By Ian Scott
The Natural History Society is greatly concerned over the announcement that major highway redesign and construction may be undertaken in the Churchill area of the Trans-Canada Highway. We are opposed to the proposed routing through Strathgartney Park and Strathgartney Homestead lands for several reasons including the public policy implications of de-designating and destroying NAPA (Natural Areas Protection Act) protected natural areas.
Additionally we recognize the historical significance of these properties. The original portion of land in Strathgartney Park was donated to the province by Robert Lawson Cotton on condition it be turned into a provincial park for the enjoyment of all Islanders. The property officially opened as P.E.I.'s first provincial park on July 1, 1958.
The Strathgartney Homestead property which would also be impacted was recognized (1996) as a National Historic Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. It is a 32-acre remnant of the estate of Robert Bruce Stewart, a 19th-century landowner, illustrative of the land tenure system that dominated Prince Edward Island until the passage of the Land Purchase Act of 1875. This remaining example of the home of one of our few resident landlords has been deemed to be of national significance and thus remains important to all Canadians.
These two properties also share spectacular natural features. The pileated woodpecker, was extirpated from P.E.I. for many years and has returned to the Strathgartney area again, but only because there is suitable habitat available which consists of the old growth forest. Fragmenting this property further could have a negative impact on this rare species.
Other noteworthy species are the early hairstreak butterfly, the only specimen in the Maritimes has been collected here, and the peltigera degenii lichen is located within Strathgartney, which is the only site in which it has been found in the province thus far.
American beech trees occur in this area that would have been seedlings at the time P.E.I. entered Confederation. Only one-tenth of one per cent of P.E.I. is now in beech forest. The Strathgartney beech trees are particularly spectacular as they are not as diseased with beech canker as trees elsewhere, and thus are one of our best examples of what the entire Island looked like 300 years ago.
The biodiversity contained within the Strathgartney area is threatened by the proposed development (with its 600-foot right-of-way) because it would further fragment the natural habitat. Such sites are scarce in P.E.I. due to centuries of human impact.
As one of the first provincial parks, this park has a strong emotional attachment for Islanders. It had been identified as the number one preferred location for a provincial museum due to a variety of factors in the 1980s, and remains a top scenic site for tourism promotions. The scenery in this location is one of the best on the south shore and central P.E.I., so much so that it was the first place to have a scenic highway look-out constructed so that people could stop and take photos.
Both Strathgartney Provincial Park and the privately-owned Stratgartney Homestead property are designated as protected sites under the Natural Areas Protection Act. It is our understanding that as a private property, that NAPA designation cannot be removed from the homestead property. The public policy implications of attempting to remove NAPA protection from Strathgartney Park as indicated already is an ill-advised approach that will continue to galvanize opposition from environmental and recreational groups as well as the general public and set a dangerous precedence.
Destroying a gift, given for posterity as a provincial park for the people of the province to enjoy, again sets a precedence with negative impacts as well as eroding trust in public institutions charged with protecting these lands for the future.
The Strathgartney area is highly important for its cultural and natural history as well as its scenic quality. This jewel must continue to be protected. These properties are too important to all Prince Edward Islanders to be paved over, and thus we do not support the proposals to build a highway through the middle of these two significant natural areas or any effort to have them de-designated from the current protection they have under the Natural Areas Protection Act.
Ian Scott is president of the Natural History Society of Prince Edward Island.
After attending the public meeting at Crapaud on Nov. 21, 2011, and being assured that our input is being sought and considered, we wish to express our opposition to the proposed highway realignment for Crapaud/Tryon.
It is obvious that this section of the highway could be greatly improved with much less expenditure of public funds than this proposal requires. As for the safety issue, it has been determined that speed, lack of seatbelt use, and impaired drivers are the three major causes of accidents on P.E.I. highways. None of these will be resolved by highway realignment.
