the integrated management of the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River basin provides protection against flooding along the Ottawa River and its tributaries, and particularly in the Montreal region and thereby augments the principle of ‘no less protection’ to downstream interests contained in the International Joint Commission’s orders of approval for regulation of Lake Ontario.”

One’s actions must not impact on anyone living downstream.

The ORBB has compiled Carillon dam streamflow data since 1964, the year the dam was completed.  One can easily compare annual peaks, lows and means for every month of every year the dam has operated. Average peak flows over the first four months of high-water years range between 2,960 cubic metres/second in 1981 and 3,261 metres/second in 2017. In 2019, the four-month average was 3,051 cubic metres/second. The only trend  I can see is a gradual increase in flow rates since 1964, suggesting that more runoff is feeding the Ottawa River watershed.

Hudson counts some 200 homes touched in some way by the 2017 and 2019 flooding. Some 60 of those were turned into more or less dry islands rendered inaccessible by flooded, eroding debris-covered private roads. Another 34 were flooded to the extent that Hydro Quebec cut their power at the transformer to protect life and limb. Driving around town at the flood’s peak, we saw Main Road cut from the ferry eastward, with close encroachment of the water next to Finnegan’s and at the foot of Montée Manson. We lost Wharf, Halcro and all or part of a dozen other public and private streets. Already, construction and renovation projects are being affected by the red line. Clearly, the red line raises concerns about the resiliency of the Pine Beach project as currently configured.

In 2018, this council adopted a new-construction ban between the 20 and 100-year floodlines. As the water rose again this spring, we realized  the need to establish a high-water mark that could stand up in court. As the water rose, the town hired a drone to trace the high-water line along the 12 kilometres of shoreline. It also hired a photographer with a GPS-co-ordinated camera to validate the drone’s flight at ground level in certain sectors. The results were shared with the ministry compiling the red zone map. As you can see by comparing the second and third maps, there are minor differences between the June 17 and July 15 versions.

I can grasp the desperation of someone like Pincourt resident Robin Pope. She and her husband sold their lakefront home on the condition the buyer is able to build a garage. After buying their dream lot nearby and planning construction of their new home, the red line decreed by the June 17 order in council placed their old house on the edge of Pincourt’s red zone and killed their buyer’s plans for a garage. Everything is frozen. “Our houses are our economic safety nets, Pope told the sympathetic crowd. “You’ve cut us off at the knees.”

This is the dilemma we face. Should Hudson concentrate expenditures on its municipal structures — lift public roads and sewage pumping stations and ensure the resiliency of our water, sewer and drainage systems? Raising Main Road at Finnegan’s, the ferry and Montee Manson would cost hundreds of thousands; is it a worthwhile investment? Is there a cheaper, more resilient way of repairing the installations at Jack Layton Park and Sandy Beach? Should the public purse be opened to assist in floodproofing private neighbourhoods and cul-de-sacs? The money has to come from somewhere and at this point in the 2019 budget, has to come out of something else.  On the other hand, waterfront real estate represents a big chunk of Hudson’s roughly $12 million in tax revenues; does it make economic sense to participate in shared-cost projects (raising low-lying streets, adding wave protection) to safeguard that investment?

It would be great if Hydro agreed to foot part of the the bill but I can’t see that happening in Quebec in 2019.  The trouble with conspiracy theories: they’re hard to prove. Maybe Hydro-Quebec is a guilty party in a civil action. To what degree? 25%? 50%? Solely and totally guilty? Say a judge approves a class action lawsuit. How long will it take to get to court, to go to appeal or settled out of court? Longer than it takes people to get on with their lives.

That is what will decide the red line. Hard, verifiable data, presented by a good lawyer. Those with money and perseverence might see a payoff. I favour negotiation and common sense.

Good advice update:

The original ZIS/SPZ red line included part of District 5 resident Diane Piacente’s Hudson lakefront property. Piacente, one of the Hudson residents at the packed Chateau Vaudreuil public forum, followed advice given out. “I sent an email to the email address provided and sent photos of the waterfront, my fence (which sits on the 100). [They show] how far the house is, the pool, the shed and kayaks. Also sent scanned copy of certificate of location showing flood lines.”

Piacente thinks the town should have explained the process to its citizens sooner. ” This was a serious issue, especially if you are trying to sell your house, extremely stressful for those concerned. “Sure, you have until August 19 to notify the government if you are in the red zone and shouldn’t be but if you were in their shoes wouldn’t you like to have this settled sooner than later? Glad they are listening and fixing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neonics: a pretense at control?

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Urban beekeeper Alexandre McLean, Tribune jeunesse president Louis-Philip Prévost and municipal councillor Michèle Arseneault inaugurate four urban hives in St. Bruno’s parc Frère-Marcel-Alary. (stbruno.ca/ruches)

The question above reflects a discussion in Canadian municipalities over how far they can or should go in regulating neonicitinoid pesticides, the insect-killing family of chemicals similar to tobacco’s active ingredient. 

