Legault’s first big fail

 

Sunday,  April 5, 2020 COVID-19 journal entry:  

At 1 p.m. this afternoon,  François Legault hit his first false note when he announced a three-week extension (until May 4) of the forced closure of all businesses deemed non-essential.

Until today, Legault led the country and the continent in his measured response to the developing coronavirus pandemic. Quebec was the first jurisdiction in North America to tighten the net on public gatherings, then lock down most public activities in mid-March, when the rates of infection, hospitalization and deaths continued to accelerate. Legault waited until March 23 before ordering non-essential commerces and businesses to shut down until April 13. He was careful to characterize measures taken to overcome community resistence as being required for the common good. Political peers from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Doug Ford and Jason Kenney listened to what Quebec’s premier had to say.

At every step, Legault and his team had the unquestioning support of the majority of Quebeckers, a big reason why Google Analytics credits Quebec with leading the continent in containment measures.

I have no doubt Legault’s lockdown extension is based on good medicine. With 94 deaths and almost 8,000 confirmed cases, Quebec’s curve is showing no sign of flattening. With more than 500 COVID-19 patients (154 in intensive care), Quebec’s emergency care system is nearing its capacity to cope, especially if a significant percentage of the population refuses to take basic precautions — distancing, remaining at home, wearing masks, hand-washing, etc.

Yes, Legault has good reasons to extend the lockdown — but only if he and his staff redefine what’s essential and what isn’t.

Is Pratt & Whitney’s South-shore turbine plant essential? Why? To whom? The private jet industry and the holy grail of nonstop flights anywhere on the planet to protect the ultra-rich from the grubbiness of people suffering? Why are the SAQ and cannabis outlets essential?  Why are some workers deemed essential enough to have to struggle into work while others in the same office can work from home? Why are big-box home improvement franchises essential but my neighbourhood garage isn’t? The essential/non-essential designations need rebalancing in light of what we now know about this virus and society’s reaction to it.

A month into this nightmare, I’m seeing governments assisting the monopolies at the expense of small and medium-sized businesses. Consider Ottawa’s measures to encourage businesses not to lay off their employees. How does that help any business that isn’t on the essential list and thus can’t open for business? How does that help a business whose clients are themselves having to close up shop or work from home? Will Ottawa cover the mortgage, the business loan, the rent? Will the banks defer payment on the commercial landlord’s mortgage? Talk to your bank, not to your politicians.

I’m seeing our supply chains being altered, possibly for good. Our local IGA struggles with the volume of shoppers, including people from out of town who shop in Hudson because they think small towns are safer. My daughter, who lives in a COVID red zone in Montreal, shops in Ile Perrot for exactly that reason. After our phoned-in order was delivered half-filled, with wierd substitutes (tangerine-flavoured IPA?) our neighbours suggested we try the Vaudreuil Walmart. I’ve always shunned Walmart because of the impact it has had on local business but this pandemic has that effect on principle. South of us, most Americans think Trump did the right thing in ordering 3M to stop exporting masks to us. Most Canadians think we should retaliate by cutting off 3M’s crucial supply of wood pulp required for N95 masks.

In a pandemic, do two wrongs make a right?

A new definition of irony: national governments bailing out the airlines, who allowed this pestilence to invade our homelands at the speed of jet travel and assigned their untrained employees the responsibility of deciding who should be allowed to infect a planeload of passengers. It’s no different than the 2007 bank bailout after their dodgy practices destroyed the economy and shattered the social contract. Why are we not billing the feckless cruise industry with the cost of repatriating the nationals their lax hygiene measures aboard their horizontal hotels made sick? Why are people being repatriated to Canada by the feds and their airline buddies not being tracked by provincial health authorities? Instead they’re being asked to honour a promise to self-isolate, which from what I’ve seen in my home town, means diddly squat. When did the Privacy Act trump my right to life? Pure political bullshit. South Korea requires these repatriates to wear electronic tracking devices — and bills them.

At today’s briefing Legault was joined by Industry Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon, who touted his Panier bleu campaign to encourage Quebeckers to shop chez nous before buying imports. Fitzgibbons’s prescription was more political fabulation. Listening to his quackery,  one might believe the salvation of our local economies lies in more bureaucracy.

As I rode through Hudson this afternoon, the streets were empty except for a handful of diehard exercisers and a Manoir resident tottering down the centre of Main Road. I wondered how many of the shuttered businesses will survive. Much is made of the generosity of those who buy meals at the local frites joint with a Post-it note but the truth is that an extended lockdown until May 4 may mean the difference between life and death for our local businesses. It is immoral to pretend they’re not as deserving of help as a salaried employee.