We have concerns about the sacrifice of farm acreages and the valuable top-grade soil they contain. The complete environmental impact on waterways and wetlands is unpredictable. The future of commerce including the local oyster industry, in Crapaud, Tryon and surrounding areas will be jeopardized.
And, of course, perhaps most devastating of all, there is the inevitable resulting annihilation of the currently vibrant village of Crapaud, a fear loudly and clearly expressed by the majority of residents attending the meeting. As residents of nearby Victoria, the amenities of Crapaud are equally important to us, and we would suffer the losses equally.
It just seems too much to risk for saving a few minutes getting from Borden to Charlottetown, which is, after all, only a microscopic portion of the great Atlantic Gateway corridor.
Leo and Brenda Boudreau, Victoriahttp://surveyoronline.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/mikmaq-grand-council-leader-disapproves-of-proposed-highway-changes/
Rare woodpecker sighted in Strathgartney; province plans to build highway through park -- surveyoronlinehttp://surveyoronline.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/rare-woodpecker-sighted-in-strathgartney-province-plans-to-build-highway-through-park/
In response to Ms. Bernice Bell's letter last Friday re the Strathgartney Park issue:
I happen to agree with her about the folly of rerouting a road so folks can go faster, especially through such a pretty place. However, it's unfortunate that she didn't make her point without disparaging a group of people, namely truck drivers.
As a truck driver of some 16 years, I can tell her that the delivery of freight will not be hastened significantly by a new highway. I can also tell her that trucks are far and away operated in a safer manner than private vehicles. I think her portrayal of truck drivers as drinkers and unsafe drivers is most ignorant of reality. In fact, many, if not most, folks who drive for a living are subject to random drug and alcohol testing. Midland Transport, where I work, has its own safety patrol that monitors Irving-owned companies for safety and compliance. I could get a fine or lose my job on the side of the road if I am observed operating in a dangerous manner or found not in compliance with the law.
It's too bad Ms. Bell didn't try to learn more about the trucking industry and our commitment to safety and compliance before she slammed a whole industry by invoking unflattering imagery and unfair stereotypes.
Adam Drake, Morell
I am, at this point, considering returning my licence plate for a new one. Why should we have ‘Canada's Green Province' on our cars if our solution to a car-related concern is to destroy the environment even further?
Consider the headline if New York decided it could afford to give away seven per cent of Central Park to make a new road across the park, or Vancouver reduced Stanley Park by seven per cent. Would we snip seven per cent off our Victoria Park? Just how far would we go to get "better and better and better roads"?
If there is money to spend for this terrible Trans-Canada highway re-alignment project at Strathgartney, take that same money and find another solution. Here are just a few: reduce the speed limit, educate the public on better driving skills, sand more often in winter, post more police surveillance, offer other shipping options to truckers such as using Northumberland Ferries for those in central-eastern P.E.I etc.
How much more control are we willing to give to the car in our lives? There is no way to pave our province enough to keep every motorist happy. I have driven all across Canada and there are many roads with more hazards than this little strip.
It is very concerning that our government would not be morally opposed to cutting into a provincial park. Is there no integrity left in this government? Shame on you for even considering this.
I look forward to the termination of this proposal.
Tracy MacDonald, Elmwood
Ahh - Strathgartney Park (I even love the Scottish flavour of its name). Beautiful in all seasons, fiery autumnal colours just past. Refuge for many creatures large and small.
Hiking and camping paradise for many. Panoramic views with the blue loop of the West River off in the distance. Just resting my eyes on it gives me a feeling of satisfaction.
And someone wants to tear it up and build a super highway. Give your heads a shake! When educated people sat down at a table, spread out a map of P.E.I. and saw Strathgartney Provincial Park, that should have indicated a No-Go zone - highlighted in red.
Warn unsuspecting tourists of an S-curve. Lower the speed limit. Erect some signs at each end: Slow Down-Speed Kills and Slow Down-Enjoy the view. Just please, leave our park alone.
