by Bob Gordon

Despite long-standing opposition, the City of Guelph’s Hanlon Creek Business Park (HCBP) will not go away. The city, having annexed 1,489 hectares of land from Puslinch Township in 1993 and having committed 271 of these to the building of what Guelph mayor Karen Farbridge describes on her blog as “a model for other municipalities to follow,” has since faced heavy resistance to its plans. For more than a decade, a number of conservation organizations and local residents have expressed concern that this land is too important to the ecological integrity of the area to be paved over.

A new local organization called Land Is More Important Than Sprawl (LIMITS) is now spearheading opposition to the development. “The project will be devastating to the whole complex ecosystem and result in a variety of species being extirpated,” says member Melanie Sohm. According to the LIMITS website, surveys of the proposed HCBP site found that it is home to at least 112 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles and amphibians, 16 species of mammals and 270 species of plants and trees. Most notably, perhaps, is the presence of a hop-hornbeam tree that is estimated to be at least 250 years old, making it one of the oldest of its kind in the province. While the grove in which it is located is to be spared, the city’s plan calls only for protection one metre beyond the tree’s dripline (the area directly located under the outer circumference of the tree branches). According to Chris Morrison, an arborist with Maple Hill Tree Services, “80 percent of the tree’s root system potentially extends beyond the protected zone, and the tree will be adversely impacted if the soil is disturbed up to only one metre beyond the dripline.”

Indeed, the voices of concern cannot grow much louder than they already are. Local Sierra Club representative Judy Martin is worried that the requisite grading and paving will considerably alter the flow of surface water and risk warming Hanlon Creek to the point at which it can no longer support brook trout. The development is also located on the Paris-Galt moraine in the catchment area of the Downey aquifer, the source of 20 percent of the City of Guelph’s drinking water. According to James Gordon of Wellington Water Watchers, “it threatens the groundwater recharge of the moraine … [while] increased industrial activity in this sensitive area raises the potential for toxic materials to seep into [Guelph’s] drinking water.”

The discovery of a hybrid Jefferson and blue-spotted salamander in the area in May complicates the matter. The Jefferson salamander is identified as a threatened species under the federal Species at Risk Act and Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, as is the western chorus frog, also present on the site. However, these two pieces of legislation have jurisdiction only over federally and provincially owned land, respectively. The city, as the majority landowner and managing partner in the development, has no legal obligation to take action related to these designations.

At present the city’s consultants, Natural Resource Solutions Inc., continue to monitor the situation and are attempting to identify the salamander’s breeding pond. Meanwhile, the city is involved in discussions with the Ministry of Natural Resources to determine how the presence of the salamander affects plans for future development of the park. In June, however, the city issued a site alteration permit that authorized Cooper Construction to commence site grading on a 1.5-hectare parcel in the southeast corner of the planned development.