Protesters stop work on Guelph's Hanlon Creek Business Park Special

Posted Jul 28, 2009 by Stephanie Dearing
Guelph, ON - They moved in yesterday morning, turning the old farm-now-construction-zone into a protest encampment. They say they will stay until their demands are met, or until September 15th, whichever comes first.
Blocked Roadway
The old farm laneway blocked by protesters, the camp beyond. Behind the camp is part of the 150 acre old growth forest the protesters also want to protect.
Stephanie Dearing
It was a quiet take-over, the group of around 50 people walking onto the old farm at 7 a.m. The farm is now the site of the City of Guelph's Hanlon Creek Business Park (HCBP) expansion. Having learned of the protest on Monday's late news, I went to the protest site Tuesday to meet with the protesters and learn first-hand what they are protesting.
It is hard to tell from Downey Road that there is a protest underway. There is no obstruction of traffic because the protesters are established down by the creek, where the construction work was taking place. As you draw near to the old farm lane way, you will notice several people blocking the lane way to prevent vehicles from entering.
Sign painting
Two protesters painting a sign at the entance to the construction site for the expanded Hanlon Creek Business Park, Guelph, ON.
Stephanie Dearing
As the news clip shows, there was a little more activity on the roadside yesterday after employees from Drexler Construction arrived to the site and learned they couldn't work. Drexler Construction was hired by the City of Guelph for the first phase of construction on the HCBP, the building of a four-lane road.
After a rain last night, the old farm lane is full of mud and puddles. It's humid, although mainly overcast, and warm. The fields we are walking through to access the protest site are full of tall grass, birds and butterflies. I see at least four to six Monarch Butterflies, the first ones I've seen this summer. It's a peaceful place, in spite of the destruction that has already occurred, and the air is rich with the sounds of insects, birds, and cows lowing from the farm across the road. The creek area, where Drexler had begun to work, is redolent with the smell of cedar because some of the cedars lining the creek were cut down and shredded on the spot in preparation for the building of the road.
Old laneway
The old laneway.
Stephanie Dearing
It's hard to say how many people are camped at the site, but safe to say at least 20, possibly 30. The protest does not have a leader, although there are two people designated as 'media liaisons,' Will and Sam (not their real names). I ask them to tell me what the protest is all about. They say the group has several reasons for halting the work on the Hanlon Creek Business Park. The first they cite is the Jefferson Salamander, an endangered species which might be living in the area. "The City," Sam alleges, "did not conduct a thorough enough survey of the area" to determine whether or not the federally protected salamander is living in the area.
The city, through a letter written by Mayor Karen Farbridge, claims it has not only undertaken an exhaustive environmental assessment, it also held an intense search for the Jefferson Salamander, which was not found. The letter begins with a statement that the HCBP “... is an important part of our local growth management strategy ... It is a key part of our plan to prevent sprawl beyond our boundaries onto natural areas and farmland.”
The little critter at the heart of this protest, the Jefferson Salamander, was not thought to be found in the Guelph area. Technically speaking, the species still has not been found in the area, although a salamander killed by a car on Laird Road in Guelph was identified as a Jefferson hybrid, having Jefferson genes, although the salamander itself was not wholly a Jefferson. This means, opponents have pointed out, that there has to be at least one Jefferson Salamander in the area available to mate with the other species. Laird Road is in the same vicinity of the Hanlon Creek Business Park (both the the existing park and the proposed expansion).
"Are you trying to find the salamander?" I ask. The young woman who calls herself Sam responds by saying , “That’s not our job. It's the city's job." "But wouldn't that be the end of the development right now if you did find a Jefferson Salamander?" I press. “The protest isn’t just about the Salamander,” said Will. “There is inadequate protection of the old growth forest,” he pointed out. There are buffer zones planned, but they are not wide enough and the plans for the site show that the buffer zones will contain infrastructure.” The forest is about 150 acres. Sam points at the creek, and says that the water system is important too, and adds that environmental concerns are a big part of the protest, as the construction of the expanded park – which isn’t needed during this recession – is adding to global warming. Sam said that a majority of Guelphites oppose the HCBP expansion, but city is not listening. She said that the Guelph Mercury newspaper had an informal poll on its website not long ago, and 61% of the respondents were against the business park expansion.
Plan for the site
"Will" shows me the plan for the Hanlon Creek Business Park.
Stephanie Dearing
Old growth forests in Ontario are rare, having been destroyed by fire or cut down over the centuries to clear land for agriculture. However, the forest in Guelph is rather special, being home to an Ironwood tree that is estimated to be about 500 years old. But that's not all - this ancient Ironwood is surrounded by a grove of Maples that is estimated to be at least 200 year old. According to the Guelph Civic League, these trees are to be cut down to make way for the business park. The City of Guelph says that the oldest trees will not be removed.
Judy Martin, with the Sierra Club of Ontario said that the Sierra Club has raised concerns about the development with the City in the past. The club is "really concerned about the loss of the trees, the loss of isolated wetland (about six acres), and the damage to the moraine that is also found on the site." The Paris moraine extends into this area, and is very important in the water cycle. The City of Guelph moved to protect the Paris Moraine in 2007.
Guelph's activist group, Wellington Water Watchers, have said that the business park will have a negative impact on Guelph's water supplies, saying that up to 75% of the site may end up paved, to the detriment of the Paris moraine -- and will negatively affect one of Guelph's key water supply wells.
Another group that has opposed the HCBP development is a newer group to Guelph, LIMITS.
The creek
The creek portion where the culvert was to be built.
Stephanie Dearing
The occupiers have three demands for the City of Guelph:
• “To listen to public outcry and respect the intrinsic importance of this land by immediately ending this development and terminating their contract with Drexler;
• To compensate the skilled labourers of Drexler Construction for lost wages, including those who choose to stand with us;
• To publicly apologize to the people of Guelph for disregarding their opposition to this development.”
The press release Sam gave me at the end of our interview states that the Western Chorus Frog is also a species put at risk because of the construction of the business park. According to the release, the site of the future business park is host to “...over 112 species of birds, 16 species of mammals, 270 species of plants and trees and 20 species of reptiles and amphibians.” A copy of the press release has been posted on the Ward 2 Guelph website.
The protesters say they are prepared to stay on the site to prevent further construction work until September 15th, although they hope that the City will end the construction before that date.
The group is open to support, whether that be people who want to help block the construction, or to contribute supplies, such as water, food and toiletries. To learn more about either option, call 519-820-6280.
Looking at the suburbs
One view, looking at the suburbs of Guelph from the site of the occupation.
Stephanie Dearing