Judy Rayner, Bonshaw
I am opposed to any plan to reconstruct the Trans-Canada Highway through the Strathgartney Provincial Park, as is being considered by the P.E.I. Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
Highway safety will not be improved by making the highway straighter - that just increases the traffic speed. Speed is the problem, as we witness here in Bonshaw since the speed limit through our village was increased.
Our province should not spend millions of dollars on more destructive paving programs. None of the three 'Gateway' proposals presented to the public are worth the high costs for the minimal predicted savings in time and fuel.
Priority should instead go toward strategies to lessen our dependence on imported fuels and food and to strengthen our local economy and rural communities. That would mean less highway traffic, which should make for a safer highway.
The federal government can be told to keep that Gateway money if they won't allow it to be used for the real priorities of Islanders - such things as improving education and health care, and the preservation of farmland and natural areas.
Strathgartney Provincial Park is a treasured natural area given and held in trust; it must be preserved and kept completely intact.
Expanding the park is what would show proper government leadership.
Tony Reddin, Bonshaw
By Josie Baker
The media coverage related to the proposed highway expansion projects mainly focuses on the Strathgartney Provincial Park segment. The plans also include bypassing the communities of Crapaud and Tryon, which means cutting across farmland. All three aspects of the expansion plans need exposure.
The proposed de-designation of Strathgartney Provincial Park, one of P.E.I.'s few protected natural areas, and the destruction of this beautiful biodiverse wetland and forest reveals the shocking disconnect between the values of the people of Prince Edward Island and the current administration.
The ‘safety' of our highways is the excuse offered to justify this multimillion dollar affront to P.E.I.'s environment and community. I encourage everyone to consider that ‘safety' (sometimes called ‘security') is consistently used to justify laws, policies, and, yes, highway construction, that go against the public good. One example: in the name of ‘safety', small farmers have been locked out of the egg market, thereby handing a tidy monopoly to industrial farms, despite the demands or desires of consumers.
In the case of the highway construction project, we need to look to the federal and international level as this project is part of the ‘Atlantic Gateway' - a larger regional and national initiative with international implications.
The Atlantic Gateway Initiative is part of an even bigger plan to establish a network of superhighways (‘trade corridors") not only through the Atlantic Provinces and New England states, but on a broader scale through all of North, Central and South America.
This system of trade corridors is designed to further globalize the economy and ease the extraction and transportation of resources. These trade corridors include not only superhighways but pipelines for shipping energy, fossil fuels, and eventually perhaps even water.
The neo-liberal economic policies that are behind the Atlantic Gateway initiative are the same ones that have resulted in the decimation of small farms in the Maritimes and around the globe.
Right now the fragility of the globalized economy is becoming more and more evident - the emperor has no clothes, and the word is spreading.
Is it in P.E.I.'s interest to participate in the Atlantic Gateway? Is it in our long-term interests to transform the landscape of the province so that we can participate more efficiently in an unsustainable and failing economic system?
Islanders were never consulted on this highway project, let alone on our participation in the ‘Atlantic Gateway'. The ‘information
sessions' held recently were clearly designed to disperse and discourage a unified outcry against the Strathgartney Provincial Park project. Representatives milled about the room to answer questions, but no one took notes. The Liberal government plans simply to plow ahead with this Atlantic Gateway project by running a new superhighway either through a protected natural area, or around communities and over farmland that will never be reclaimed.
We are sure to lose if we continue to buy into the sinking ship of the globalized economy. Let us make our highways safer - slow traffic down.
Let us work to have a livable and just province, let us nourish our local economy, let us eliminate poverty, let us pass laws and policies that support farmers and fishers and protect our environment for generations to come. Let us put the provincial contribution of $8 million in taxpayers' money towards these goals. It is time the provincial government made decisions that are good for Islanders, not for big business.
Josie Baker is co-ordinator for Cooper Institute, an education and community development centre in Prince Edward Island.
