HERE NB, Dec 7-13, 2006
Parking lot run-off could destroy brook in woodlot
By Patrick Leonard
On the paths around Corbett Brook one can see the marsh hills through dry branches and discern the long reflection of the trees. The hills lay low in the water, waving their dead grasses; and in between, a pair of ducks bathe and call. A mist loosens all definition. Leaves in puddle bottoms have assumed the tones of the wet clay path, broken cattails waver under a sudden drizzle. The grey shapes of the tree line are interrupted by an orange growth on a long dead birch, alike in colour to the department store signs that peer garishly upon the wetland.
Corbett Brook, at the point nearest to the department store, reaches about the length of a soccer pitch. Both the store and brook stand on the University of New Brunswick woodlot, spreading east from the place upper Regent St. rounds out to highway 101. Fifty per cent of the woodlot’s 1,500 hectare surface has been marked for development since to the university decided to capitalize on the asset. By 2050 the lot will abound with shops and restaurants. But the plan corresponds with the environmental assessment made in preparation for development, and the other 50 per cent, comprised of waterways and old growth forests will remain untouched.
The separation is a delicate one. A stone’s throw from Corbett brook is a catch pool, ringed with a wire fence, that divides the wetland from the parking lot. A paved lot is not environmentally innocuous; the parked cars it hosts leave patches of motor oil that are washed out with the rain.
“And it’s right up against the buffer,” said Geoff Harding, Development Manager of the local Ducks Unlimited branch. He was surprised by the proximity when he saw brook on a recent errand.
“There isn’t much space left between the parking lot and the brook. I know that the store and the university went through the processes to get the zoning permits. But in a situation like this there is going to be run-off from the parking lot, and it might not be easy to control the consequences.” Corbett Brook, once a fairly isolated waterway, is an essential part of an ecosystem, feeding forest growth and wildlife. Fifteen years ago, before the development began, Ducks Unlimited built a water control structure leading into the marsh, stabilizing and enabling changes to the amount of water it contained. The goal was to create a permanent watershed.
Harding said that with run-off the risk of pollution is paired with the potential impact of sedimentation, the distribution of earth and organic matter throughout waterways. If one tosses a stone into the catch-pool, the water that courses up in reply is pale brown.
“With a paved lot you get a lot of quick runoff, with oil and stuff like that. It hits the buffer before it reaches the brook, but can eventually spill over,” he said.
“Sedimentation happens everywhere, because of forestry and agriculture and the disappearance of trees. When enough of this takes place you have the disappearance of wetlands, and the loss of natural habitats.” Harding said that Wetlands are critical to wildlife survival and to the overall health of the watershed. Marshes like Corbett Brook filter contaminants from our water systems that can detrimentally impact water quality over time. Sedimentation and pollution from run-off could eventually reduce the brook’s cleansing properties. Although New Brunswick has some of the strictest environmental protection laws in Atlantic Canada, the buffer required may not be enough to preserve the integrity of the brook. The proximity of the parking lot could be the first step toward its demise. As the rain continus over the parking lot and ripples the trees mirrored in the brook’s surface, one wonders what image the water will project 15, 20 years from now.
“This is somewhat typical of how wetland loss happens,” said Harding. “Not in big huge losses, by being drained, but in small pieces, one at a time. They get chipped away.”
(In recent weeks repeated attempts have been made to contact Michael Baldwin, UNB’s associate vice-president of capital planning & property development and manager of real estate & planning. The intention of the reporter was to seek comment upon the assertions made in this story and to seek access to reports on environmental impact. Regretfully these attempts were not reciprocated.)