Kanata West put on hold

For years, Ted Cooper has put his job on the line trying to stop the City of Ottawa from permitting buildings on flood-prone land along the Carp River. Finally, the city listened.

Patrick Dare in The Ottawa Citizen of Tuesday, February 05, 2008:

The City of Ottawa is promising a full, independent investigation after it was discovered that the planning study for the proposed huge development of Kanata West didn’t take into account all of the water that will be running off the land.

In January, the city discovered that there were “missing volumes” in the modelling study done for the 700-hectare development by consultants Totten Sims Hubicki Associates, said Rob Mackay, acting director of economic and environmental sustainability at the city. He said that lack of information affects calculations on how large the flood plain is around the Carp River.

Mr. Mackay said it could take several months before a new engineering study is complete.

For many years, development of the lands around Scotiabank Place has been a controversial issue, with environmental groups saying the land should not be developed because part of it is in a flood plain and the Carp River has often burst its banks. But the city’s planning staff worked with landowners in the area to get development under way, with a loud dissent from one water resources engineer, who said the development presented a high risk of flooding.

Yesterday, that engineer, Ted Cooper, sent letters to Premier Dalton McGuinty and Mayor Larry O’Brien outlining his concerns. He also met with two of the three Kanata city councillors to make his case that the consultants’ methodology was flawed and that Kanata West has not received the scrutiny it deserves. After years of working on the issue, he won the ear of the councillors.

“Alarm bells are ringing. Nothing is going forward,” said Kanata South Councillor Peggy Feltmate. “Things are on hold for everything at this time”.

Ms. Feltmate expressed dismay back in 2006 that the landowners in Kanata West were led to believe that there was no problem with building on the land around Scotiabank Place, only to discover that the provincial government required more studies on the effects of building on the land.

Now Ms. Feltmate is saying, “We’ve got to get to the bottom of this”.

Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson said there can be no development, including a residential development beside the Carp River in her ward, until the facts are checked.

“I do not want anything built that’s going to cause flooding for anybody in my community”, said Ms. Wilkinson. “This is going to be looked at very, very carefully”.

Stittsville-Kanata West Councillor Shad Qadri had a similar reaction after meeting with Mr. Cooper.

He said “people are starting to ask questions” about the approvals process for the development and he wants the independent review to be done by a consulting firm that hasn’t done business with the city in recent times. Mr. Qadri said he is impressed by the fact that Mr. Cooper is putting his professional reputation as an engineer on the line to raise concerns about possible flooding.

Mr. Cooper says he discovered in the last few days, after being sent documentation, that the computer modelling done by the city’s consultants did not account for water runoff within the development lands. Flood levels will rise at least half a metre higher than has been understood by the consultants and could put Highway 417 bridge structures at risk, says Mr. Cooper.

“The potential consequences, should the project go forward, are extreme”, Mr. Cooper wrote to the premier. “The underestimation of flood levels could have resulted in 500-1,000 future homes being at risk”.

Valerie McGirr, of Totten Sims Hubicki, said the firm is working with the city to resolve issues in the study.

The Kanata West development, which is to include 7,200 homes and commercial space for thousands of workers, has been the subject of controversy for years because of flood concerns. Building structures and roads around a river that floods can dramatically worsen the problem because water moves so much faster on concrete and asphalt and isn’t absorbed into the ground.

Mr. Cooper was working as a city engineer on the project until the fall of 2004, when he was reassigned to other duties because he refused to accept the conclusions of other staff that the project should go ahead. He was recently involved in a long grievance procedure in which he tried to get reinstated to his old duties at the city — including working on stormwater issues — but he lost the grievance. He has carried on raising questions about the development as a private citizen.

Mr. Cooper says he doesn’t want a lot of taxpayers’ money being spent on another consultant when there’s already an investigation under way by the city’s auditor general, Alain Lalonde.

Yesterday, Mr. Lalonde said he looked into the matter after a complaint from the city’s fraud and waste hotline.