Daniel Schulman eloquently expressed that in the 21st century it shouldn't be necessary to debate the validity of rerouting highways through farmland and a provincial park. (Nov. 1, 2011) Yet that is what the government appears to be planning.
Only the very credulous would believe that their real motives are derived from a concern for our safety. If this were their concern, they would be acknowledging the fact that invariably national and international road safety studies identify driver behaviour as the leading cause of road accidents, not road design. Of these, drunk driving, not using seat belts, and reckless behaviour like speeding are the primary causes.
And as any study will confirm, merely counting accidents without considering their real causes is practically meaningless. Yet, by presenting maps of isolated sections of roads, with superimposed markers of accidents, and no explanation whatsoever of their actual causes, that is exactly what this government has done.
Only last month, RCMP Sgt. Blackadar confirmed to The Guardian what any road safety expert could conclude: drunk driving, not wearing seat belts, and reckless behaviour like speeding are the primary causes of road accidents in P.E.I. (Oct. 11, 2011) He was particularly frank about drunk driving, stating: "You don't have to look too hard in this province to find an impaired driver," particularly in rural areas. He added: "Islanders should be appalled with the number of impaired drivers that we have here."
But rather than provide any consideration of this problem, the government is attempting to push through an entirely unnecessary scheme by trying to convince us that it is the roads that are causing deaths, and not the people driving on them. In doing so, they undermine the efforts of the RCMP, M.A.D.D. and everyone else who is trying to tackle this serious problem. We should be equally appalled by the fact that, in effect, what the government is telling us is: "We'll change the roads so that you don't have to change your behaviour." Whatever they hope to gain by this irresponsible plan, it's not worth the consequences.
Elizabeth Schoales, Charlottetown
As part of its justification for the building of a ‘bypass' at Strathgartney, I see that the Department of Transportation is playing the safety and energy-saving cards, and that some people are accepting without question the limited evidence they have presented on these issues.
I am very skeptical of the claim of a serious safety issue at Strathgartney, and think that it is no more serious than along many other Island roads. Unfortunately, the only evidence that we the public have on accident rates is that found on the maps of Strathgartney and Crapaud on the government website. The Strathgartney map shows that 26 ‘accidents' (presumably of varying degrees of seriousness - though none apparently fatal) have occurred along the ‘loop' over the last five years. However, the same map also shows that seven such accidents have occurred along a much shorter stretch of the Trans-Canada on the Bonshaw side of the loop, and if we had the whole picture down to the Bonshaw intersection, presumably the number would be much higher. Yet no alterations are being proposed to that stretch of highway.
With regard to energy savings, the government website states that the Strathgartney bypass will "reduce fuel consumption by 63,000 litres on average in one year." It is an easy matter to calculate that at $1 per litre it will take 150 years to recover the $9.5 million that the project is estimated to cost. And even if we work with $2 per litre it will still take 75 years. How can such a low rate of return be used to justify such a project?
I believe that the real reason for this proposal is not because of a road safety issue or for the minimal savings in time and energy that may result. It is simply because there is federal money available for road improvements of a restricted kind and the Department of Transportation has been desperate to find a spot where it might be spent, regardless of its wider effects on the landscape and environment.
Doug Sobey, Bedeque
I am writing to express my dismay at the proposed alteration to the Churchill stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway through Strathgartney Provincial Park. I grew up in Charlottetown, and some of my fondest childhood memories are those of 'Sunday drives' to Strathgartney with my parents and siblings, or excursions with friends and their parents for a day in the park. Even as a young child, I sensed that Strathgartney was a very special place, and those were always happy days filled with nature, fresh air and fun.
I returned to P.E.I. in 2003 with my husband and we live in Meadowbank. Happily, we live only 15 minutes from the park, and regularly go there to hike the beautiful trails or to kayak along the West River below the park. Visiting the park as an adult I am now fully conscious of what a precious gift of nature that Strathgartney Park is. It is not much changed since I visited it as a child 45-50 years ago.