People are trying to work around Legault’s edicts. I ran into a Hudson contractor whose phone never stops ringing with work. Word of mouth. He told me he’s chosen to stop working. The $10,000 fine has a lot to do with it. I saw others still at work, perhaps in violation of the decree. On a Sunday, when the COVID cops are taking a break.

On Sandy Beach, a couple of young women were distancing themselves from a trio of young men ignoring the town’s six-foot distancing edict. SEPAQ, Valerie Plante and the forces of quarantine have shut down Mount Royal, Ile Notre Dame and all but a handful of the island’s greenspaces. I can only imagine what our town will look like if this slow-motion disaster lives on into the summer and four million people desperately seek somewhere to breathe. Will Hudson be able to open its municipal pool, operate its day camp and proceed with our usual calendar of public events? Montreal has already cancelled the Tour de l’Ile, the Francofolies, the Jazz Festival, Osheaga and rescheduled Just for Laughs to the fall. What do you think?

I guess I can’t burden Legault with all this. I think he’s doing his best and I hope this was a one-day slip. But it would have helped if he had announced a proposal that would ask all 125 National Assembly members to take a 50% pay cut for the duration. Symbolic, but in light of the sacrifices the rest of us are making, significant. It might even trigger a similar action in Ottawa and the other provinces.

This coming Tuesday, Legault will be giving Quebeckers the long-term prognosis on how he and his experts see the pandemic playing itself out. We’ll get death estimates, just as Doug Ford shared last week. It was the only time in the past month that someone upstaged Quebec’s premier. I hope it’s the last.

To remind us of how things have evolved, here’s my March 23 journal entry:

March 23, 2020: Today I’m loving my country. Team Canada led the world in announcing we won’t be sending our athletes to Tokyo in July. The PM has just announced $192M for research into vaccines. Research teams across Canada are experimenting with antivirals and compounds to calm the human immune system’s reaction to the coronavirus. The pandemic has our politicians working hand in glove with doctors, scientists, business, industry and unions as each new day brings new challenges and the need to make the right choices.

We need good news. Economically, Canada was already fighting stiff headwinds when the COVID-19 tsunami hit us. Pipeline protests cost billions and cost jobs. Two major fossil-fuel megaprojects were cancelled or lost partners. Parliament resumes tomorrow for emergency debate on financial relief; here’s fervently hoping our MPs remember they’re there for Canadians, not politics. Will the money go to help working Canadians already struggling in a shifting economy? Will it be used to offset new fiscal challenges facing Canadian municipalities?

We’re seeing signals of bailouts to industry. From the scramble to repatriate stranded Canadian, you know Air Canada, WestJet and their affiliates are on the list. Banks, too. Manufacturers are jostling in the rush to board the medical-supplies gravy train. Some sectors of the Canadian economy may even profit from coronavirus.

There seems to be a dawning awareness in government that the measures required to reverse the rate of infection may end up killing small business. Anything which impedes consumers from consuming targets the service sector and their employees. That’s why it’s not enough to offer wage subsidies and worksharing to businesses that can’t operate. What good is filing a BDC loan application when one’s bank won’t extend a business’s line of credit? Who has to swallow the cost of cancelled contracts, of unsold inventory, of unfilled seats? If the aviation industry is offered a bailout, why not the hotel and restaurant sectors?

I dare to hope this is the crisis that will force us to rethink how wealth is distributed in a capitalist democracy.  One of the first acts of the Ford Conservatives in Ontario was to scrap a guaranteed-minimum-salary pilot project that would have helped its participants cope with the cost of social distancing. All levels of government need to keep in mind how the coronavirus ignores equal-opportunity guidelines.

Never Another Como Bog!

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Clay berm required by the environment ministry as a condition for approval of the Como Gardens development. To the left is the Como Bog. To the right, the site of the 13-unit project.

Como Bog was frozen solid, glittering in the bright sun under a thick coating of ice this past Saturday — ideal conditions for a walkabout on the site of Hudson’s controversial housing development on Como Gardens.

A clay berm surrounding the project appears complete, one of the provincial environment ministry’s conditions for a certificate of authorization. The theory behind the impermeable berm is that it will block the flow of water between the 13-bungalow project and the surrounding bog.

