Wednesday, November 01, 2006

From Mayor Well's "What's all the fuss about," to Addison Bown' better read it - you'd never believe me

Dear readers - I promised you some transcripts from CBC Radio's coverage of developments on Signal Hill. Here are two recent pieces from On the Go:

Transcript of CBC Radio One’s On the Go: Monday Oct. 30/06

[Ted Blades]… Signal Hill that the locals call the fen. It lies in 40acres of bog, bush and rock behind the Johnson Geo Centre, a series of trails, interpretive points and other Grand Concourse type stuff are under construction up there, now. I was up there Friday morning with Ray Cox who lives and works in the area. As the backhoes and ATV’s were busily hauling gravel around us, I asked him why he opposed this development. Here’s some of what he had to say.

RC: Well, I guess the first thing is I liked the Hill the way it was, it was just a natural hillside, and that was the beauty of it for so many people, that they could come here & pick berries and basically be in St. john’s but be away from everything.

TB: what role does having a wild space, a space that’s not been converted, so it is accessible by all, by the elderly by people in wheelchairs….what role is there for untamed spaces in a city landscape?

RC: ..I think there’s a certain connection with nature….even the other day I was up here with my dog and took a long look at the valley, and thought how beautiful it was in all its fall colours and the next day I came through and there was a road down the side of it, right through the valley itself. It was shocking to see that kind of change in basically a wetland area and watershed area.

TB: When did you first find out that this is what was happening here?

RC: Through the summer I’ve seen stakes go up and for sometime I’ve seen some of the early development of the trails. I was away for the month of August, I came back and half of a pond was gone, a parking lot was put in its place, and a new road was cut through – adding a third road off the Geo Centre into the area near the Battery Hotel. I’m not against the development of an interpretative area around the Geo Centre….to basically take a public area – this was all crown land - I considered that I was one of the owners of the place, turn it into a big urban park without anybody knowing about it or asking anybody what we felt about it, it just seems to fly in the face of what should be going on. And again, this is significant acreage. This is Signal Hill, this is an iconic place in the City, in the province, and beyond. For this kind of development there should have been at least some kind of public consultation – let us know what you propose and let us comment on it.

TB: That was Ray Cox on Friday’s On to Go. This morning I called the mayor of St. John’s Andy Wells and asked him amongst other questions how and when this project was approved by City Council. Here’s what he told me.

AW: It came before Council I think earlier this fall, I don’t know how long ago it was. It’s in Signal Hill Park, it’s a project being done by the Geo Centre, it’s a permitted use in the area, and there’s not a thing wrong with it as far as I can see.

TB: Was that discussed or presented at private meeting or public meeting?
AW: It was the one mistake we made certainly procedurally…because it involved an arrangement between ourselves and the Grand Concourse, we did do it at a private meeting, but it should not have been done at a private meeting, that was a mistake, I take responsibility for that. We should have done it at a public meeting, but when it came before me at a private meeting, given that it was a permitted use and given that you’re upgrading or doing work on an open space, I mean I couldn’t see what, it just didn’t twig to me that people would be even opposed to it. But obviously with hindsight, yes, it should have been done. There’s nothing to hide or be hidden from the people, and I’ve reviewed the plan with our director of engineering and I can’t see what the fuss is all about.

TB: The people that I have talked to have felt that, they’re opposed to it, they want it left in a more wild state, but the very least said there should have been some public input.

AW: They’re probably right on that one. That’s our fault, I can’t argue that. It wasn’t deliberate but given the fact that it was a permitted use, because it is within the mandate of I guess a National Park, and we didn’t see any environmental problems with it. I think some people are concerned about the width of the road that’s there?

TB: yes

AW: but that’s only temporary while the work is going to be done I believe.

TB: I spoke to Paul Johnson about that on Friday and he said they’re going to be dropped back down from the 10 foot wide roads that they are now to 6 foot paths that they are in other parts of the Grand Concourse.

AW: I don’t know what the concern is! There’s nothing going to be destroyed. What’s going to be destroyed? We have an environmental bylaw, we have regulations, and I mean we follow the law, we don’t break the law.

TB: I guess their argument is, is there no room in the City landscape for wild space as opposed to stuff that’s been gentrified?

AW: Well I think gentrified is kind of a pretentious term and rather a pretentious criticism. I think what we’ve done with our open space and our parks around the City is uh, we haven’t in anyway compromised the environment, and, people seem to forget that there’s 4,000 hectares of open space undeveloped in the City of St. John’s called Pippy Park, there’s a huge area. Plus if you want to look at a map of the City of St. John’s, aside from Pippy Park, there are huge open space areas in this City that are not going to be developed and never will be. I don’t understand what people are so upset about.

