Upgrading Clearview Sideroad 26/27 through the Escarpment is Environmentally Unsound
By George Powell, member of Watershed Trust WAG Committee
The upgrade of Clearview Township Side Road 26/27 was raised during the Consolidated Hearings Board (CHB) proposal by Walker Industries Inc. to expand their existing Duntroon Quarry. In its decision the CHB found that with improvements, Side Road 26/27 could provide an appropriate alternative access to Grey Highlands due to the Board-approved closing of the portion of County Road 91 between County Road 31 and the 10th Concession. This conclusion was based in part on the testimony of Clearview Township’s road consultant that there would be no change to the vertical cross-section of Side Road 26/27 (a change in grade is now proposed) and that the road improvements could be contained within the existing road allowance and reconstructed to a local Township road standard. It was further proposed that prior to the commencement of shipping of quarry product from the new quarry expansion that improvements to former County Road 91 and Side Road 26/27 would be undertaken. Former County Road 91 was reconstructed last year (only from 10th Concession to County Road 124. Redeveloping eastward would have required a permit from the NEC). Last fall, the Township of Clearview made application to the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) to reconstruct Side Road 26/27. The NEC denied this application on November 27, 2015.
OUR BACKGROUND ROLE
On November 20, 2014, the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust Foundation (Watershed Trust) submitted to NEC a critique of the Clearview application for substantial alteration of Side Road 26/27. In our detailed report to the NEC we explained why the transformation of this rural seasonal access road into a major transportation artery could cause serious environmental damage to sensitive lands within the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
The NEC staff report dated November 19, 2015, considered the Clearview application and recommended that the reconstruction of Side Road 26/27 be allowed, but attached some 16 conditions that needed to be resolved before the reconstruction could go ahead.
In rebuttal, Watershed Trust presented its concerns about the accuracy of the staff report to the NEC at their meeting in Owen Sound on November 19, 2015 when the NEC Board was considering this application. At that meeting the Clearview application was denied by the NEC Board by a vote of 12 to 1.
PROBLEMS IN CLEARVIEW’S PROCESS – Municipal Class Environmental Assessment
All municipal infrastructure projects in Ontario must undergo a planning process set out in the Municipal Engineers’ Association, Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) document. Projects are classified into three schedules generally defined as follows:
- Schedule A: Pre-approved
- Schedule B: Activities subject to a public and government agency screening process
- Schedule C: Activities subject to the full planning process of a Class E.A.
Clearview proposed carrying out the reconstruction of Side Road 26/27 as a Schedule “A” project, the schedule normally used for pre-approved projects that have minimal environmental impact and are routine straightforward projects. As a result, the public was not properly engaged and it was not until application for a permit was made to NEC to reconstruct Side Road 26/27 that the public became aware of what was being proposed.
We believe the proposed reconstruction of Side Road 26/27 and also County Road 91 and Concession 10 should not have been dealt with piecemeal but as an integrated road network that looks at the transportation impacts to the Niagara Escarpment in the Duntroon-Singhampton area. This should have been a Schedule “C” project and if this had been done the counties, townships and public would have been properly engaged and the environmental and transportation issues discussed. This level of MCEA was what NEC had originally argued in the Walker Quarry hearing back in 2010.
ONLY ESSENTIAL ROADS ALLOWED IN ESCARPMENT NATURAL
The Niagara Escarpment Plan requires that roads in the more sensitive area designations must be considered essential roads and the NEP defines essential as “that which is deemed necessary to the public interest after all alternatives have been considered.” We can find no evidence that Clearview properly addressed this test.
From the east off Concession 10, Side Road 26/27 is a poorly defined road narrowing to one lane that shows little or no maintenance. It is only at the top of the Escarpment that the road has been improved to a reasonable standard.
While the CHB decision considered that with improvements Side Road 26/27 could provide an appropriate alternative access to the closing of County Rd 91, it goes on to state the road could be constructed to Clearview standards within the existing road allowance and no change to the vertical cross-section was necessary. The Preliminary Drawing shown in the NEC Staff Report shows construction within the existing easement –but the so called vertical cross-section has been changed from over a 14% grade to a 12% grade and road cuts and fills of more than two metres proposed to allow the road grade to be lowered. How this will be integrated into the local topography without extensive side slope stabilization needs to be thoroughly addressed.