As housing projects go, this is tiny, but it has taken a decade to reach this point. It never would have gotten this far if Quebec’s current wetland protection regulations had been in force when Sebastien Weiner, the original developer of what was then known as UK2, had set out to make it happen.

Some 10 years back, Weiner took possession of 8.5 hectares of the 9.73-hectare Como Bog, then came to an agreement with Quebec’s transport and environment ministries which would allow him to deforest roughly 3.4 hectares, strip-mine the peat and backfill to a level 18 inches above Como Gardens before starting construction of a dozen or so single-family units. (How that and similar wetland-trade deals were possible back then is another story, which I’ll get to.)

In return, Weiner agreed to donate five hectares of the bog to the Transport Ministry, which would then sign it over it to the town or recognized conservation organization for a dollar. To compensate for the part of the bog he proposed to develop, Weiner paid an undisclosed sum to protect 7.45 hectares of wetland in Rigaud.

Details of Weiner’s UK2 development were first presented at the September 2012 town planning advisory committee (TPAC) meeting. Although there only two items on the agenda, it would be a busy evening for councillors Robert Spencer (chairman), Madeleine Hodgson and Tim Snow plus committee members Susie Aird, David Croydon, Joyce Galliker, Andrée Bourassa, Brian Grubert, Marcus Owen, Dianne Laheurte and Phillip Avis. Besides UK2, TPAC would be presented with the latest version of George Ellerbeck’s Como subdivision – the Willowbrook development. According to the minutes, mayor Michael Elliott, urban planning manager Nathalie Lavoie and town engineer Trail Grubert were also in attendance.

Weiner presented his case for UK2. He pointed out the land was already zoned for single-family residences. There would be an easy connection to the new sewer system via the pumping station across the street. He maintained that the wetland trade allowing development was none of the town’s business, seeing as how he already had the required authorization certificates from the environment ministry.

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Map #6 of the 2008 Teknika HBA wetland/woodland audit. The nearly 10-hectare MH-25 (green-hatched area) is characterized as Hudson’s most environmentally sensitive wetland. A wetland-trade agreement between the developer and two Quebec ministries protects 80% — but continues to fuel the Never another Como Bog! battlecry.

Long before the meeting, public opinion was running against the project even though the town stood to take ownership of 80% of the bog. Residents pointed out that Weiner’s land was identified in the June, 2008 Teknika greenspace audit as part of MH-25, a 9.73-hectare peat bog characterized as the most environmentally sensitive wetland in Hudson. How, they demanded, could the town allow development of part of the bog to save the rest if development threatened the entire ecosystem?

Mayor Elliott and council maintained their fallback position — that Hudson had no jurisdiction over the provincial shell game that allowed Weiner to develop the bog. At one point, council asked Weiner to sell them all 8.5 hectares at 14 cents a square foot. Weiner’s counteroffer: I’ll sell the town the proposed building lots, but at fair market value. [Uninformed guesstimates ranged between $1 and $2.5 million.]

••••

To understand the Como Bog file, we need to go back to April 2012, when Liberal environment minister Pierre Arcand tabled Bill 71 permitting the development of a wetland in exchange for the protection of a wetland of equal or superior value in the same watershed. The act was in direct response to a Quebec Superior Court ruling earlier that year in the case of a cranberry producer denied the right to expand his operations.

Bill 71 gives the environment ministry the power to require compensation measures to restore, protect or enhance a wetland, a body of water or a piece of land as the price of the right to develop. Once the law came into effect, anyone looking to develop a wetland MAY be required to include compensation measures when applying for a certificate of authorization.

Because the ministry customarily required developers to implement compensation measures on projects affecting wetlands, the government made Bill 71 retroactive. This means that any compensation measure imposed in an authorization or a certificate of authorization issued prior to March 12, 2012 remains valid despite subsequent changes to Quebec’s environmental protection, municipal jurisdiction and land use legislation.

Fasken Martineau’s analysis of Bill 71 observes: “Interestingly, the Bill contains no clause allowing for derogation from Section 6 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms concerning fundamental property rights.” In other words, the right to develop trumps a municipality’s right to impose restrictions on development — but only for wetland trades with certificates of authorization issued prior to March 12/12.

