The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has just issued a press release saying the Highway 5 controversy confirms federal politicians must make Gatineau Park a legislative priority.
I spoke with a Transport Quebec official at 9:50 am on January 19. She confirmed the contractor for phase 2 of the A5 extension has been selected. All that remains to be done, she said, is fill in the appropriate paperwork before the announcement is made in a few days. Work should start before end of January.
Below is the CPAWS press release.
Ottawa, Ontario, January 19, 2012 – The Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS-OV) is calling on federal politicians to make Gatineau Park a legislative priority. The treasured park has yet to be given protected status in the National Capital Act or other federal statute and continues to be threatened by development, as the latest controversy surrounding expansion of Highway 5 shows.
In the area soon to be affected by construction, local residents and environmentalists are staging tree sit-ins to protest Quebec’s Ministry of Transport (MTQ) decision to proceed with the original plan for Phase 2 of the Highway 5 extension. Covering 6.5 km between Farm Point in Chelsea and Highway 366 in La Pêche, Phase 2 cuts through the eastern boundary of Gatineau Park.
Last summer CPAWS-OV engaged in debate with the National Capital Commission (NCC), the Park’s administrative body, over the proper boundaries of the Park. The NCC claimed the Park’s boundaries were established through a 1997 rationalization exercise, which would put the new portion of the highway outside the park. But having been first set out in a 1960 Order-in-Council, CPAWS-OV argued that the earlier boundaries could only be overridden by Parliament.
Accordingly, the latest extension of the highway will clear-cut approximately 88 hectares of mature forest inside Gatineau Park – consisting of white pine, eastern hemlock, American beech, and sugar maple. Moreover, a considerable portion of the forested escarpment around Brown Lake will be blasted away during construction.
“During the planning of the highway extension, there was no public consultation to speak of,” said Doug Anions, chair of the CPAWS-OV Gatineau Park Committee, and former Parks Canada official. “Even if groups like CPAWS and SOS Wakefield pointed out a number of negative ecological impacts tied to the planned highway expansion, such as the destruction of the Vale Verde aquifer.”
“The highway is cutting through a conservation area of national significance, but you wouldn’t realize that when looking at the MTQ’s official plans,” said CPAWS-OV Executive Director John McDonnell. “With two lanes in each direction separated by a central median of 120 metres, they are putting a superhighway through part of Gatineau Park. This would have never occurred if the public had been consulted about these plans in advance,” he added.
Construction of Highway 5 confirms that the concerns of area citizens and local conservation organizations have been largely ignored in the development of plans that compromise the ecological integrity, not only of Gatineau Park, but of the regional ecosystem as whole.
Therefore, CPAWS-OV urges federal politicians to protect Gatineau Park from further development, fragmentation, and urbanization by enacting legislation that defines the park’s boundaries, makes the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity the top management priority, prohibits new residential construction, and requires the NCC to acquire all Gatineau Park inholdings.
Founded in 1970 by a group of naturalists in response to concerns over the administration of Gatineau Park, CPAWS-OV now works to protect natural lands throughout the National Capital Region and surrounding environs. In addition to advocating for the protection of Gatineau Park, it also campaigns for the conservation of the Dumoine River Watershed, the eastern wolf population, and is a key player in the Algonquin to Adirondacks (A2A) landscape connectivity initiative.
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Media Contact: John McDonnell, Executive Director, Ottawa Valley Chapter, Canadian Park and Wilderness Society. Tel: 613-232-7297; email@example.com
In a 2010 report, CPAWS-OV declared Transport Canada’s screening level assessment of the Highway 5 extension to be “completely inadequate.” Given the scale of the project, the large investment of public funds ($170 million), and the loss of ecological integrity for Gatineau Park, the report indicated the need for a comprehensive study level assessment around which to design the highway extension. Transport Canada did not respond to the report, and MTQ officials kept to the original plans that were first drafted in the 1980s, including six-lane highway exchanges and two traffic circles.
CPAWS-OV has contested Highway 5 ever since the initial 1972 planning agreement was reached between the NCC and the Government of Quebec. Before construction of the highway had begun, the founding members of CPAWS-OV proposed that the highway be situated east of the Gatineau River, to prevent the fragmentation of wildlife habitat around Gatineau Park, located on the west side of the river. Attempts to discuss their proposal with NCC and MTQ officials failed, and Highway 5 is being built as planned west of the Gatineau River.