Sunday, April 09, 2006

Farmers Fear Toxic Runoff From New Construction

Colin McNamara hopes the luck of the Irish is with him tomorrow as Gatineau city council meets to decide an issue that has plagued the Masson-Angers farmer for more than 30 years.

Mr. McNamara, whose land is marked with a billowing Irish flag, wants to delay construction of a Canadian Tire store north of his land on Lepine Avenue, in order to study the impact of water diversion.

"Seeing as it is St. Patrick's week, we do hope that the powers of St. Patrick will be bestowed upon the council to support the farmers," he said yesterday.

The plan for the new store includes an underground water basin below the parking garage that is supposed to hold runoff water and drain it into nearby Trepanier Creek, a plan Mr. McNamara doesn't think will work. "We don't want a basin, we want to stop the water from going into our water sources," he said.

Mr. McNamara's son, Terry, who is co-owner of the land, is concerned the basin will not hold the amount of water he regularly sees on their property. The situation will only get worse, says Terry McNamara, once a proposed 600-unit housing development gets under way across from the Canadian Tire, further reducing the amount of absorbent land. "Anywhere you put asphalt, you have no more natural source for your surface water to go," he said.

The McNamaras have company in their complaint. Neighbour Francois Page, who owns the land adjacent to Trepanier Creek, has confronted the problem for years.

He believes the location of the basin will only increase the amount of pollution in the water because of runoff from parked vehicles. "What do you have in a parking garage? Cars. And what do you have in cars? Oil and other stuff that can leak," said Mr Page.

His optimal solution, one that will be proposed to council, is to drain the water to the nearby Lievre River, which does not feed directly onto farmland.

While Colin McNamara's problems with drainage onto his land go back more than three decades, the big box store is just the latest and best chance he has had to do something about it.

Development of the area has raised issues of flooding and water quality since the early 1970s.

It all started, according to the McNamaras, after construction of a high school in Buckingham. The school was the anchor for a housing community and the area began to experience drainage problems as nearby land was paved over, allowing less water to be absorbed and more to flow toward the McNamara farm.

The runoff water floods the downhill farmland regularly, destroying crops and poisoning the land with contaminants that harm his cattle and crops, said Terry McNamara.

He said he lost $8,000 in damaged crops last year, and estimated that since the problem began in 1970, he has lost upwards of $70,000.

Mr. McNamara said he isn't opposed to development in the area, as it will draw more customers to his farm. He just wants to see it done properly so surrounding farmers are protected.


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