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Latest News on saving the preserved area for Virginia Rails

Asphalt on sensitive wetland fuels controversy in Nanaimo

by Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist

Published: Sunday, April 29, 2007, Page C2

The strip of blacktop, which runs through the middle of Jingle Pot Marsh in Nanaimo, has divided more than the designated sensitive wetland.

Since last year, when the city topped a seven-metre wide berm across the marsh with a three-metre wide asphalt trail flanked with page wire, arguments between environmentalists and the city have escalated. Located next to Malaspina College, the trail is needed to allow students access to recreational facilities such as the Aquatic Centre and ice rinks.

It is also tied into a nearby subdivision, said Coun. Joy Cameron, who is in charge of Nanaimo’s environmental portfolio.

“Nanaimo is giving us a sad example of how not to approach trail building in a sensitive eco-system,” said Rory Rickwood, chairman of Friends of the Cat Stream.

The asphalt can leach harmful polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons into the marsh, creatures such as the blue-listed red leg frog have to scramble over asphalt and the skittish Virginia rails — marsh birds — are in danger of flying into the page wire, Rickwood said.

MLA Leonard Krog, in a letter to Mayor Gary Korpan and city council, said he is concerned “as to why the city would put such a large pathway through a very sensitive ecological area.”

At the federal level, where the trail got the go-ahead, there is cautious disquiet about how a trail, originally designed as a boardwalk, became an asphalt runway.

Rob Russell, Department of Fisheries and Oceans senior habitat biologist in Nanaimo, said he has not had a chance to talk to the person who approved the trail.

“I do have concerns. It’s a sensitive area, there’s no question,” he said.

“Personally my choice would have been a different covering for the trail. . . DFO would certainly support a boardwalk or crushed stone or brick or mulch. Those sorts of things perhaps should have been considered instead of asphalt.”

However, the City of Nanaimo points out that the trail, which is eventually supposed to become part of the Trans-Canada Trail, was approved by DFO and went through a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency screening.

“I guess there’s always debate among experts, but city staff say we have passed all the environmental processes,” said Cameron. “It is asphalt because it has to be wheelchair accessible and we want it to be used as part of our bike trails. We are quite proud of this trail.”

The area is not a pristine wetland environment and there has always been a pathway across the wetland, Cameron said.

During the Second World War, it was used as a training ground for troops and tanks.

Tom Hickey, Nanaimo’s director of parks, recreation and culture, said the trail was built, after public input, on one of two flood dykes to improve access to the sports fields and other amenities in the 25-hectare park.

“All the design and the work was supervised by an environmental consultant,” he said.

The aim was to keep people on the trail and protect the wetland, Hickey said.

“It is quite a popular trail and the aim is to balance environmental sensitivity with getting people through the park in a reasonable way. It’s asphalt because it’s a multi-use trail.”

But Bill Merilees, chairman of the Buttertubs Marsh Liaison Committee, the adjacent wetland area that is owned by the Nature Trust of B.C., said a report will be going to city council next month asking for changes.

The 25 metres of blacktop over the most sensitive area should be replaced by a boardwalk and other measures should be taken to protect the wetland, he said.

Initially, the whole trail was supposed to be boardwalk, Merilees said.

“There’s a whole lot of misinformation here because the Ministry of Environment and DFO had to sign off on it and, for some reason we don’t understand, they didn’t do due diligence,” he said.


Crushed gravel would have been better, chemist says

Ontario analytical chemist Richard Smythe, an expert on polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, struggles to find the logic of using asphalt in a sensitive wetland.

“The use of asphalt in a wetland is a bit of a travesty,” he said, after explaining the chemical makeup of asphalt.

“It’s a known carcinogen and known endocrine disrupter. Why not just put down crushed gravel?”

The feeling is echoed by Don Watmough, Capital Regional District parks planner.

Ideally, trails should not be built through wetlands and the CRD is trying to pull trails away from marshy areas, he said.

“And we would use a boardwalk wherever possible.”

The Stewardship Series, booklets of best practices developed by the federal and provincial governments, lays out the aims for “Access Near Aquatic Areas.”

Boardwalks, crushed aggregate or railed pathways are suggested.

“The principle of least impact should always apply when managing or maintaining structures or trails near aquatic environmentally sensitive areas,” it says.

Local Nanaimo Wildlife Stewarts, Rory Rickwood and Roger Giles have formaly presented an environmental petition to the Canadian Government. The government has registered it as, "Canadian Environmental Petition 225".

