The ‘Friends of the Forest’ won a huge victory Tuesday night, convincing city council to restore the bulldozed frog pond on the corner of Decew Road and Richmond Street.
After witnessing three heartfelt presentations on the matter, Thorold councillors voted unanimously to immediately cease all construction work on the site—and look into hiring a restoration ecologist to reinstate the pond.
As ThoroldToday first reported last month, a developer sent in heavy machinery and decimated the pond, even though it was declared protected land in the 1990s.
The city says it issued the developer, DG Group—which is building a storm pond in the area—a site alteration permit to remove some dead trees, on the condition it would plant a few new ones. In the process, however, workers churned up the mud where frogs and salamanders were hibernating, squishing them to death.
Rachael Haynes, a member of environmental group ‘Friends of the Forest,’ was the first to present at city council.
She laid out a case as to why the frog pond, which she referred to as the ‘Wetland/Forest Complex,’ should be incorporated into the Lake Gibson Corridor. This protected corridor entails the natural area surrounding Lake Gibson and has its own task force.
“I’m requesting that the complex is included in the corridor because of its proximity to the protected zone as well as its ecological features,” Haynes said. “Had the ‘Wetland/Forest Complex’ been properly included in both city and regional maps as a protected space, we would not be in the situation of attempting to restore and replace [it].”
Liz Benneian, chair of Biodiversity and Climate Action Niagara, used her presentation to ask the city to hire a restoration ecologist to help restore the frog pond.
She explained how the destruction of the pond is a major loss for the Niagara region, which has already seen more than 90 percent of its wetlands destroyed.
“The loss of the frog pond has brought larger issues to light,” Benneian told council members. “It has demonstrated that the community cares about its natural assets. I hope that what comes from this is a willingness as a community to learn more about, to plant more, and to value more our wonderful natural assets.”
Last up was Carla Carlson, who started ‘Friends of the Forest’ years ago to save the frog pond and neighbouring forest from encroaching development. After a long legal battle in 1995, Carlson convinced the city and developers to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the forest and pond would never be touched—a promise that was ultimately broken last month.
Carlson gave an emotional presentation about her personal history with the frog pond.
“As little kids, even with all this development going on all around us, we played hockey on this pond, we would skate at night and look at the stars,” Carlson told council. “In my lifetime we watched the 406 [Highway] get built, we watched Brock University get built—all the while the frog pond stayed steady.”
Carlson took city council through that terrible day, Feb. 8, when she first saw the pond bulldozed.
“It was just like a war zone,” Carlson said. “I was able to get my phone and get the director of planning and he put a cease and desist order on. A couple days later I went back. They completely lifted the order and pulled out all the stumps. We could have protected what was there and they blatantly disregarded all input.”
Carlson closed her presentation by explaining to council why the destruction of the frog pond was so devastating.
“My sister Laurianne passed away at 38 years of age knowing that we had saved the pond,” Carlson said, through tears. “And every time me or anyone driving mom, Emma Carlson, along Richmond Street—she would always say without fail: ‘There is our forest.’ She was still saying that until the week she passed away in 2018. Many other good, kind people that worked hard to save this frog pond have also passed away. They are all listed in our files showing all the hard work they contributed.”
After her presentation, councillors were visibly upset.
“Carla, you brought tears to my eyes,” said Carmen DeRose. “I actually skated there too when I was a kid and it breaks my heart. I know everybody touts developments as the next best thing since bread and butter, but I tend to disagree and these are examples why. This never should have happened. I would like to become a member of the ‘Friends of Richmond Street Forest.’ ”
Geoff Hoffman, the city's director of public works and community services, tried to explain to council how such a mistake could happen.
“We’re still learning about a lot of what was agreed to 25, 27 years ago," he told council. “There has been considerable turnover here and that’s not a good reason as an excuse. But that’s why some of these things fall through the gaps.”
Councillor Fred Neale launched a motion to create an advisory committee that will look after natural areas in the City of Thorold. He also asked that City Hall put an immediate stop to the works on the site of the frog pond, to look into the possibility of hiring a restoration ecologist to reinstate the pond, and to add the pond to the Lake Gibson Corridor.
After the motion was unanimously passed, councillors invited the ‘Friends of the Forest’ to work together in restoring the site to its former natural glory.
Next up in the frog pond saga: an internal investigation into the environmental permitting process at City Hall. Originally due on March 22, it is now scheduled to be released in April.