All over Quebec, developers with wetland to trade and legalists who saw money to be made — legally, with Quebec’s blessing — rushed to take advantage of the wetland-flip loophole before it slammed shut. [Residential developments in several of St. Lazare’s most sensitive wetlands and critical aquifer replenishment zones were authorized during this bleak period of state-sanctioned environmental despoilation.] In the case of UK2, it was the government itself doing the rushing. In its haste to complete the westernmost Highway 30 section between Chateauguay and Vaudreuil-Dorion, the transport ministry was forced to backfill several wetlands. It was at this point that Quebec’s transport and environment ministries entered into the agreement that resulted in certificates of authorization permitting the development of part of the Como Bog.

••••

Fast forward to the Hudson council meeting of March 5, 2018. Item 3.4 on the agenda was a resolution regarding the subdivision of the Como Gardens project, more specifically whether the Town should take the mandatory 10% park/playground tax in land, money, or a mix of greenspace and cash. The developer offers council three options: 14 lots (13 residential lots and one lot representing 6.1% of the total land area for park purposes); 13 residential lots but no park and a third option comprising 6.1% of the total land area in parkland, with another perpetual conservation covenants of non-construction at the promoter’s expense.

Deeply divided over the options, council voted to refer the file to the natural infrastructure committee for further study and recommendations. The vote to defer bought time, but no clarity.  At the April 3, 2018 council meeting, confusion over what constituted parkland vs. land under conservation led to a serious misunderstanding which prevails to the present. The environment ministry’s certificate of authorization requires a conservation servitude totalling 1,385 square metres between the building lots and the bog. This is NOT part of the 1,171- square-metre (13%) parkland allotment, which includes a 700-square-metre corridor running between the conservation zone and the bog, plus a 471-square-metre triangular greenspace at the southwest corner of the project. The conservation area includes a major spring which feeds the bog year-round.

Together, the conservation servitude and the parkland ceded to the town exceed 28%, with 13% of that total ceded to the town. But that wasn’t the resolution council voted to approve. At that meeting, the former director-general left the hall to have a brief discussion with the developer, then returned to announce that the town would be getting what amounted to a 25% greenspace allowance. The minutes of the April 3, 2018 meeting reflect this confusion:

WHEREAS the promotor is offering a land transfer representing about 25% of the surface area;
CONSIDERING a clay wall will have to be erected by the promotor;
WHEREAS the promotor will have to establish the validity of his certificate of authorization;

It is moved by the Councillor for district 2 (Eastern Hudson) Austin Rikley-Krindle
Seconded by the Councillor for district 5 (Eastern Heights) Jim Duff

TO APPROVE, in satisfaction of article 304 c) of By-Law 529 concerning permits and certificates, a land transfer representing 10% or more of the surface area of the land on the condition that the promotor meets the requirements of Section 46.0.9 of the Environment Quality Act.

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Confusion over areas under conservation vs. parkland continues to drive the misconception that the town was shortchanged in approving the Como Gardens project. This graphic displays the difference.

Subsequently, both sides have struggled to correct the impression that council and residents were deliberately induced in error in order to get the project approved. Since then, agreements concerning infrastructure hookup and remediation have been successfully concluded.

Never Another Como Bog! has become the rallying cry for those who push for wider wetland buffers and tighter restrictions on deforestation, excavating and backfilling in Hudson. They’re not wrong, but their fixation on the Como Gardens development as an example is misplaced and misleading.

Begin with Bill 71, An Act Respecting Compensation Measures for the Carrying Out of Projects Affecting Wetlands or Bodies of Water. After its adoption, municipalities saw firsthand the folly of wetland flips. A series of hearings in 2012 resulted in major changes outlawing same-watershed trades. In 2017, adoption of the Act regarding the conservation of wetlands and watercourses imposed a new framework of analysis based on the ‘no net loss’ concept.  Under these changes, Como Gardens would not have been permitted.

Municipalities are also having to deal with the blowback from uncontrolled wetland and shoreline development. As our climate gets warmer, it gets wetter. The more we develop, the greater and faster the runoff, necessitating increasing investment in degraded, inadequate infrastructure.

In Hudson’s case, we should be worrying about the velocity and volume of runoff from upstream, beginning with the Viviry. Within a decade, we’ll see an additional 500 doors built on the Viviry watershed. We saw what happened when a midwinter thaw destroyed the Pine Lake dam. We have no choice but to replace it and re-engineer Pine Lake into a retention/detention basin if we don’t want to see Cameron washed away — and that’s just the beginning.

Some people I talk to believe Hudson is just fine with fewer than 6,000 residents. They may be right, but as someone who believes in budgeting for reality and spending within our means, I warn that Hudson’s current level of expenditure and priorities are not sustainable with the current population level. One can’t oppose development while continuing to burn money dreaming of grandiose projects.

