The economics of wetland destruction

It is instructive that the financiers behind the plan to destroy the Garner Road swamp in Upper Ancaster Creek are also big pushers of the fossil fuels responsible for frying the planet.

The marsh replacement program was rejected by the Hamilton Conservation Authority last June in a divided but secret vote. But their permit denial is being appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal (Premier Doug Ford’s replacement for the Ontario Municipal Board). If successful, the call threatens more than one swamp. This could reduce the ability of conservation authorities to protect wetlands, waterways and forests across Ontario.

Conservation authorities are the second largest landowner in Ontario (surpassed only by the provincial government). They are our main source of accessible recreational natural spaces and our main defense against catastrophic floods which are certainly worsening due to climate change. Most were established after Hurricane Hazel hit southern Ontario in 1954, killing over 80 people.

It is unconscionable that these very successful institutions are now threatened by an Alberta government enterprise. When massive flooding hit Calgary and surrounding areas in 2014, it was widely recognized that much of the damage could have been avoided if this province had conservation authorities like Ontario.

The Alberta government crown corporation that purchased the Garner Road property is called AIMCo. He wants to build five large warehouses along with a few hundred bays for haul trucks and parking for over 1,000 cars covering most of the 34 hectares (85 acres).

AIMCo is also the majority owner of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline which has been bulldozed on unceded Wet’suwet’en indigenous lands without permission from hereditary chiefs, but with frequent assistance from heavily armed RCMP. If completed, this pipeline will transport fractured gas from northeast British Columbia for export to China and other possible markets.

Burning this gas will mean millions of tons of greenhouse gases added to the global atmosphere. This is on top of the poisoning of groundwater by the process of extractive fracking and the leaking of methane (known as “natural” gas in North America) – a more potent source of global warming than carbon dioxide.

Construction of the pipeline destroys tens of thousands of trees that help protect against flooding and erosion, absorb carbon and cool the surrounding land. Likewise, the destruction of the Garner Road Marsh area is also bad news for our climate and probably for anyone downstream along Ancaster Creek.

In addition to reducing flooding, wetlands are our most productive ecosystems. They extract carbon from the atmosphere more efficiently than trees while cleaning water and providing essential habitat for turtles, frogs, salamanders, birds and other living species.

Those who want to build on the swamp and the highly productive farmland that surrounds it promise to “build” a replacement wetland in a location more convenient for their plans. They also promise a large stormwater basin to capture runoff from these newly impermeable surfaces.

This is the long-standing face of for-profit “development”. Replace natural systems with man-made ones and supposedly control the resulting runoff – at least when designed, although climate change is making them increasingly unsuitable for the task. And so much for wildlife habitat and food production which is enjoyable but not as profitable in our hallowed market economy.

One might suggest that the new warehouses would be better located on already contaminated industrial land near the port where rail, road and river transport is readily available. But AIMCo chose to buy in rural Ancaster, and the warehouses are exactly what city planners expected when they expanded the city limits to create the Airport Jobs Growth District. . Keeping this land for food security and flood protection was simply not considered ‘economic’ and climate change was not part of the calculations.

Don McLean is part of and the Hamilton 350 Committee for action on climate change. He recently received an honorary doctorate from McMaster.

About Keith Tatum

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