At its monthly meeting April 15, St. Bruno de Montarville’s municipal council instituted a blanket ban on neonicotinoid pesticide use within its urban perimeter. St. Bruno’s move extends a March 6 edict from Quebec’s environment ministry banning the use of neonics on lawns and greenspaces within urban centres. In St. Bruno, neonics were already banned in certain sensitive zones and near schools and daycares. The Town hasn’t used pesticides on its public greenspaces for more than 25 years. 

St. Bruno mayor Martin Murray: « Tout comme nos citoyens, nous sommes préoccupés par le déclin des abeilles. Un tiers des aliments retrouvés dans nos assiettes dépend de leur travail de pollinisation. Ainsi, nous croyons qu’il est important d’interdire tout néonicotinoïde en milieu urbain. Cette mesure s’ajoute aux autres actions qui ont vu le jour à Saint-Bruno visant à protéger les colonies d’abeilles : les ruches urbaines au parc du Frère-Marcel-Alary, l’hôtel à insectes au parc Duquesne et l’intégration de fleurs et arbustes favorisant les pollinisateurs sur le territoire de la ville. »

In 2015, concern over declining honeybee populations prompted St. Bruno to mandate local honey producer Miel Larüche to instal four urban hives in parc Frère-Marcel-Alary. The hives each produce approximately 40 kilos of honey a year. The aim: to raise awareness among St. Bruno residents of the importance of pollinators to Quebec’s food supply and diversity. 

One reason why St. Bruno, like hundreds of other municipalities across Canada, isn’t likely to extend the ban to cover the entire municipality — Mount Bruno Country Club, a lovely old-school course nestled into Mount Bruno’s southern flank. Like all private golf courses in Quebec, Mount Bruno Country Club may or may not use neonicitinoid pesticides. Quebec’s pesticide laws don’t require that information to be made public.

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From The Guardian: a 2018 study shows why neonics are lethal to honeybees and other pollinating insects.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are prohibited throughout the European Union and in other countries as well as in several U.S. states because of a growing body of research-based concerns about harmful effects on mammals and birds. Because they are water-soluble and slow to degrade, there is growing concern that neonics used on arable land are percolating into the aquifer and concentrating there at growing levels, thereby building up in the food chain.

Quebec has led Canadian action on banning the domestic use of agricultural chemicals, thanks to fearless voices like Hudson’s late Dr. June Irwin (immortalized in documentary filmmaker Paul Tukey’s A Chemical Reaction). 

In 1998, the Town of Hudson was victorious in a 10-year legal struggle with the lawn-maintenance industry and their chemical-industry backers. The fight went to the Supreme Court where Justice Claire l’Heureux-Dubé’s majority-decision ruling evoked  the precautionary principle — do no harm. In practical terms, L’Heureux-Dubé’s ruling meant that unless the safety of a chemical can be established scientifically for a specific usage, the prudent course of action is to ban its use for that purpose. 

The anti-neonic campaign in Quebec peaked in December 2015, when Montreal banned all neonicotinoids – without exception – on all properties within the city limits, including the Botanical Garden, all agricultural areas and all golf courses, drawing pushback from the chemical industry and agribusiness. 

Since then, the industry has successfully lobbied a succession of governments for whom the environment isn’t as big an issue as it once was. Testing protocols were revised. Existing bans, such as that of 2,4-D, were reversed. Documentation became unavailable.

Under Quebec’s original pesticide regulations, golf courses were required to submit annual reports on pesticide use and make them available to municipalities as well as to the environment ministry. The aim was to encourage the industry to strive for year-over-year reductions in their use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in exchange for the privilege of continuing their unregulated use.

It hasn’t worked that way. There is anecdotal evidence that not only has the golf industry been unable to reduce its addiction to pesticide use, but climate change and golfers’ demand for perfect greens and fairways have pushed courses to use more herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. 

Worse, there appears to have been a change of heart at the federal and provincial levels when it comes to ensuring the licencing process is transparent and usage statistics are available to the public.   

As a private citizen, I set out in March to obtain information on golf course pesticide use in my community from the Environment and Fight against Climate Change ministry. It took me half a dozen calls to hit the wall. My answer from a regional environment ministry functionary in Longueuil: some documents are accessible to the public, others are not available, while others I would have to obtain from third parties — the end users themselves.

I pushed for an explanation why usage data once retrievable from the ministry’s own website is now either either unavailable or subject to an Access to Information request. I never got one. 

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Agronomist Louis Robert is well-known throughout Quebec for his expertise on soil and seedlings — and on the effects of agricultural chemicals. He was fired last year for revealing the role the pesticide industry plays in determining what agricultural chemicals are in use on farms throughout the province.