Yes, Como Gardens is a lesson to this and future councils — a lesson in the need to make the hard decisions quickly, decisively and without second-guessing. It may be right, it may be wrong, but at least it’s a decision. Move forward and stop agonizing over the blowback.

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North end of the Como Gardens berm, looking west toward the street. The stream drains the bog behind the Palliative Care Residence and maintains the water level in the bog year round.

The following stories ran in the Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette in October 2010:

Hudson, developer clash over peat bog

By Jim Duff

HUDSON — The Town of Hudson and developer Sebastien Weiner are crossing swords over a proposed housing development on Como Gardens opposite the new Palliative Care Centre, on land classified in a 2008 wetland audit as the most ecologically sensitive peat bog in the municipality.

Weiner has reached an agreement with Quebec’s transport and environment ministries that will let him deforest roughly 3.4 hectares, strip-mine the peat and backfill to a level 18 inches above Como Gardens before starting construction of 10 or 11 homes. 

In return, he’s agreed to give five hectares of the bog to the Transport Ministry, which would then donate it to the town or recognized conservation organization for a dollar.

As a further gesture of good faith, Weiner has offered the Ministère du développement durable, de l’environnement et des parcs (MDDEP) 7.45 hectares of land in Rigaud.

Details of Weiner’s UK2 development were presented at the September town planning advisory committee (TPAC) meeting. He pointed out the land is already zoned for single-family residences, with easy connection to the new sewer system via a pumping station across the street.

The town is dead set against the deal even though it would mean getting roughly five hectares of Weiner’s 8.5-hectare total, including the deepest part of the bog contiguous with two town-owned lots. They want him to sell them all 8.5 hectares at $0.14 a square foot.

Weiner has offered to sell the town the proposed building lots, but at fair market value.

“I’ve turned the world around to make everybody happy on this. Now they want all of it for free? 

“An unscrupulous developer could mine the whole bog, put in new roads, put 30-40 houses, he added. “I’m protecting it, free to the town because of the transport deal, only using existing infrastructure….It’s really a win-win deal for everybody.”

Weiner said he doesn’t need the town’s permission to cut trees, mine the peat, backfill and build. Peat, he explained, is considered a mineral resource, like gold or oil; “Peat bogs fall under the provincial mining law, putting them beyond municipal jurisdiction…Legally, it is a mine.”

“Saying that peat bogs are in danger is false. They’re not,” he added. Peat bogs — either carex or sphagnum moss — make up 17 percent of Canada’s total land area — 117 million hectares — and nine percent of Quebec. Ninety percent is untouched. Of Quebec’s 12 million hectares, 174,000 hectares are exploited — 1.45 percent. Hydro-Quebec accounts for 120,000 hectares of that total. 

He recognizes that the town may try to block the deal by refusing to allow him to connect to the sewer system even though there’s a pumping station across the street.

“Are you going to put a septic system 50 feet away from a sewer line? It’s just common sense here.”

He says he’s ready to discuss details of the peat-removal operations with his one neighbour, the Palliative Care Centre. “I’ll go talk to them…obviously it is not going to be done at midnight, it’s going to be done during normal regular hours. If there was a house being built across the street, there would be the same shovel, the same noise, the same everything.

“The land was zoned residential, from way before [the Centre] was there. The point is to be a good neighbour. I live across the street from it…I did recognize there was a compromise to be had.”

Weiner notes he was born here, grew up here and decided to live here, so he’s aware of Hudson’s desire to preserve things the way they are. 

“I spent two years of my life negotiating a compromise whereby more than 80 percent of the peat bog would be protected for free for the town of Hudson. I structured a deal between the Ministère des Transports, MDDEP and myself whereby Transport would create a conservation zone — and give it to the town for free.”

Why the Ministry of Transport? Weiner said it appeared that it was “some kind of old IOU for an old project between the two ministries and this fit the bill.  It has nothing to do with the Town of Hudson…the Town of Hudson just ends up being the beneficiary.”

MH-25 tops 2008 Teknika list

Sebastien Weiner’s land was identified in the June, 2008 Teknika greenspace audit as part of MH-25, a 9.73-hectare peat bog characterized as the most environmentally sensitive wetland in Hudson. 

