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St. John's city council divided over Galway wetland

Coun. Debbie Hanlon speaks to reporters Monday at St. John’s City Hall.
Coun. Debbie Hanlon. - David Maher file photo/The Telegram

Two competing reports were up for approval Monday night

Tensions ran high at Monday evening’s St. John’s city council meeting over what parts of the Galway development should be protected wetlands and which should not.

Council voted 7-4 to approve a 2014 survey of wetlands within the Galway development.

Councillors who oppose the 2014 study say it covers less wetland than another study conducted in 2013, which was the other option before council on Monday night.

The 2013 study was commissioned by Dewcor — the company developing Galway and owned by former premier Danny Williams — and conducted by engineering firm Stantec.

In 2014, a second study was submitted by the Galway developers, which, according to a decision note in the city agenda, altered the proposed protected area “to allow for more developable land.”

Coun. Debbie Hanlon, who moved to accept the 2014 wetland study after an initial motion to accept the 2013 report by council development lead Coun. Maggie Burton, says the differences between the amount of land covered by the reports is “less than one per cent.”

“They’re both 170 acres. Dealing with the 2014 plan was mainly the fringe areas and little fingers,” Hanlon said.

“Most of the areas given up are skinny fingers and hillsides with slopes and bedrock. The areas that are added are adjacent to the wet, flat lands where the water is being stored. It’s much more beneficial to the wetland functionality.”

But Burton doesn’t accept that assertion. Burton says now that council has accepted the 2014 report, up to 20 per cent less wetland will be protected in the Galway development.

“It’s inaccurate. There’s a 20 per cent loss of wetland from the 2014 report that would have been there in the 2013 report,” said Burton.

“That number is based on the assumption that you include the stormwater retention ponds and boreal forest as wetlands. The stormwater retention ponds are engineered to release water slowly after a storm, they’re not meant to hold water at all.”

The vote allowed the Galway development to continue as it was, as Dewcor had already been operating under the assumption that the 2014 study was already accepted and approved by council.

Burton says there was widespread miscommunication which led the work to be done without formal approval of council, assuming that the 2014 report had been adopted, when it had not.

“It’s a misinterpretation of the principles by which we grant development approvals in the city of St. John’s,” said Burton.

“As far as a mistake made, it’s a misinterpretation of the process.”

Mayor Danny Breen and councillors Wally Collins, Jamie Korab, Deanne Stapleton, Debbie Hanlon, Dave Lane and Sandy Hickman voted in favour of the 2014 report, while Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary and councillors Maggie Burton, Ian Froude, and Hope Jamieson voted against.

Coincidentally, the vote split closely along where Williams contributed in the 2017 municipal election. Of those in favour, only Collins and Stapleton did not receive any contributions from Dewcor or 61902 Newfoundland and Labrador Ltd. (which lists Williams as sole director), and O’Leary did receive a $1,000 contribution from Williams’ companies, but voted against the 2014 delineation.

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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