While I was chasing data on pesticide use, a bigger battle was raging. Louis Robert, a Quebec agronomist in the employ of the agriculture ministry, was fired last year for exposing private sector interference in government studies into pesticide use.

 With Robert now seeking election as the head of the provincial association of agronomists, the Legault caquistes are looking to control political fallout from the worst black eye they’ve suffered since being elected. The bureaucracy’s interpretation of that order has been to block or control the flow of information. Without accurate information about who is using what and in what amount, meaningful municipal pesticide discussion is impossible.

Robert continues his assault on the agricultural chemical lobby. Earlier this month, he alleged in a RadCan interview that Quebec farmers are the heaviest users of chemical fertilizers in North America — and as with pesticides, the private sector’s influence on public policy is the reason. 

Louise and I pushed our MP Peter Schiefke for the process behind the federal government’s re-approval of the popular herbicide glysophate (Roundup).  He told us the federal government had mandated an arms-length group of researchers to review scientific literature on glysophate to determine whether the science supporting its licencing was sound. They gave it their thumbs up. 

So, in the absence of proof to the contrary, we’ll assume glysophate is okay in Canada even though U.S. civil-damages juries have approved multimillion-dollar payouts to sick or dying golf industry employees and their families. So much for Justice L’Heureux-Dubé’s precautionary principle.

There’s a part of me that sympathizes with the golf industry. I grew up caddying, then learning to play at Whitlock. Golf courses are Hudson’s biggest employers and I’m guessing it’s the same story in many residential municipalities. A 2016 Mount Bruno Country Club post seeking a golf course superintendent exemplifies the tightrope the industry has to walk (my boldface): 

—Providing agronomic direction to maintain the golf course at the highest level of playing conditions attainable in our climate.

— Following industry standards for the healthy growth of the golf course grasses, trees and other applicable plant materials.

—Developing and implementing programs for turfgrass, material and chemical maintenance and asset management.

Establishing good working relationships with regulatory bodies.

Golfers paying thousands or tens of thousands for membership want perfection. That means emerald-green fairways and flawless greens. If they don’t find their Eden, they’ll walk and take their monthly meal tab to a course able to maintain a higher standard. Why risk losing members to a no-pesticides policy? Stick to industry standards, keep the bureaucrats happy and nobody gets hurt.

Nobody, unless one believes the outliers who believe intensive use of agricultural chemicals on golf courses pose a serious risk to employees, players — and maybe to the municipalities they’re located in.

Environmental filmmaker Andrew Nisker’s 2017 documentary Dad and the Dandelions (The Nature of Things, CBC) questions whether his father’s exposure to pesticides might have led to the non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma that took him — and sickened other golf course employees he spoke with. One of the doctors Nisker interviews practices in Collingwood, a rural community on Georgian Bay. He’s seeing the same cancers and other illnesses among golfers as he sees in his farmers— and both cohorts top the provincial risk list.

Nisker visits two pesticide-free courses, one in Martha’s Vineyard, the other in St. Andrew’s, Scotland. The Martha’s Vineyard course depends on the right blend of indigenous grasses and traditional remedies like dish soap and white vinegar. St. Andrew’s has daisies and the occasional cow pie. 

The best line is the response to Nisker’s question to the Old Course’s retired groundkeeper: what would be the reaction of players if the Old Course was transported to North America. 

Fire the groundkeeper!

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Concrete barriers at the entrance to St. Bruno’s parc du Frère-Marcel-Alary.

Quebec’s latest rules regarding neonics:

Municipalities:

— As of March 8 2019, ban the retail sale and professional application of neonics for use on grass in urban areas — except on golf courses.  

— Permits the retail sale of biopesticides and synthetic pyrethrins, now classed as Group 5 pesticides posing little risk;

— Places further controls on the sale of mixed pesticides for domestic use;

— Permits the injection of pesticides to control Emerald Ash Borer near daycares and schools.

— Permits the domestic use of pesticides containing D-phenothrine and tetramethrine against wasps, hornets and bees near daycares and schools.

Agriculture: 

— Neonics, long used to coat seeds so they don’t get eaten by pests before they sprout, are approved for use on oats, barley, wheat, soybeans, canola, feed, seed and table corn — but are subject to stricter storage and usage controls.

— Neonic retail sales will be subject to a tighter permit system to ensure they are not sold for cosmetic use. For example, retail transactions will now require signed authorization from a licenced agronomist. 

— Existing regulations regarding wetland and watercourse protection and overspray prevention will be applied with greater rigour. 

— Farmers must keep registers of neonic usage; wholesalers must declare annual sales.

Industry: 

— Permits will now be required for fumigation with sulfuryl fluoride, magnesium phosphate;

— Railways and other transport corridors will no longer be required to remit the Ministry a report on pesicide application;

— All commercial pesticide purchases, sales and applications must be recorded on forms for that purpose; the registry no longer wants to see invoices or purchase orders.