That characterization was reached on the basis of points assigned for size, diversity and rarity of flora and fauna and the nature of the peat subsoil, which reaches depths of approximately 11 to 12  feet in the centre of the bog. The audit identified four plant species as well as four wildfowl species characterized as vulnerable. There are approximately 12 million hectares of peat bogs in Québec (9% of the province) of which 98.55% are virgin. Peat is a mineral substance as defined in the Provincial Mining Law. As such, extracting peat is considered a mining operation which benefits from special privileges and is governed at a provincial not municipal level. 

Weiner’s six-sided lot is bounded by Como Gardens, Hodgson, Main Road, the Canadian Pacific right of way and a town-owned lot stretching from Mullan to the Canadian Pacific track. 

His agreement with both the Ministère du Développement Durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs (MDDEP) and the Ministère des Transports (MTQ) allows him to extract the peat from a band of land, approx. 100 feet wide, along Como-Gardens and Hodgson roads.. After backfilling to the same level as the Palliative Care Residence across the street, he can then subdivide the 100-foot strip into roughly a dozen 30,000-square-foot lots. 

Because the area is already zoned residential, Weiner needs no zoning change.

Under the terms of the deal he’s proposing, the town would get roughly 5.8 hectares at no cost — 5.4 hectares from the MTQ, including the area of mature trees and the four identified plant species as well as the deepest part of the bog and another 0.4 hectares as part of the 10-percent greenspace allowance the town is entitled to when a property is subdivided. 

The town has the choice of where it will take the 10 percent, or whether it will take it in cash.

Also part of the deal, Weiner has worked out an agreement with the environment ministry to acquire and transfer to the an area of equal size in Rigaud.— Jim Duff

Hudson Strategic Plan for Dummies

Peter Ratcliffe’s post from April 2016. As true today as then.

thousandlashesdotca

There are very few dummies among us, but today I’m attempting to distill the essence of Hudson’s strategic plan to a few simple sentences.

  • Hudson can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing because we’re slowly failing financially and not keeping up with the requirements of the bureaucracy of the MRC and Quebec.
  • Hudson needs better government, responsive, open, fiscally responsive and completely transparent.
  • Hudson has deep passion for arts and culture and has many involved citizens.
  • Hudson values the beauty of the nature around us and has many involved citizens.
  • Hudson will need more tax paying residents to pay our bills, but we must grow in a planned and controlled fashion that fits Hudson’s image and way of life.
  • Hudson needs be more attractive and better maintained, to be a better place to live, to attract more visitors and entice more future residents to buy homes here.
  • Hudson needs to…

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Fake news? Free recourse exists

Long after Donald Trump is dead and gone, the fake-news label his tweets spawned will live on. Twitter, Facebook and their imitators will see to that.

The real-news tests taught in journalism school will still apply to traditional print and broadcast outlets, but their credibility has suffered. New York Times and Washington Post? Fake news to anyone who doesn’t buy the truth. The same goes for CBS, CNBC, CNN, and any other mainstream outlet with professional reporters and editors.

I see the same thing happening in Canada with the attacks on CBC, CTV, Global and print media. The new test for journalism: believe what you want to believe and disregard the rest.

I get a chuckle out of being singled out as a source of fake news. It’s a lot easier to apply a fake-news smear than it is to come out with one’s own account of what happened — or to seek recourse through established channels.

Of all the Canadian provinces, Quebec’s journalistic standards are the most demanding. The Quebec Press Act sets those standards. The Quebec Press Council, an arm’s-length tripartite body funded by the provincial government, the information industry and the professional body representing working journalists accepts complaints regarding news articles and opinion published, broadcast or posted by readily identifiable sources, including thousandlashes.ca on WordPress.

After deciding whether the complaint is founded, the Council’s secretariat contacts the complainant and the respondent to get their versions. The file is then assigned to the decisional tribunal. Once a decision is rendered, it is made public.

There is an appeal process if either side feels the decision is unfair. The Conseil also offers mediation.

So, rather than indulging in innuendo, the prudent course of action for anyone who feels wrongly done by would be to file a complaint with the Conseil de presse. The procedure can be done online and decisions are generally arrived at within a reasonable delay.

Another principle is in play, that of public comment by an elected official. Two years ago,  the issue came up at a training course for newly elected members of council. None of those giving the course could venture an opinion based on jurisprudence. All agreed it was a grey area and it might be preferable to take these matters to the Quebec Municipal Commission.

When I think of the hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money squandered the last time someone took an internal fight to the Quebec Municipal Commission, I’ll stick with the Conseil de presse. It’s free.

