In January 2020, a month after the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) rejected my appeal of the amendment to the City of Niagara Falls Official Plan to facilitate the Riverfront development, extensive mowing took place in a Grey Hawthorn dominated savanna. In addition to Hawthorns being mowed, some small trees were cut down and turned into sawdust — which in some places, buried existing vegetation by mounds three feet deep.
The savanna area has considerable ecological significance. It is one of the few places in Niagara where a spectacular wildflower, the Butterfly Milkweed, grows. As its name implies, it provides a habitat for the threatened Monarch Butterfly.
The savanna also provides nesting habitat for several declining bird species. These include the Brown Thrasher, the Field Sparrow, and the Black Billed Cuckoo. It has also been identified as providing summer foraging for a Threatened Species, the Barn Swallow.
Scattered throughout the savanna area are several locations where a rare orchid, the Great Plains Lady Tresses, was identified in the past as being present. According to the preliminary Environmental Impact Study, these plants were supposed a year before any disturbance of the soil was carefully collected. Test plots were supposed to be carried out because of the challenges of transplanting before the complete transplanting was carried out.
The current proposed locations for the test plots vary. One, a right of way of an adjacent rail line, requires the permission of the owner before it can be carried out. Another proposed location is in Niagara on the Lake, where the species has not yet been identified in a functioning habitat.
What made the surprise cut so outrageous was that it was done in violation of the words of the member of LPAT, Sharyn Vincent. She ruled that no actual site alteration would take place until more “detailed Environmental Impact Studies” were completed. According to experts of the ecological consultants of GR CAN Investment Co. at a Public Meeting in Niagara Falls to discuss Zoning by Law for the Riverfront development, no biologist of the company was on site to observe the mowing or regulate it to protect the species when it took place.
As a result of the mowing, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) issued a Notice of Violation. This was issued under Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act. The issuing of the Notice obtained widespread publicity. Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati was quoted in local media that the prosecution came as a surprise to him.
Although there was widespread coverage of the NPCA decision to prosecute, nothing to date had appeared in the press about its decision to terminate it. I discovered that the decision had been made since I mentioned the Notice of Decision in my Letter of Appeal to LPAT. As a result of making this appeal I received 2051 pages of documents to justify a Notice of Motion to dismiss it. Here, Ian Barrett, an ecological consultant for GR CAN, indicated that a Restoration Plan “will be implemented through a voluntary agreement with the NPCA with works to commence in the spring of 2021.” Little evidence of such work can be seen, which is heavily impacted by clearing for a future subdivision.
In his affidavit sworn on May 3, 2021, Barrett complained that it was his “observation that clearing works were conducted in a manner that would not alter the habitat requirements” for the rare orchid, or “impact the longevity of this species on this site.” Barrett, perhaps having some supernatural powers, was able to make this conclusion without in his sworn testimony having undertaken “any surveys to verify the continued presence of this species.”
Why has GR CAN claimed that the Great Plains Lady Tresses still exists on the site when there is no sign of the beginning of test plots promised in their Environmental Impact Study? The site that has been promised for this work to be started still has not been selected. The demise of the prosecution is another sorry episode in the conflict to protect a great threatened Carolinian habitat treasure of national significance.
Past artciles on the Riverfront development: