Legislation passed this summer forbids development in provincially significant wetlands in Ontario, says Frank Tesolin, a technical advisor with the Sault Ste. Marie Regional Conservation Authority.
Tesolin says that a committee of his peers recommends against development of any kind in any wetland in Ontario.
And that recommendation clearly covers Chant Construction's proposed residential development in the Pointe Des Chenes area, described in a SooToday.com article earlier this month.
Much of the Chant project would be built in a wetland in the Pointe Louise area.
Speaking last week at the conservation authority's annual meeting, Tesolin said that the final decision will be up to the authority's board.
"The policy is there but the door is open," he said. "This is likely to become the most important issue in the coming year."
Chant Construction is expected to file any day now for conditional approval allowing it to conduct more studies related to the development, which would be built in two phases involving 91 rural estate lots fronting on a man-made canal complete with a boat slip for each property.
"We've been in pre-consultations continuously since August," Tesolin said. "Through the process of those consultations, we've made several suggestions and they seem to have been following them."
Responding to concerns raised by neighbours of the proposed development Bill Weirzbicki, Chant's lead engineer on the project, said the proposed canal will not lower the area's water table at all.
Nor will it have any impact on area residents' wells, Weirzbicki insists.
The Pointe Estates canal would be about a quarter-mile long and is designed for the boating public.
"The hydrologic study we commissioned from Peter Richards of Waters Environmental Geosciences shows that water table levels in the area are almost completely dependent upon the river level," Weirzbicki says.
He adds that the trench for the canal will be filled with groundwater that's replenished both from the river and runoff from the hills.
"We plan to line the trench with a membrane and blast rock to prevent erosion," Weirzbicki says, and there will also be two large islands in the canal restored to wetland and left undeveloped
"We will also be testing water quality and posting no-wash signs to keep boaters' speed down," he said.
To date, Chant has commissioned at least four environmental assessments including a preliminary hydrogeologic assessment, a Point Louise wetland evaluation, a noise assessment and a fisheries habitat impact evaluation.
None of these studies become public until an official application is filed by Chant.
"We are very close to bringing our applications to the City, the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans and Sault Ste. Marie Regional Conservation Authority," Weirzbicki said. "We just want to make sure we will be able to meet their standards."
He said Chant and the developer want to address concerns of residents, the conservation authority, the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the province.
"Best-case senario would see us with conditional approvals from [City] council, the ministry and authority," Weirzbicki said. "Then we would move forward with a full and final hydrologic assessment while the process moves forward."
Weirzbicki said the best projected date for starting the project is spring 2008.
"There will be restrictions from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries regarding seasonal fish activities," he said. "We will have to plan construction within those restrictions."
Weirzbicki's confident that Chant will have little trouble meeting and exceeding provincial standards because the development calls for improvements to fish habitat along the existing Alagash Canal and habitat to be added in the new canal that will be built.
"We are also planning to expand one of the two islands so there will be more wetland preserved," he said. "We will be looking to our detailed final assessment to tell us how big we have to make them."
Once it is underway, Chant will have to move quickly to complete the project in time, Weirzbicki said.
"This isn't something that can be done a little at a time," he tells SooToday.com. "We have to finish the roads and canal all in one season."
In addition to the canal, the Pointe Estates development will include an upgrade to the existing Alagash Canal, a somewhat similar development undertaken several decades ago.
The Alagash Canal was constructed to act as a branch off the St. Mary's River, affording river access to lots along its shoreline.
But over the years, silt filled in one end and has been gradually filling in the canal, making it shorter and more shallow.
The Pointe Estates plan will see the existing canal brought up to the same standards as the planned new canal.
It will also see new roads and a full bridge put in, improving most area residents' access to their homes.
Weirzbicki said he spoke with the fire chief and there is no concern about access to any of the existing or planned lots in the area posed by the plan.
Currently the Alagash Canal is crossed by Alagash Drive at its remaining mouth.
The crossing is built with a culvert, not a bridge, meaning there is no access to the canal for marine traffic, said Weirzbicki.
In the last steps of construction, after the other roads and canal have been built, this culvert will be removed and access to St. Mary's River would be opened for the Alagash Canal and the Pointe Estates Canal, he said.
To view a Google satellite image of the area click here.