 

Bylaw 526.8: Sandy Beach sellout to First Nations?

Sandy Beach empty.JPG
The beach represents a fraction of the 22.83 hectares owned by developer Nicanco and remains Nicanco’s property with a servitude for public passage held by the town. What part of Sandy Beach would be signed over to a First Nations community as the result of Mayor Nicholls’s negotiations?

Hudson’s controversial Bylaw 526.8 is not on the order paper for Monday’s December council meeting, but that won’t stop its supporters on council from trying to add it to the agenda.

Those who call this a Trojan Horse may be close to the truth. 

Adopted as a draft bylaw without prior notice at the October council meeting by a 4-2 vote, 526.8 in its original form would have imposed a 30-metre buffer around any part of Hudson designated as a wetland, regardless of size or location.

As originally written, the bylaw would have had a major impact on as much as a quarter of Hudson’s 2,200 residential properties. Owners of hundreds of properties backing on wetlands characterized in the 2008 Teknika HBA and 2016 CIMA+ studies would lose the right to so much as cut their grass except with a push mower. Hudson Yacht Club would have been barred from using their parking lots. Whitlock Golf Club would have lost the use of at least six holes. 

Any request to exclude one’s property would require a biologist’s report and a survey.

Upon learning of the restrictions to their rights as property owners and the potential impact on the value of their properties as well as on the town’s tax base, residents responded with anger and concern. On Nov. 18, more than 120 people attended a public consultation on the proposed bylaw. 

Note: Public consultations are required by law prior to a zoning bylaw’s final approval but because this bylaw would modify Hudson’s existing zoning bylaw 526, it is not subject to approval by referendum.

Mayor Jamie Nicholls opened the consultation with a lengthy preamble, during which he said council was split 3-3 and that he would break the tie in favour of the bylaw’s adoption. He then inferred that residents who lost the use or value of their properties could be compensated with monies from a $20 million fund run by Ottawa.

Not true, Vaudreuil-Soulanges Liberal MP Peter Schiefke wrote in a text sent late Thursday. 

Schiefke said it came as a surprise to hear from numerous Hudson residents following the consultation that the mayor had told those at the meeting that “20 million dollars of federal funding was secured to purchase private and public lands in Hudson….This is simply not true at the present time,” the MP added.

This past Thursday, the mayor appeared to back off his plans to proceed with final adoption of Bylaw 526.8. “After much discussion with caucus members […] the provisions of the bylaw in article 726 which expanded the protective band surrounding wetlands from 10 to 30 metres have been modified,” he posted on two of his Facebook pages. “The protective band will remain at the original 10 metres in the amended bylaw to be presented at the December session of council.” 

But since then, the mayor and his supporters have been publicly pressuring councillors to adopt an amended Bylaw 526.8 at Monday’s December meeting, specifically Article 725: Constructions, works, backfill or excavation works, dredging or extraction works in a wetland. Art. 725 allows “works intended for a construction, other works including backfill and excavation, dredging and extraction in and enclosed wetland” once it is authorized by the provincial environment ministry. If there is no ministerial certificate of authorization (CA), “only the construction of a bridge or footbridge, on stilts or posts, without backfill” is authorized.

The developers of the Pine Beach project hold a valid CA. Without the 30-metre buffer, Bylaw 526.8 now permits the development of Sandy Beach according to a revised plan submitted by the developer. At the same time, it blocks the 134-door Willowbrook development in Como because developer Habitation Robert is still waiting for a CA.

Given the mayor’s insistence prior to being elected on the need to block Nicanco’s 256-unit Sandy Beach development, what transpired to change his mind?

As the result of email exchanges with the mayor and others, and with facts drawn from publicly available sources, the following scenario has emerged:

In late August, the mayor attended a three-day Union des Municipalités summit in Wendake, Quebec, where leaders of Quebec First Nations met with mayors of Quebec municipalities. The summit highlight was a public apology by Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon to Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon for comments Quevillon made concerning the handover of some 60 acres at the centre of the 1991 Oka Crisis. 

Mayor Nicholls has confirmed in an email that he and Simon spoke and agreed to convene a meeting of the two councils — and that he informed caucus upon his return.

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This screenshot was taken from a live video posted Sept. 24 by Hudson mayor Jamie Nicholls outside the Kanesatake Band Council office. The nature of any discussions, and with whom, has not been shared with all council members.