TB: Who owns that land now?

AW: The National Park isn’t it?

TB: No, it’s outside the National Park. My
understanding, and this is third-hand information, that this was provincial crown land that through some assistance of the City has now been transferred to the Grand Concourse.

AW: Well, maybe so. It is not owned by the federal government, certainly owned by the provincial government, not owned by us. So therefore it would be provincial crown land. And I guess we jointly or the province or ourselves deeded it over to the Grand Concourse.

TB: When I talked to Paul Johnson in the parking lot of the Geo Centre on Friday, he said that if they stopped to consult the public at every step they’d never get anything done. What do you make of that sentiment?

AW: I don’t think I can agree with that. I think that people are entitled to have input. We’re pretty careful here, this was certainly an oversight on our part, but I mean I think the citizens of St. John’s have a right to be consulted about how their open spaces are developed. With this exception, all of these things go to the public chamber of the City, and there is certainly an opportunity for public discussion, public debate, this was as I say an oversight.

TB: The next time something like this happens it’ll be in public?

AW: Well, yeah, I’m certainly alert to it now.
It’ll never happen again as far as I’m concerned. But I can’t say it won’t happen. But it’ll never happen again ‘cause I’m concerned. I mean it wasn’t deliberate. And I mean we’ve gotten, what, I’ve had two calls on it. My impression is that there’s not a lot of public opposition. Not just because there’s two doesn’t mean their criticism isn’t valid, it’s not a numbers game. But when I got a call first from Ray Cox, I did go down and meet with our director of engineering who’s supervising the project*, brief me with what’s going on, and I cannot honestly say that I would have done anything different. I mean I don’t know what the problem is. We’re building a little trail that people can walk on. We’re not going to undermine the integrity of the adjacent open space. The bog is there but I don’t know how significant it is, but in any event it’s not going to be destroyed. So what is all the fuss about, one has to ask?

TB: Mayor Wells, I want to thank you for your time.

AW: Okay.

Transcript of CBC Radio One’s On the Go: Tuesday, Oct.31/06

Host Ted Blades:…a series of trails, interpretative points and other structures, maybe even some fountains are being built up there by the Grand Concourse Authority. Our coverage of this development has prompted an email from Bob Gendron who writes in part: “I heard you talking with the Mayor [Andy Wells] on Monday’s show. I appreciate his admitting the project should have gone through public consultation. However, I am still concerned about the bog and I have two straightforward, and as yet, unanswered questions. One: what evidence does the City have that the pathways built on and around the fen will not upset the hydrology, pH balance, and sediment input and output of the bog? And Two: was this ever studied or assessed by qualified individuals having knowledge of ecosystems of isolated bogs? As I understand it – Mr. Gendron goes on to say – raised wooden boardwalks should be used to prevent blockages of water flow and avoid the leaching of harsh chemicals that can occur out of gravel and fill and thus possibly lead to damaging the bog. A perched bog such as this, in the hollow of a hill, is even more special. If these questions have not been answered and cannot be answered now, then I suggest it should be assessed before further work is done in the bog area. And again, that email is from On the Go listener Bob Gendron.

Now, I spoke with Addison Bown, the head of the Grand Concourse Authority earlier today to request an interview to address these questions. He said he’d take a look at them and get back to me, so I emailed them off to him. When he called back this afternoon, he said the questions are not worth responding to.

I asked him if an environmental assessment had been done before this project was undertaken.

“For what?” He said.
To see if the trails and such would have an impact on the fen, I replied.

“Don’t they know,” said Mr. Bown, “that all the water off the roof of the Geo Centre runs into the fen, no one’s had a problem with that. And as far as the pH balance goes, that’s acid. Don’t these people know that all the bogs were ponds once and will be land again. How deep do these people dig I wonder before they start barking for lack of a better word.”

Mr. Bown concluded by saying he’d welcome an email from Mr. Gendron and would gladly respond to him, but he’s not going to talk about this project on the radio anymore. He said: “I’d be glad to talk to you about any other story any other time, but that there’s been enough coverage on this one.”

So where gentle listener should we go? Should we leave it alone as Mr. Bown says or is there somewhere else we should take it? Your advice, comments, suggestions, always welcome. Talkback’s number is 576-5207 in the City, anywhere else it’s a toll-free number, 1-800-465-6846. Our email address is

[bolded by me, squidink. Also, re *, at time of my meeting with City one week ago, none of engineering/planning staff had even visited site to see what was going on]

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