Maintaining the road as an all-weather road is not discussed. Winter conditions make roads where steep grades are encountered a serious safety issue. Significant runoff during icy and/or wet weather conditions (particularly with a gravel surface) should be expected. At present, with the exception of former County Rd. 91 no other year-round local roads go straight up the Escarpment. Grey County Roads 13, 19 and 119, Pretty River Road and Simcoe County Road 124 all follow more gentle topography.
EROSION IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM IN THE STEEPER SECTIONS OF ESCARPMENT ROADS
Our Townline Creek Assessment Reports dating back eight years prove that where vegetation is removed Escarpment run-off is impacting water quality. Silt fences, geotextile and riprap placement over geotextile need to be in place to control erosion. As well, run-off intensity must be controlled and check-dams placed at prescribed intervals running across the ditches to dissipate the energy of the run-off down the roadside ditches. Erosion control should be provided at inlets and outlets from ditches and culverts. None of this is shown on the preliminary drawings in the NEC staff report. Also at issue, is the clearing and opening up of the road easement and how it will impact the area. Will grubbing for road widening and drainage in the easement impact the significant woodland that borders the road?
The NEC staff report did not undertake an independent engineering review of the road design but rather accepted the Clearview preliminary road design at face value. Even in the CHB decision this issue was not properly addressed and was left to later stages of design.
To carry out reconstruction, clearing of the right-of-way is proposed and considerable removal of tree and brush would be required particularly in the steeper sections. The exposed surfaces would require special consideration during construction and afterwards until vegetation was established or side slope armouring in place. The road is proposed as a gravel road and sheet flow is a problem on this type of surface creating longitudinal rills that carry sediment down the slope in wet weather, and if not re-graded and maintained, make the road un-passable. Surface treatment is normally recommended to reduce erosion but is not proposed until the traffic volume is over 400 vehicles per day.
In Clearview’s Environmental Impact Statement, they indicate that erosion control will be provided in the final design and NEC staff have accepted this as part of their final approval process. It is our position that erosion control is a very important Issue that cannot be left to later stages of approval and needs to be outlined in detail at this stage of the application process and properly addressed.
To construct what is proposed in the existing easement is folly and will result in significant expense that cannot be justified. It will cause significant damage to the Escarpment Natural and Protected lands. Funds would better be spent on improvements to other Clearview roads that provide a safer, less-steep road over the Escarpment.
IMPACTS ON WILDLIFE AND VEGETATION
Side Road 26/27 is crossed in many areas by animals accessing the shelter provided by the abutting heavily forested woodlands. Reconstruction and improvements to the vertical alignment of the road will tend to increase vehicle speed and increase the risk to wildlife. Fencing will make wildlife crossing more onerous and dangerous.
The road easement runs up a watershed divide between two tributaries at the headwaters of the Pretty River. The lower sections of the easement support a brook-trout cold-water fishery. The seep discharge keeps a portion of the area free from snow and ice cover and is a source of water to wildlife during all seasons.
Reconstruction of Side Road 26/27 could significantly impact the fishery during and after construction. For example, removal of the canopy that presently shades Side Road 26/27 will influence stream temperatures. Proposed future surface treatment will further exacerbate the condition. Salting and sanding of the road is a concern that needs to be addressed. More detailed investigation by MNR, NVCA and DFO is warranted to safeguard the fishery.
The wildlife surveys confirm the precious and wonderful bio-diversity of the area. This part of the Escarpment is a natural treasure that Watershed Trust wants to preserve and protect.
THE TRUST’S POSITION
Transforming Side Road 26/27 into an all-weather road is a major and unnecessary undertaking and degrades one of the most scenic sections of the Niagara Escarpment. For environmental reasons we believe Side Road 26/27 should be left as a scenic seasonal road. Rehabilitation should be undertaken only where necessary to provide access to the residential properties at the top of the Escarpment and to prevent further erosion in the steeper sections of the road easement.