I am completely baffled by the P.E.I. government's intention to destroy this natural green legacy that was gifted to all Islanders. If this construction goes ahead, I am quite sure that I will not be the only Islander to pledge to do whatever they can to ensure that Strathgartney Park is left untouched. I know that I would sit in front of backhoes and bulldozers in any weather, if necessary. I have never before contemplated such action in my life.
Please, Premier Ghiz, let's not further erode our children's right to green spaces, nature, fresh air and fun. Please don't 'pave paradise' (Thank you, Joni Mitchell).
Cathy Grant, Meadowbank
By Daniel Schulman
Imagine waking up one morning to news that the P.E.I. government was seriously considering a proposal to allow Island farmers limited reintroduction of slavery so their farms may run more efficiently in the global marketplace. There isn't a single person reading this who would not be aghast. Yet, a few hundred years ago, it wouldn't have seemed strange. Why the change? Because values have evolved.
When I awoke several weeks ago to news that the P.E.I. government was seriously considering a rerouting of the Trans-Canada Highway through Strathgartney Provincial Park, I was quite stunned — for the same reason. My values have evolved. But to my surprise, it seems my government is still operating at around 1975 consciousness. That is 36 years out of date. To remind you, cellphones didn't exist then and the laptop I am writing this on would have occupied a space the size of the Daniel J. MacDonald Building.
Progress is not just about the evolution of technology. To be complete, it also requires the evolution of culture and values. Technological progress without progress in culture and values is tantamount to giving a five-year-old a chainsaw or an angry teenager an arsenal of weapons. Neither is ready to handle the responsibility yet. It appears we aren't either.
The discussion seems to revolve around three issues: who ‘uses' the park and how much, the threat of legal action over a land donation legacy and the matter of highway safety. I would suggest these are all secondary to what we should really be facing here.
I am not so interested in whether people ‘use' the park or not (in fact, there is a real conundrum with natural area designation and the question of ‘use'. If mountain biking at Strathgartney swelled to the thousands, it would be a mess). ‘Use' is not the point and I would think in a province where there is almost zero publicly stewarded natural space, that would be obvious. It's not about ‘using' the space. It's about allowing the space to be there, for all of its mostly incalculable benefits. And from a natural area perspective, routing the highway behind the hill is actually intelligent design.
I am not so interested in the possibility of lawsuits arising from the legal status of the park as a gift from Mr. Cotton. Lawsuits are a threat required in a kindergarten-equivalent moral context when people don't ‘behave'. I am interested in why we are still operating with a mindset that requires the threat of legal action to behave. This demonstrates to future potential bequeathers, P.E.I. is not a trustworthy recipient of such high acts of future-oriented generosity. So beware and take your visionary philanthropy elsewhere.
And I am not so interested in the safety argument because safety is a very big can of worms and in the big picture, our culture has a deeply perverse and irrational relationship to risk and safety — obsessive compulsive where it doesn't matter much and in complete avoidance and denial where it matters a whole lot more. That's too big a topic to get into here, but it's a bottomless pit of confusion and delusion (I am not heartless. I sympathize greatly if someone you know died or got injured on that stretch of highway, but there are lots of reasons for that and lots of solutions).
The big question we have to ask here is why are we operating with a 36-year-old mindset — a level of consciousness that in 2011 should seem primitive to most of us and, certainly to our government. I am very distressed we do not yet understand the importance of strategically securing a reasonable proportion of our landmass for nature to do its thing. I am also distressed we would betray the generosity of a deceased Islander who had the means and vision to help us with that task. Perhaps we should revisit the right of women to vote and landholders to have slaves, too.
Daniel Schulman has two degrees in environmental science, taught environmental technology at Holland College for eight years, served on the P.E.I. Environment Minister's Advisory Council for four years, co-founded the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I. and received the P.E.I. Environment Award in 1995.