During last week’s Environment & Climate Change Committee meeting, I was proud to have played a critical role in getting closer to the truth about the extensive tree clear-cutting operation that began in mid-February adjacent to the Tewin lands east of Ottawa.
For residents not aware of this story, Tewin is a large tract of undeveloped land that was added to the urban boundary expansion a few years ago in a controversial decision at City Council. The owners of the lands are a business group comprising developers Taggart Group and the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO).
In mid-February, residents of Carlsbad Springs near the Tewin lands started noticing the smell of cut trees and heard logging trucks very late at night. After a few days of this, residents sent a drone camera up and were shocked to see that over 70 hectares of forest had been clear-cut, resulting in the loss of an estimated 25,000 trees.
Residents alerted the media, and CBC News began covering the story, which first broke on March 1. That’s when Council learned of the incident, and when a few councillors began asking questions to staff. Council then received memos from city staff which stated the following:
- That staff first became aware of the clear-cutting on February 17;
- That staff had issued a stop-work order on February 22 which has since been lifted;
- That staff had been provided information by Taggart/AOO that the clear-cutting operation was being done for two completely different reasons: first, that trees damaged during the derecho were being cleared for safety; and, second, that the trees were being removed to prepare the land for farming.
That’s where my concern and curiosity began. If they needed to clear trees for safety, they surely didn’t need to clear 70 hectares worth. And Taggart/AOO were not known to be in the business of farming. And it just so happens that the land that these developers cleared of trees lies immediately south of the land that they are going to be developing as the new Tewin community.
Several councillors, including myself, asked staff why Taggart/AOO had been granted permission to cut trees without applying for a permit, which is the usual practice under our Tree Protection By-law. We were told that Taggart/AOO did not need to obtain a permit because they met the criteria for an exception. Under Section 82.7 of the Tree Protection By-law states: “A tree permit is not required where the injury or destruction of trees is a normal farm practice carried out as part of an agricultural operation by a farming business.” We were told by city staff that Taggart/AOO had signed a lease with a local farmer.
I had a lot of questions for staff pertaining to whether this tree-clearing was a “normal farm practice”, and whether it was part of an “agricultural operation”. I certainly was not clear on how Taggart/AOO was being seen as a “farming business”, since neither Taggart nor AOO have a history of farming.
But my biggest questions pertained to the lease itself. On what date was the lease between Taggart/AOO and the local farmer signed? And when did city staff first get to see that lease?
The answer I received was as shocking as it was disappointing. It was signed on March 3, which is the same day that the city was first made aware of the lease.
In other words, on February 17 when the tree cutting began, and without a lease between Taggart/AOO and a farmer, there was no legal farming business to speak of. And so, it’s reasonable to argue that the exception to the Tree Protection By-law should not have been granted, at least not without an application for a permit. After making this information public, my first question to staff was: “Would you not agree that having a lease in place between the landowners and a farming operator would be the minimum prerequisite for this being a farming business in the first place?”
Here’s a video clip from the speech I made at Committee (you can also watch the entire segment here). I certainly caused a few heads to spin, and I was glad to have earned praise from some of my more experienced colleagues.
By asking tough questions I was able to get closer to the truth of what happened, and ensure that the public was made aware of what really happened (“Tewin owners signed farming lease weeks after clear-cutting the area.”)
But this is not yet a victory. As far as we can tell, Taggart/AOO still has permission to cut trees. Several of my Council colleagues are continuing to investigate this matter, and have requested to view the lease documents. We’re also aware that a submission to the provincial Farm Practice Board may soon be made to assess this operation. I’ll be sure to keep residents notified of any new developments.
Stay vigilant, folks!