Concerns linger about Flats plan

By Greg Wigmore

Though the National Capital Commission’s plan to redevelop LeBreton Flats met with overall approval at a public meeting last week, there are lingering concerns over some of its proposals, such as changes in the transportation infrastructure and the decontamination of the site.

The soil at LeBreton Flats is highly polluted, owing to heavy industrial activity in the first half of the 20th century and recent uses as a landfill and snow dump for much of Ottawa.

The NCC plan would transform LeBreton, which has been dormant since the 1960s, into a residential and commercial development with cultural institutions. These will include the new Canadian War Museum, scheduled to open in May 2005.

The public has been less vocal in its resistance to the LeBreton project as compared to other NCC proposals, such as the Sparks-Metcalfe area.

Many of the public concerns about the redevelopment of LeBreton involve transportation.

Construction of LeBreton Boulevard, the tree-lined transportation artery that will pass through the development south of the Ottawa River Parkway, should begin late in 2003. The boulevard will eventually replace the parkway, and the NCC plans to transfer it to the city once redevelopment is complete.

A traffic consultant hired by the NCC has recommended a six-lane boulevard divided by a median, with three lanes of traffic flowing each way.

This has angered many in the community who feel the last thing Ottawa needs is more vehicles heading downtown. Some say a six-lane highway would carve up LeBreton Flats, making it difficult to travel from residential and commercial zones south of the boulevard to the recreational areas to the north.

“We’ve asked the city whether four moving lanes would be acceptable to them,” says NCC project director Peter McCourt.

He says that while the city might try to solve Ottawa’s traffic problem by making the boulevard a six-lane thoroughfare, past experience suggests it won’t make much of a difference.

“We’ve found we can’t build enough roads to solve the problem.”

While McCourt says the city should make its preference known by January, Somerset Ward Coun. Elisabeth Arnold has already made up her mind.

“The roads (in that area) were not intended to be commuter arteries,” she says. “I have yet to see a six-lane road that was very attractive to walk across or bike along.”

Critics say the transportation plan is heavily oriented toward cars at the expense of more environmentally friendly forms of transportation.

NCC planner Robert Walters says LeBreton will be accessible by mass transit, including the OC Transpo and STO bus systems, as well as the Transitway and a new O-Train line that would run alongside it. The bicycle commuter route will be left intact.

Gespro Ont. Inc., a construction management firm, will oversee the project. Gespro will be responsible for ensuring construction adheres to a schedule and budget. The contractor will work with the NCC and consultant Dessau-Soprin Inc. to decide the best way of handling LeBreton’s contaminated soil. Several people fear that by uprooting contaminated soil that has remained settled for decades, toxins could spread through groundwater to other areas or seep into the Ottawa River.

The NCC has not determined whether it will bury the polluted soil at the site or transport it elsewhere, but Walters says the cleanup plan will be ready by February.

Arnold says regardless of the plan adopted, the cleanup must be comprehensive, rather than occurring piece by piece over a long period of time.