As presented above and stated in the petition: during 2005/2006, the Government of Canada’s commitment to protecting a fragile ecosystem was ignored during a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act screening process (CEAA) when a harmful asphalt trail/berm and fencing development was put across an environmentally fragile aquatic environment that is a government registered Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory (SEI). The asphalt trail contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are persistent, carcinogenic aquatic toxins that are known to be bioaccumulative and highly harmful to mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and invertebrates. The page-wire fencing is known to harm low-flying migratory birds. The asphalt trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail system, and the fencing/trails approval was inappropriately added to the Cat Stream Detention Pond approval (CEAA Ref. No.:05-01-10543).

The information presented in our petition clearly shows the land development referral to the CEAA screening in the City of Nanaimo involving a SEI was not carried out in a thorough and transparent way, and that the conclusions drawn from the environmental assessment did not reflect the best and most current science available – or best management practices! A cogent argument can be made that the CEAA screening process failed in protecting a fragile ecosystem and that a major SEI disturbance occurrence in Nanaimo was a result of Canada failing to apply its own guidelines and meet its international obligations under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

It is wrong for the federal government to present a CEAA screening process and stewardship model when it is evident environmental degradation continues to happen to the wetlands of Canada.

The vulgarization of community stewardship by the City of Nanaimo is absolutely wrong and works against environmental sustainability. Also at stake is the efficacy of stewardship and community involvement program of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. When community stewards follow the advice of government officials, federal department websites, and find that municipalities are thumbing their noises at stewardship guidelines and sound science, then there is a serious disconnect with the present model that is designed to respect nature. The Government of Canada can take a lead role in helping shift a civic culture's abusive approach to ecosystems to a culture that embraces conservation.

The Government of Canada must not deny their responsibility and need to commit to take immediate action for the environment. It would be truly responsible for us all to take collaborative action to remove the asphalt trail from the SEI and re-route the trail around the SEI. Such meaningful action is “key” to the principles of environmental sustainability.

We all can play an important role in protecting our natural legacy, and failure to act on this petition will be a tell-tail sign that wetland ecosystems in Canada will suffer the “death of a thousand cuts”.

Regarding our environment: "The time of half-measure has passed. We are entering a period of consequences," says Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize winner, quoting Winston Churchill.

A great response to our petition:

Dear Rory.

Thank you very much for your work to protect nature in Nanaimo! I will ensure that your petition is circulated to the members of the Canadian Nature Network. Nature Canada is working very closely with Environmental Defence, David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice on issues such as these. We will ensure that everyone is aware of your petition and we will see how we can fit it into our strategy for strengthening the implementation of the federal species at risk act.

Sincerely yours,

Julie Gelfand, BSc, MBA
President, Directrice Generale
Nature Canada

Our stewardship group recieved the following April 15, 2008 message from Canada's Environment Minister: “The existing paved trail through the wetland poses a potential risk to wildlife and may impede movement of wildlife, including species at risk. As a general approach, Environment Canada prefers that travel corridors are available for wildlife.” - The Hon. John Baird, Minister of the Environment

The poor decisions and sad events in Nanaimo has generated many media reports:






http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/wildlifeactreview/feedback/5.html (Click Rory Rickwood to read submission)


The City of Nanaimo dove into a bunker and have exhibited a bunker mentality ever since and don’t know how to reach a compromise. Your letter continue to put pressure on them. It is also election year!

Please write your letter today.

Thank-you for your support!



New member
To any readers of this entry:

Please be advised that Rory Rickwood is a well recognised local prima donna.
He lives in Nanaimo and works in Port Alberni. That is a distance of about 100 km.

If he drives that every day, which adds up to 1000 km per week, or 50,000 km per year.
That produces about 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, well above the Canadian average - a totally unsustainable energy consumption.

Rory then has the temerity to criticise the city of Nanaimo as an unhealthy community.
It is he that is leading an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle.

I too am a wildliffe steward and I have lived and worked in Nanaimo for 15 years.
I resent my city being dragged into an internet slagging match.
I also deeply resent the amount of time wasted by Canadian government staff in dealing with Rory's antics.

Please disregard this rant. Fish and wildlife habitat are being protected in Nanaimo.
It is too bads that Rory Rickwood is so busy driving across Vancouver Island to enjoy life here.

I would suggest one of two solutions: Rory should either move closer to hios work or find work where he lives. End of story.

My name is Charles, and I am a proud resident of the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia.

If you should come here, I would be happy to show you some of the finest urban fish and wildlife in the world. My e-mail address is: [email protected]

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