 On Sept 24, the mayor posted a live video to two of his Facebook pages indicating that he was in Kanesatake for a meeting at the band office. The nature of any discussion taking place and with whom wasn’t reported to council. 

Earlier this week, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke confirmed that Nicholls had approached him at a Nov. 21 MRC event to discuss funding options for the purchase of wetlands, including sections of Sandy Beach already protected under the town’s 2017 development agreement with the developers. 

Schiefke says he explained to the mayor that the compensation assurances made to residents at the Nov. 18 public consultation were unfounded. “[…] the fund that Mr. Nicholls referred to at his consultation meeting […] was likely the Disaster Mitigation Fund (DMFA) that was created to reduce the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts triggered by natural hazards and extreme weather events in communities at high risk.”

Schiefke says he told the mayor that it is unclear whether the DMFA will be reactivated — and if it does, Hudson residents would be on the hook for 60% of a minimum $20 million project.

Moreover, Schiefke added, the town has yet to take any action to explore the possibility or open a file.

“I shared with Mayor Nicholls that an official exploratory meeting with my office would be beneficial, and that the City of Hudson would subsequently have to submit an official request for funding to Infrastructure Canada when the application process reopens. Neither the meeting, nor the submission has occurred to date.”

Schiefke also confirmed that the mayor had discussed partnering with an indigenous community to raise the federal contribution to 75% as long as the land is deeded to that community. The mayor then explained his vision for a visitor’s centre on Sandy Beach focused on indigenous culture and healing.

In an emailed response, the mayor confirmed that he met with Schiefke “and that I wanted to discuss all options for the conservation of natural infrastructure on our territory. Again, the conversations were exploratory in nature and touched many different areas.”

The next day, Nov. 22, the mayor approached Sandy Beach developer Marc Perreault without a mandate from council to discuss paying financial compensation for land already protected under a 2017 development agreement. Alternately, Nicholls suggested its outright acquisition with monies from a federal program to fund natural infrastructure promotion and protection projects. 

On Saturday, Nov. 23, I called Perreault for his version of events. He had not returned my call by the time I posted this. 

In an emailed response to my questions Wednesday afternoon, the mayor said no promises were made. “It was simply an exploration should the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund be renewed.” 

Nicholls said it was Schiefke who had brought forward the possibility of the $3 billion fund’s renewal. 

“Nothing is set in stone,” the mayor added. “Citizens want us to explore it. Any formal engagement would require a majority of council.”

Schiefke says he reminded the mayor that even if Infrastructure Canada accepts Hudson’s application (See DMAF terms and conditions, below), Hudson’s taxpayers would be on the hook for 25%. Nicholls assured him he had the money.

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Once any part of Sandy Beach is deeded to a First Nations community, it becomes their sovereign territory. Who controls access? Who is responsible for security, maintenance and upkeep?

It would be the first time in Canada that a non-indigenous municipality purchases public or private land in order to deed it to a First Nations community. At that point it would no longer be a part of Hudson, but the sovereign territory of the community it is deeded to.

This afternoon, Schiefke said his interest lies in seeking clarity and reiterated his standing offer to the municipalities in his riding. “As has been the case over the last four years, my office is always open to supporting municipalities as they pursue funding opportunities for projects that will benefit our shared citizenry.”

To access more information about the DMFA fund and the criteria involved in the application, please visit: https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/dmaf-faac/index-eng.html

 

DMAF terms and conditions ( my highlights are in bold)

Eligible projects under DMAF include:

• New construction of public infrastructure including natural infrastructure; and

• Modification and/or reinforcement including rehabilitation and expansion of existing public infrastructure including natural infrastructure.

Eligible investments aim to reduce the socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of natural hazards and extreme weather events when considering current and potential future climate change impacts.

Projects must meet at least one of the national significance criteria, including reducing impacts on:

• critical infrastructure and essential services;

• health and safety of Canadians;

• significant disruptions in economic activity;

• costs of recovery and replacement;

• vulnerable regions.

Projects must have a minimum of $20 million in eligible expenditures.

Eligible expenditures may include design and planning, capital cost, as well as costs related to meeting specific program requirements. Land acquisition is only eligible for natural infrastructure projects and under some conditions.

• Project bundling is allowed for projects including multiple assets that work in a complementary manner to reduce the risk within the same time period.

• Projects must be completed by 2027-28.

Note: Expenditures related to all emergency services infrastructure, relocation of entire communities, land acquisition as a sole project component, are not eligible under DMAF.

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.